We try the ‘secret’ Bristol cafe serving a Full English and the best Thai food in the city

The White Elephant in Kingswood serves traditional English cafe food and authentic Thai dishesThe White Elephant in Kingswood serves traditional English cafe food and authentic Thai dishes
The White Elephant in Kingswood serves traditional English cafe food and authentic Thai dishes | Mark Taylor
The family-run business serves traditional fry-ups and also Thai classics

I was quite nervous about eating at The White Elephant. After all, I had such high expectations after hearing from others how good it was, could it really live up to them?

Like most ‘best kept secret’ food venues, The White Elephant isn’t that easy to locate. In fact, unless you know about it, you’d probably never find it.

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A small room in what was once a Victorian reform school, it’s part of the Kingswood Estate which now houses the Creative Youth Network alongside about 30 other organisations.

This family-run business opened in 2019 just before the pandemic so it had to close soon after it launched due to restrictions and lockdowns.

Since it reopened properly, it has had to extend its opening hours and, due to its popularity, now plans to open in the evening in the near future.

The White Elephant is run by David Sprigg with his Thai wife Jit and daughter Gill.

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When they took it on, it was a traditional British cafe serving fry-ups, bacon sandwiches, cheese on toast and fishfinger and tartare sauce sandwiches, mainly to the students and businesses on the estate.

It still serves all those things - as well as paninis, jacket potatoes and burgers - but, more interestingly, it offers a full Thai menu from lunchtime through to the end of the afternoon.

Chef Jit and daughter Gill previously worked in Thai restaurants so it was inevitable that they would introduce their dishes to the menu at this modest little cafe.

Chef Jit at The White Elephant in KingswoodChef Jit at The White Elephant in Kingswood
Chef Jit at The White Elephant in Kingswood | White Elephant

By his own cheery admission, David is the ‘general dog’s body’ - shopper, odd job man, book keeper and dishwasher - but it’s clearly a great team effort.

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And now the word-of-mouth recommendations for the Thai food is growing so much that people are travelling from all over the region to try it.

The menu is extensive, with 12 starters and around 25 main dishes, and it features entry-level Thai favourites like hot and sour tom yum soups, various Thai green curries and pad Thai noodles.

I started with the Thai fish cakes, which was incredible value for £4.25. The eight small pucks of fish were firm and slightly sweet but with obvious notes of fish sauce and kaffir lime leaves. The accompanying sweet chilli jam topped with crushed peanuts was pleasingly spicy.

As I was dining solo, I could only try one of the main dishes but I would have happily ordered the lot as there are so many favourites, from the massaman beef curry to the Panang Gai chicken with lime leaves, coconut milk, peppers and Thai herbs.

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King prawn pad kra praow kung at The White Elephant in KingswoodKing prawn pad kra praow kung at The White Elephant in Kingswood
King prawn pad kra praow kung at The White Elephant in Kingswood | Mark Taylor

I went for the king prawn pad kra praow kung, which at £11.45 was the most expensive item on the menu, most main courses being under £10.

The king prawns had been stir-fried with a load of red chilli, garlic, red peppers, onion, green beans and pungent sweet basil. It was a sensational dish full of flavour, texture and plenty of heat.

The dish came with a three red chilli warning on the menu but that was underplaying it somewhat.

Within seconds, my nose was running like a Saint Bernard with flu, my temples were throbbing and my throat felt like it had just been steam ironed.

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I checked myself on my phone camera and I was still lobster-red as I paid the bill and made a hasty retreat into the cold autumn air to cool off. My throat was still on fire as I left the estate but it was worth the pain.

I may have only tried two dishes but The White Elephant exceeded all expectations and I’m already planning a return visit. I can’t recommend it enough.

A modest, family-run business serving brilliant and authentic Thai food - this hidden gem won’t be a secret for much longer.

The White Elephant, Kingswood Estate, Britannia Road, Kingswood, BS15 8DB. Tel: 01179 677238.

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