REVIEW: Putting home Thai spices to the test
It is a truth universally acknowledged that dishes which delight on holiday cannot possibly live up to the sun-soaked memory, once back on home soil.
Bruschetta optimistically self-crafted in Britain loses its magic and turns to crusty bread - paella with whole prawns becomes an explosion of shell, legs and heads on the table.
And so, fresh from an idyllic, food-packed honeymoon in Thailand, we decided to see if the professionals could cure post-holiday blues with more aplomb.
Thai Thai Ka, in Broomhill, has been open since 2014 - run by Keng Wragg and her brother, head chef Wattana Premjit as the relation to Thai at the Travellers in Holmesfield.
There is obviously a slightly different audience here in the city - but the pair still offer traditional food with a flavour of the province they hail from, described as close to the River Kwai.
“Thai food does vary from region to region and everybody has got their own twist on it - so this is Wattana’s stamp”, said Keng.
“A lot more people in this location have been to Thailand and know the food.”
Our visit unexpectedly coincided with buffet night - which as you would expect, is intensely popular with surrounding students.
And at £12.95 all in, not that far off actual Thai prices for a sit-down meal.
The friendly family team, all of who were in traditional dress on the night, are happy to adjust their spice ratings per customer and cook off-menu dishes for those who really know their lemongrass from their durian.
They say finding ingredients locally, although some are still imported, has become easier with supermarkets in the Moor Market and London Road.
Keng added: “If you want to order more heat or less we can put it in because our food is not cooked in advance -it is all fresh.
“We do get a lot of Thai people but they like really hot food -and a lot of them ask for something off the menu.
“If we have got the ingredients we will make it.”
There are more than 100 dishes on the menu as well as set options for an introduction to the cuisine and without a booking there was just over an hour until the table was needed .
So we did rather panic-order the shared starter plate for two at £13.95.
A delicately carved carrot flower adorned the platter, and the same ingredient shone in a little dish of spicy Thai salad.
Fresh, fiery Som Tam, laden with papaya, peanuts and lime has been declared the world’s best salad.
Quite rightly so.
This salad wasn’t quite the full version, but the chilli-laden dressing brought alive simple cucumber and tomato, and gave a little reminder of the last time I ate one, watching the sun set over Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river.
There, countless street vendors sell marinated meat from tiny carts wedged among the crazy city traffic for 20 pence a stick.
Back to the restaurant, and our platter also came with marinated pork skewers.
They were sweet, sticky, tender and moreish. Chicken and prawn toasts were also excellent, golden and crispy on the outside, tender meat inside.
Spring rolls were standard and I wished the good prawns hadn’t been wrapped in filo pastry, as some fresh seafood would have been a pleasure.
Despite the lovely presentation there were no starter plates handed out, and so we failed to stop globs of sticky satay and sweet chilli sauce from the complimentary (and good) prawn crackers dripping all over the table.
It had to be curry for mains.
The gaeng panang moo at £8.50 - or smooth pork curry with vegetables - took my fancy, but was requested extra hot to take it from a two chilli to a three chilli dish.
Spice is such a subjective experience and at first it seemed too mild for even an English version of Thai food.
But mouthful by mouthful the rich, thick red sauce slowly built in heat.
It was creamy one moment and searing the next, in the way only Siam food with its balance of four flavours, can be.
Crushed peanuts in the background created interesting texture, too.
It’s obviously difficult to judge what level of spice customers can handle - one man’s mild is another’s mind-blowing.
I could have taken a touch more chilli, and less of the unnecessary shredded basil leaves on top.
His crispy battered cod in tamarind sauce (£11.95) was interesting, and served in a silver platter with candles placed underneath.
A silky, dark sauce was punch-you-in-the-mouth sweet and sour - the topping of papaya and beansprouts
There were pockets of saltiness too, with large cubes of golden, fried moist fish. But no heat. A portion of rice shared between two soaked up any leftover sauces.
With three very authentic Singha beers, we paid £45.75.
It’s not the same as dining in the land of smiles but ask for a few more chillies (or say phet mak) and Thai Thai Ka is a good value alternative in a relaxed atmosphere.
Thai Thai Ka, 198 Witham Road, Broomhill
Tel: 0114 2667979