A cold and rainy evening, trudging up over the waterfall coursing down the steps at Stoke Newington overland, I hoped for a warming welcome at Yum Yum, the much lauded Thai restaurant on Stoke Newington High Street.
As soon as I arrived, I was hit by a ‘Heavyweight’, one of the many designer cocktails on offer (around £7), mixed by one of the venue’s prize-winning mixologists.
I sipped on a deliciously sweet concoction of rum, raspberry liqueur, and Amaretto topped with fresh raspberries, whilst my dining companion wrapped herself in a Thai Silk: dark rum, creamy ground almonds, orange, apricot, fresh lime and pineapple.
The cocktails are designed to accompany meals, although I could well imagine stopping in for one of these on its own at the bar, backlit with golden light behind wooden filigree, curled up on one of the leather couches.
The bar is separated from the eating area by gauzy curtains draped over wooden frames. These gentle dividers further sectioned the numerous dark wooden tables to provide an intimate setting while allowing diners to feel the bustle of the restaurant. At 9pm on a Thursday evening the restaurant was busy but not packed.
The manager and owner of the restaurant, Atique Choudhury, was on hand to recommmend a selection of Yum Yum’s finest dishes from the overwhelmingly varied menu.
To start, we had the Yum Yum special soup, a warming sweet and sour brew with bean curd which was filling and satisfying, along with the chicken satay accompanied by Yum Yum’s own satay sauce.
Shortly after our starters we were brought a metal lined bamboo steamer full of white rice, as well as Pad Thai Jay (stir fried noodles with tofu), Kang Mussaman (lamb in red peanut butter curry), and Spinach and Fresh Tofu Curry.
The spinach and tofu curry was delicate and tart with lemongrass, yet rich and warming with coconut and chilli. The sauce was welcome on the Phad Thai Jay, which although kindly mixed at our table with crunchy bean shoots and fresh shallots was still a bit oily for me.
The Kang Mussaman was as delicious as reputed and the remainder of our excessive portion had to be taken home for later consumption.
Owner and manager Atique, began his interest in Thai cooking when several staff at his Church Street South Indian restaurant cooked native dishes.
He pointed out that the vegetarian portion of Yum Yum’s menu is carefully put together as its meat selection. “Vegetarian food has a different texture. I notice this because of my background in Indian vegetarian cooking.”
Atique initially trained at Drummond Street’s Bhel Poori House.
I was generously given a copy of the Yum Yum Cookbook (usually £14.95) which includes recipes for the restaurant’s famed dishes, desserts and cocktails.
It contains an ‘acknowledgements’ page, thanking local suppliers for their generosity in supplying textiles for the cookbook’s photo-shoot, along with recommendations for where the intrepid chef can locally secure the exotic ingredients necessary.
The website provides an even more thorough list showing that Yum Yum uses local shops where possible to source ingredients and other supplies.
While we perched at the bar waiting for our cab home, Atique, a restauranteur with a presence in Hackney since 1982, told us about the history of the Yum Yum building.
The Georgian structure, with its grand entrance courtyard currently fitted with several Thai beach style wooden gazebos, was built in 1712 by a prosperous Quaker and Hackney businessman.
He was buried in the back garden in his four-poster brass bed, leading to an escape hatch to the surface, should he awaken to find he was un-dead. As far as Atique knows, he is still peacefully resting under the Yum Yum car park.
The next carnation of 183-187 Stoke Newington High Street was as one of the first hospitals providing operations with the welcome addition of anaesthetic.
Progressively, it then served as a home for single mothers. The restaurant has even had visits from some of the 80-plus year old souls that were born there.
When Atique bought the building four years ago to relocate the already successful Yum Yum from Church Street, its most recent use had been as the Social and Legal services department of Hackney Council.
In 2012, Hackney’s Olympic year, the building will be three hundred years old, Atique will have been running restaurants in Hackney for thirty years and he will be fifty years old. Yum Yum, the hub of his operations, will be the setting for a grand celebration with the local Georgian Society performing tea dances.
The building’s transformational journey from home to hospital to refuge of the socially excluded is continued in Yum Yum where its daily fare of spicy meals and exciting cocktails is complemented by involvements in local societies and our host’s relaxed hospitality. I certainly found it comforting.
183-187 Stoke Newington High Street
020 7254 6751
Monday – Thursday
Lunch: Midday – 3pm
Dinner: 6pm – 11pm
Friday: Lunch: Midday – 3pm
Dinner: 6pm – Midnight
Saturday: Midday – midnight
Sunday: Midday – 11pm