This mini-chain (there are four in London, such as at Beauchamp Place and the Fulham Road, plus a few abroad) aims at producing high grade Thai cooking in fairly smart surroundings. The Greek Street branch was completely packed tonight (including the overflow room downstairs). Prawn crackers arrive while you look at the menu, and these actually taste of prawns. A starter of green mango salad with crispy Thai soft shell crab (£8.95) featured excellent crab, the batter avoiding the greasiness that often afflicts this dish in lesser restaurants. The salad was served in a little dish on the side, and did not compromise the chilli bite, which worked really well with the mango (4/10). Thai fish and prawn cakes (£7.25) were also good, served with a tasty cucumber salsa (3/10).
For main course a sea bass filled was char-grilled with herb curry and served in a banana leaf. I’m not sure what the latter really added since it was not used to steam the fish, but the sea bass was cooked well, and the herb curry sauce did not overwhelm the bass (3/10). Rock lobster tail was sautéed in a basil green curry sauce (£19.95); the shellfish was cooked lightly enough to avoid chewiness, and the green curry’s spices were held back enough so as not to dominate the dish (3/10). Pad Thai noodles (£9.95) featured carefully cooked, large prawns as well as noodles with good texture (3/10). Service was efficient, and indeed the meal whizzed by at quite a rate. Prices are hardly bargain basement, but portions are generous and this is the heart of Soho. It is not as good food as at the very best places in Bangkok, but it is hard to think of a better Thai restaurant in London.
Below are notes from a meal in mid 2006, by way of comparison.
You enter past pillars with a few rows of red banquette seating, used as a waiting/bar area. The main dining room has stairs on the left as you come in leading down to toilets but also to another full dining room, seating 50 covers. The décor is very smart and modern (the same designers as Benares), with charcoal grey lino, taupe walls, red banquette seating and a suspended wooden ceiling. The lighting is from directed overhead spots and is excellent, creating an intimate atmosphere yet illuminating each table carefully. Chairs are low and wooden, with red upholstery to match the banquettes. The walls are plain except for four Thai figures, made from wood but with inlaid glass mosaic tiles. There is also a miniature (but still several feet tall) Thai house made from teak. At the rear as you enter is a brickwork effect with candles in the wall. Tables have white linen runners and napkins, with a single variety of moss in a vase as decoration. Modern muzak of the Hakkasan variety plays (rhythmic dance beats with little in the way of lyrics). Waiters wear golden coloured raw silk (“slub”) jackets. Service was impeccable, with drinks brought almost instantly, no difficulty at all getting attention and a very courteous, polite manner from all the staff. This is one of a chain of places owned by a Thai company, with branches in Bangkok, Singapore, Taipei, Geneva and London.
There was a wine list with fifteen white and thirteen red wines, picked from all over the world although mostly not from top producers. However the prices are low, with almost all wines under £25. Mondavi Pinot Noir is £21 compared to retail of around £6. Champagne was fairly priced, with Laurent Perrier at just £35 a bottle and Dom Perignon £110, which is only slightly more than it can retail for. Beer was Singha and water is “Source” ; there were even a couple of Thai wines.
Prawn crackers are a bit of a cliché but these were a cut above the norm: for a start they actually tasted of prawn, with just a faint hint of chilli, and were crisp (2/10). Tom yum goong soup featured large, tender prawns and shiitake mushrooms, all resting in a thick, delicious spicy broth that had great depth of flavour (3/10). Three fish cakes and two prawn cakes had, unlike so many versions of this dish, plenty of fish and prawn flavour respectively, and avoided being too greasy. They were served with a sweet chilli sauce in which rested cucumber slices halved with scalloped edges and a few chopped peanuts. This made a good foil for the richness of the fishcakes (2/10).
Prawn curry featured large prawns cooked and served in their shells, each tender and the prawns resting in a pool of red coconut-cream based curry sauce laced with green peppercorns, with basil leaves to garnish. This was slightly spicy but not so much as to overwhelm the prawns (3/10). Angus beef was cooked medium (slightly pink in the middle) and served as small slices, cooked with red chillies and a green curry sauce. The beef was of good quality and nicely cooked, though it could have been cooked a little less for my taste. Still, the green curry sauce had authentic flavour and complemented the beef well (3/10). Mango salad consisted of fine slices of green mango, along with thin slices of red onion, dried chillies and cashew nuts, all doused with a sweet chilli sauce. The ingredients were fresh and the chilli sauce nicely balanced to provide a spicy tang without killing off the flavours of the salad ingredients. This was served with two deep-fried soft shell crabs, that were cooked through well with a light batter (3/10). Assorted mushrooms included brown mushrooms, shiitake and a few wild mushrooms sautéed and served with garlic and chilli. This was a little on the bland side but the mushrooms retained their texture and flavour well (2/10). Pad thai noodles had good texture, served with several large tender prawns served in heir shell (2/10). Steamed rice was fine, though a very small portion indeed.
Crepes with tropical fruit had adequate crepes (though they may have been bought in) but mediocre and rather odd tropical fruit: fresh papaya is fine, but kiwi fruit? Moreover pineapple cubes were tinned, as were the lychees, while strawberries were tasteless and scarcely tropical. The crepes were soft enough, soaked in an orange sauce, but the fruit was poor, as was the clearly bought-in vanilla ice cream, that had no trace of vanilla (round up). Coconut rice with sweet Thai mango had slices of fresh mango, while coconut rice was gelatinous and green in colour; this did nothing for me, though there was no technical problem (1/10). Double espresso was bitter and, though by no means the worst I have had, was at best 1/10. Jasmine tea was from a tea bag, though served in a teapot (1/10). The total was £137, including service at 12.5%. Service was included and the credit card slip was closed.