Friday, 30 September 2011

All Thai'ed Up... Sept 2011

On bad Thai puns - This was going to be 'Tale of Two Ci-Thais' with the opening line of "It was the best of Thai's, it was the worst of Thai's..." I then had a creative disagreement with Dr Vole. She thought Suits and Thai would have worked better, but shouldn't a day in which I'd ended up eating Thai twice not be a excuse for a Dickensian pun or two? I stood my ground for a bit and then she came over the top with the title of All Thai'ed Up, appropriately enough for a day of prior engagements...

Anyway, we'd had a Thai dinner date that had been pre-arranged, then I found I had to take some clients out for a Thai lunch and so dear reader, I ate them both...

Mango Tree - Victoria
The venerable Mango Tree came first. It's a popular one with our guests who work locally and one of few decent, reasonably affordable options in Victoria. That being said, a two course business lunch with soft drinks and water only still came in at £40 a head. It's a relatively soulless barn of a space under a large hotel / office building, light and bright enough on the sunniest day of the year but little ambience delivered by the large plate glass windows staring out on the traffic choked Grosvenor Place. The decor feels a little scuffed and tired round the edges these days, and the confusing, tatty menu piles three special menus on top of the banqueting options on top of the a la carte. The £17 set lunch needs to be asked for separately however.

I went for two from their seasonal Street Food Festival menu, unsure of what this was linked to but the options looked interesting enough. Kai Nok-krata Tord or Quail egg Wanton was a bit of a one trick pony. Pleasant enough, though a little cloying after a while, the portion containing six of the little orbs, hard boiled and fried in wanton skin, my anaemic chilli sauce had me eying a neighbours satay avariciously. The satay and associated chicken skewers were pronounced quite as good as anything my colleague had eaten recently in Thailand.

My main was more interesting, deep-fried sea bass with a mango salad. The former came a touch over-fried for my taste, the accompanying chewy mouthfeel tasty for sure, but killed the sea bass a little. The green mango salad worked alongside, a cooling mix of crunchy matchsticks contrasting with the heat of the fish. Elsewhere they didn't seem to compromise on flavour for pedestrian local taste buds either. Other dishes receiving plaudits round the table included a robust Massaman Lamb Shank curry, thick, creamy and almost aggressively spiced with the soft lamb falling off the bone.   
Wines are fairly punchy in their ambition. I'm not sure I'd waste a premier Bordeaux on such spicy fare but if you would, then they're all here and priced as you'd expect. There's plenty around the £18 - £30 mark too though the professional workers (or those with bosses) weren't able to imbibe.

Overall, it's difficult to fault the food that we had, though I might chose differently next time. Big portions of fresh and authentic, well spiced Thai banqueting specialities. But you'll pay handsomely for the privilege and if not stuck in Victoria with no escape I wouldn't necessarily travel for it. The ambience, decor and tightly packed tables rule out romantic rendezvous too. If you're craving expensive Thai in Victoria, Michelin starred Nahm on West Halkin Street is also worth a thought.

@Siam - Soho
Getting my eating boots back on a few hours later, we headed out into a Soho night and a Thursday crowded night. You can't miss the throb on Frith Street with crowds outside The Arts, Barrafina and Moolis merging in the quiet road. If it's dispiriting to open a restaurant next door to Koya you can't tell from @Siam's smiley staff. The smashingly simple Japanese noodle bar has achieved Rolling Stones popularity, as evidenced with a queue that stretches down the block.

Inside @Siam is clean, appropriate and fairly generic. Other than the smiling staff smartly dressed in their matching monikered black and tartan shirts you could be in Soho Thai, Thai Square or any of the other small chains.

There's the whiff of 'new' around the operation (appropriately so, as it is) and so a few bits around us don't quite work. There are people waiting for their bill, others being given wrong courses, but it's all dealt with so well by those happy staff that you don't notice anyone caring too much. Perhaps as they get busier they'll tighten up, but there are plenty of places in Soho that have built a reputation on being cheerfully shambolic (Balans, I'm particularly looking at you here).

My starter of prawns in a breadcrumb batter on a bed of iceberg wasn't the greatest of starts. The Thousand Island-style mayo drizzled over the top didn't add much and the flaccid prawns didn't dazzle either. Dr Vole's chicken satay was much better (why I should occasionally order what I want to eat, rather than what looks most exciting on the menu) with soft and moist char grilled chook and a poppy homemade satay sauce.

The main was a house special of Weeping Tiger, soy marinaded thin slices of beef steak served with a great little dipping sauce of deepest sour and sweet. If I were being picky, I'd say it had rested a little too long and was cut a little too thick, but it was simple food done well. A mineral crisp, almost sharp Gavi de Gavi went well with the meal, one of the stars on a smallish list.
I'm a fan of Thai food generally. As opposed to some of it's South East Asian neighbours, there's a good mix of fried and chilli and interesting textures without the challenging 'mouthfeel' of some of the more robust regional cuisines. Spicy Pad Thai or a good homemade Green Curry is a blast of pleasure when cooked at home in the evening, but I always go for something I can't do myself when I'm out and too often end up disappointed.

Caveat: The meal at @Siam was comped and offered to me through the PR company. As I will rarely turn down a meal - much less a free one - I have been happy to accept a couple of these, going incognito and reveal myself (with a letter, calm down at the back) at the end of the meal. 

Mango Tree on Urbanspoon@Siam on Urbanspoon


  1. Those prawns at Siam look horrid. I've never come across anything like that in Thailand, why would they serve it here? I long for somewhere that doesnt dumb down their food.

  2. I like the Thai Spicy Fried Noodles. It is one of my favorites in Thailand. I would like to sample the variants of it.

  3. How do you say delicious in Thai? I think these foods are delicious. I'm excited for a vacation.

    SMS Thailand

  4. When I visited Thailand lat year, I really experienced a lot of great tasting foods and amazing spots. I wish I could come back this year. Anyway, I am looking forward to our trip in the Philippines next month. For now, I'm searching for some flights to Manila and Taiwan. I hope to find great deals online.