Kolae: 'A lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears have gone in'

22 January 2024 by

A single authentic base marinade opens up a rich range of Southeast Asian cooking

Kolae in London's Borough, the second Thai outpost from the pair behind Som Saa in London's Spitalfields, opened to rave reviews towards the end of last year. Jimi Famurewa at the Evening Standard revealed he was plotting his next trip even before the bill arrived, while Tim Hayward at the Financial Times said his visit reminded him of why he eats.

Andy Oliver, who founded the buzzy 80-cover Southern Thai restaurant with business partner Mark Dobbie in October 2023, responds modestly to the high praise.

"It's built nicely since we opened. We didn't open to a queue out the door and I'm really glad we didn't because operationally we're just getting used to a new space," he says.

The office worker turned 2009 MasterChef finalist cut his teeth on Thai cooking at David Thompson's Nahm in London prior to its closure in 2012 and continued to pursue his passion for the cuisine both in Thailand (Bo.lan) and London (the Begging Bowl in Peckham) before deciding to launch Som Saa with Dobbie in 2016.

"A lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears have gone in, so we're really happy about the feedback so far and are keen to push on," he says.

While Som Saa demonstrates the vibrancy of all Thai food, the duo's latest opening specialises in one of the regions that excited Oliver the most. The industrial-hip restaurant is named after a method of cooking that is prolific in Thai Muslim communities in the south of the country, where ingredients are coated in a rich coconut marinade and grilled over open flames.

The marinade is made in-house every day through a labour-intensive process: Oliver's team of 18 chefs split open 200 coconuts from Tin Fu, a supplier specialising in Southeast Asian produce at Spitalfields Market, which are ground down and pressed in a hydraulic press imported from Thailand.

"It's time-consuming, but we really feel like you taste the difference when you eat fresh coconut cream compared to the stuff you get from a tin," explains Oliver.

Kolae dishes generally go through a three-stage process, starting with a protein being marinated overnight in coconut cream, salt, fresh turmeric and black pepper. It is then grilled at a low temperature over charcoal and then smoked with a mixture of coconut grounds and pandan leaves.

"You're looking for gentle, slow caramelisation rather than sharp and heavy colour," says Oliver. "Each Kolae sauce also has its own curry paste, so one might have more roasted coconut or more dried spices because of the protein it's going to go with." So while the ice-lolly-lookalike chicken skewers are soured with a dried fruit from South Thailand, the brininess of the mussels is balanced with fresh lime juice.

Oliver also introduces guests to the non-Kolae specialities within Southern Thai cuisine, ranging from traditional seafood-based Thai dishes (sour green mango salad with roasted coconut and shrimp paste) to Thai Chinese food, which appears on the menu as the sweetish Phuket-style soy-braised MiddleWhite pork belly and ribs. It is cooked with star anise, cassia and palm sugar and arrives plump and fatty on the plate, drenched in a paste made from coriander roots, garlic and pepper.

On the spicier side of the spectrum, there's the dazzlingly yellow Southern gati curry of prawns, gurnard and betel leaf, which starts to mellow in the mouth and gradually evolves into a tangy chilli finish. The curry paste – a blend of fresh turmeric, black pepper, lemongrass, lime zest and galangal – is seasoned with shrimp paste and palm sugar and brightened with nettle leaves and a dash of lime.

The menu at Kolae will change with the seasons in both the UK and Thailand, though staples such as the chicken and mussel skewers are set to remain. Kolae has partnered with suppliers who share that ethos of seasonality, which include Shrub, Warren Butchers in Cornwall, Fin and Flounder and the Sea, the Sea.

Oliver hopes guests and chefs alike have the chance to broaden their understanding of Southern Thai food through Kolae. "You can never learn enough, so we're excited about deep-diving into this region," he says.

From the menu


  • Crispy chicken skins with turmeric and garlic £5
  • Biryani rice crackers with curry leaf and pickled ginger £5


  • Gung slep dried prawn and shrimp paste relish £9
  • Kolae chicken bamboo skewer £7 each
  • Kua kling curry of minced venison, cumin leaf and lemongrass £14

On the side

  • Sour mango salad with roasted coconut and dried fish £10
  • Kale and herb fritters with fermented chilli and cashew nuts £9


  • Pandan sticky rice, young coconut sorbet, peanuts and jackfruit £7

6 Park Street, London SE1 9AB


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