Charm opened in the spring of 2010 in a parade in King Street, which is better known for its down-market Indian restaurants than up-market Thai places. As you enter, a cosy lounge bar gives way to a dining room on the right. The décor is much smarter than I was expecting, with leather banquettes and chandeliers. The restaurant is the first London venture of a gentleman who owns two restaurants in Eastbourne. There was some very odd muzak playing, ranging from instrumental jazz through to a range of songs from the 1950s through to modern ballads; it was if someone had put a jukebox onto a random play setting.
The wine list is unusually ambitious for a Thai restaurant. The champagnes included my favourite Louis Roederer non-vintage at £59 for a bottle that costs around £25 or so to purchase, Dom Perignon 2000 at a relatively fair £139 compared to a retail price of around £86, and there was even an English sparkling wine, Nyetimber Classic 2001 at £49 for a wine that costs around £16 in the shops. The main wine list had choices such as the entertainingly named Menage a Trois 2005 red (a blend of three grapes, Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet) at £21 for a wine that costs around £8, Hugel Gewürztraminer 2006 at £39 for a wine that costs about £15, and Lynch-Bages 2004 at a tolerable price of £89 for a wine that costs £50 retail. The wine lists ascends to even greater heights than this, and I wondered just how many diners were likely to be ordering Opus One or Chateau d’Yquem in a parade of shops in Hammersmith?
The menu was a little disconcerting, with a wide range of Thai dishes occasionally interspersed with Cantonese dishes, though the chef and indeed all the staff are Thai. Such mixing of cuisines is rarely a good sign, though one should not jump to conclusions (after all Zafferano, a Michelin starred Italian restaurant in London, has an English head chef, while the three Michelin star Italian Pergola in Rome has a German chef).
Tom yum goong (£6) had a reasonable blend of spices and Thai ingredients in the stock, though the prawns were a little overcooked (11/20). Som tam (£9.50) salad was better, the papaya strips and chilli enlivened with a spicy sauce based on fish sauce, while the pair of tiger prawns with the salad were overcooked a little, but not grossly so (12/20).
Yellow tiger prawn curry (£10) curiously had entirely correctly cooked tiger prawns, but the curry was rather disappointing, oily and one-dimensionally hot (not really making it to 11/20 given the sauce). Pad Thai (£9) noodles tasted better than they looked, actually having reasonable texture even though they appeared to have been waiting around a bit before being served (11/20).
Sea bass with tamarind (£14) turned out to be deep fried and could have done with more tamarind to give some distinctiveness to the vaguely spicy but otherwise indeterminate sauce it was served with (just about 11/20). Gai lan (£4.50) is really a Chinese rather than a Thai dish, so I was curious to see what appeared. Although the stalks themselves were bigger than one would like (best are the tender, baby gai lan) the broccoli was actually quite well cooked, steamed with garlic (12/20).
Service was exemplary on this quiet evening, the waitresses attentive and friendly. The bill came to £44 a head, which seemed a little high given that we just had a couple of beers apiece to drink. I guess they have to recoup the costs of that wine list somehow.
RT @MarinaOLoughlin: An American chef is VERY ANGRY at the state of modern restaurant criticism: http://t.co/2a2M7xEDnN