London’s vibrant food scene has become so overcrowded that it’s increasingly difficult to carve out a niche that will be taken seriously. Yet Burmese restaurant Lahpet appears to have done just that, serving up little-known traditional dishes from Myanmar from its Shoreditch outpost, where you’ll be lucky to snatch a table unless you book well in advance. We sent Rosie to see what the hype was all about.
What comes to mind when you think of Burmese cuisine? Unless you’re a seasoned traveller or serious food connoisseur, probably not much. And that’s precisely why I had wanted to try Lahpet for so long: we’re so spoilt for choice when it comes to food options in London that I’m finding it hard to get excited about new restaurant openings. It feels like last month’s hottest new sushi bar has been overshadowed by this month’s vegan food truck launch, which stands to soon be forgotten with the much-anticipated opening of a dumpling restaurant next week… It’s hard to keep up, and even harder to sustain much enthusiasm to try new dishes when they are becoming increasingly peculiar in an effort to stand out in such a busy space.
Fortunately Burmese food is barely known in London, so there was no need for Lahpet’s Head Chef Zaw Mahesh – who learnt to cook from his mother in Kalaw and subsequently Mogok, before relocating to London to hone his culinary skills at the Corinthia Hotel, Daylesford Organic and Milos in St James – to put a unique spin on traditional dishes from his home country in order to distinguish its cuisine.
Zaw teamed up with Dan Anton, who was born and raised in the UK to a British mother and half-Burmese father, with a joint mission to showcase the breadth of flavours and dishes from their childhood. After cultivating their concept in a Hackney warehouse in 2017 to critical acclaim, the pair opened their new Shoreditch restaurant in April 2018, serving authentic Burmese staples and regional specialities.
So what exactly are these? Vibrant curries, fresh seafood and noodle-based dishes abound, prepared with seasonal British produce and native ingredients imported directly from Myanmar: Mohinga, Myanmar’s national dish, is a warming and subtly spiced chowder, made with minced catfish and lemongrass, while the house-made Shan tofu is made in the traditional Burmese style with yellow split peas. The hake masala features coconut milk, lemongrass rosti, spring onion and charred lime, while the restaurant’s most-popular dish, coconut noodles with chicken, is a rich coconut broth with egg noodles that beats any ramen I’ve ever had.
The real showstopper, though, is the signature dish, the Tea Leaf Salad after which the restaurant is named. While fermentation and pickling have skyrocketed in popularity in the West in recent years due to their benefits on gut health, these methods have been widely used in Burmese cooking for centuries. Naturally fermented tea (“lahpet”) is an umami-packed national delicacy which Zaw pickles and uses to create a texture-laden salad, with cabbage, tomato, dried shrimps, raw garlic, chilli and a double-fried mixture of broad beans, butter beans, chana dal, split peas, sesame and pumpkin seeds and red peanuts. There’s no salad quite like it, and tasting the distinctive flavour alone warrants a visit.
Lahpet’s cocktail list is just as creative, with familiar classics getting a Myanmar-inspired makeover: the house Margarita is made with Betel-infused tequila and sweetened with jaggery and lime, while the Rose Sour uses cardamom and bitters to lift the subtle flavour of rose. Myanmar Premium Lager is available, alongside bar snacks including Mandalay, Split Pea and Shan Tofu fritters and Yellow Pea Paratha. Yes, this is fusion food, but not as you know it: Dan and Zaw have created flavour combinations that will surprise and delight even the most well-travelled of palates.
As I tucked into a sublime coconut-poached banana sprinkled with jaggery crunch for dessert, I felt ashamed not to know more about a nation whose cuisine I was learning to love. A natural when it comes to hospitality, Dan proceeded to dazzle me with a potted history of the myriad local groups which inhabit the country, such as the Shan, Kachin and Chin people, who brought with them additional influences from China, Thailand and India. No wonder the cuisine is so rich and diverse, when it reflects such an expansive heritage. And while London’s culinary map is just as wide-ranging, Lahpet thoroughly deserves its place in this crowded space.
Lahpet‘s restaurant is located at 58 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6JW. There is also a street food kitchen open daily at Old Spitalfields Market.
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