Alan Yau has been responsible for launching some remarkably successful restaurant brands, foremost amongst these being Wagamama and Hakkasan (both since sold on). He also launched the more casual chain Busaba Eathai, which following his pattern he sold in January 2010 for £21 million to a private equity firm. Naamyaa is in the vein of Busaba, being a casual all day Thai café, located a short walk from Angel Islington tube station in a converted office block. The ground floor premises are large and smartly fitted out, seating 120 diners at capacity, with a central bar and a partially open kitchen. The high ceiling creates a large, bustling space, and even just a few weeks after opening, late on a cold January evening, Naamyaa was busy.
The menu has some odd characteristics. Most of the dishes are Thai, and there are photographs of some of the dishes, which is something usually associated with tourist traps. Even odder is that, alongside the Thai noodle dishes are offerings like Caesar salad and a cheese burger. If this wasn’t Alan Yau then every alarm bell would be ringing at these signs: a mix of cuisines, dish photos, what else could be more worrying on a menu other than a “half price sushi” offer?
The two page wine list ranged in price from £20.50 to £39 and featured wines such as Dona Javiera Chardonnay 2011 at £23 for a wine that retails at around £7, Petra Unger Gruner Veltliner 2011 at £29 for a wine that you can find in the high street for around £9, and Lohr Estate Wild Flower Valdiguie 2011 at £30 for a wine that costs about £12 in a shop. Asahi beer was £3.30 a half.
The meal started well with enjoyable grilled prawns (£7.50), the prawns tender and their spicing nicely judged (3/10). Even better were baby back pork ribs (£8.50) that were extremely tender, the meat falling off the bone, nicely marinated with a sauce including jasmine tea; this is an old Hakkasan dish (4/10). However a som tam (green papaya salad at £8.50) was oddly lacking in chill punch, though the papaya texture was OK (1/10). A Thai chicken dish with yellow beans (£8.90) was served with rice and was just bland, the chicken lacking in flavour, cooked a fraction long and badly needing more sauce (barely 1/10). However seafood laksa (£9.70) was excellent, the prawns tender, the spice mix well balanced, the noodles having good texture (3/10).
Service was friendly but not as slick as usual in Alan Yau ventures: there was a lengthy wait for our order to be taken, and although there were plenty of staff they frequently clustered around chatting to each other rather than checking on customers. Of course this is a casual eatery, but Mr Yau’s previous ventures have shown considerable attention to staff training, which seemed lacking on this visit. The bill came to £29 a head with two beers apiece. This was certainly not going to break the bank, and there was plenty to eat; we didn’t make it to dessert. Overall Naamyaa, despite some inconsistency, felt like a hit – the best dishes were very good indeed, prices were low and I would happily return. A big question will be whether standards will be maintained over time as the inevitable rollout of the brand gets going. Certainly Busaba Eathai was good in its original Soho setting, but less so once the inevitable dilution occurred as extra branches were opened and Mr Yau’s magic touch was removed.