Thai up a meal with friends...

Thai food prepared by Andy Gabbitas at The wortley Arms in Wortley
Thai food prepared by Andy Gabbitas at The wortley Arms in Wortley
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Now, let me just say, the Wortley Arms is a fabulous 18th century pub with a great reputation for food.

Originally built as a coach house in the quaint village of Wortley, close to Stocksbridge Bypass, it is owned by Master Chef of Great Britain Andy Gabbitas.

Andy, with 30 years of cheffing experience, has earned the inn an enviable reputation for great food since he took over in 2006.

And downstairs the pub is charming, quaint and characterful, with oak beams and log fires in little nooks and cosy corners.

Upstairs is Montagu’s, the fine dining restaurant known for its classic British cuisine using locally-sourced produce.

Expect to see all manner of gastronomic delights on the menu, from Seared Tuna with Chorizo Risotto to Wortley Round Green Farm Venison Pie.

But on the first Thursday of the month, Montagu’s is home to a world food night.

At £25 a head for canapés on arrival and a three-course meal, it is what Andy describes as “an evening dedicated to the many flavours, aromas and delights of cuisine from around the world.”

We were there for A Taste of Thailand, the very theme the monthly event launched with back in August 2010.

And we felt a bit lost.

No-one had actually greeted us, or told us where to go; we asked a chap ascending the pub staircase with a tray of drinks and it turned out he was A Taste of Thailander too, and having been halfway around the globe on Wortley Arms nights, he knew the score.

We followed him into a lounge filled with people who all seemed to know each other really well. Had we stumbled into someone’s anniversary dinner? Was somebody about to stand up and present a few trophies? We felt like nobby-no-mates, perched on our leather sofa.

It seemed to be a holding pen, this gold and black, swirly-carpeted room. We’d been told to arrive for 7.30pm; at 8.10pm we were still knocking back the pre-dinner drinks and virtually fell on the trays of canapes when they eventually arrived – although the little spring rolls, chicken satay sticks and pork “golden bags” – like wontons – were nothing out of the ordinary.

And then, at 8.30pm, we noticed one half of the room had just disappeared. There had been no announcement. Had they gone to the loo en-mass, or headed for the dining room?

We followed to find guests being seated (it was later explained to us that staff had planned to personally take folk to their tables a few at a time, only the eager beavers had jumped the gun. I couldn’t blame them, though; we were all starving and a bit pickled).

We were on a nice table for two, but again, we felt a bit out of it; huge tables of merry-making friends were enthusiastically preparing to set off on their Eastern odyssey to left and right. It felt like we were on a cruise ship.

The menu told us to expect hot and sour shredded chicken and lemon grass soup.

In the 10 minutes it took to arrive, we munched frantically on prawn crackers from a little metal bucket and surveyed the room, which we thought a bit lacking in decorative oomph – and ambiance for anyone not among friends.

The soup was wonderful; a light and aromatic broth, bursting with an intense, umami flavour sensation, as the Thais – and obviously Andy – do so well; sweet and savoury, sour, spicy and salty all in one mouthful.

For me, it would have been even better had the slices of chicken breast been cooked in the broth, rather than added after (for speed, I imagine).

It must have been 9pm by the time we got the main courses – all four of them.

After the famine comes the feast, we thought; there were huge bowls of light, aromatic Miang of Pomelo overflowing with big, plump prawns, jasmine rice and a Papaya and Choy Sum Salad, our favourite dish, a textural delight laden with morsels of sweet pork fried to crispiness, sweet, slippery exotic fruit and a pop of chilli. Within minutes, we were stuffed; there was no need for the tasty, tangy nuttiness of a passable Pat Thai really, and I was almost relieved the Thai Red Chicken Curry was a disappointment (it was bland; a Taste of Thai, rather than the real deal).

Things were now calming down a bit for the staff, who had been running hither and thither all night – it’s a tough job, feeding more than 40 people exactly the same meal all at the same time and getting them drinks from the bar downstairs. So our light dessert was well-timed in its arrival.

A refreshing plate of exotic fruits included pineapple and dragon fruit (dotty white flesh, deep red skin) and a delicious ball of hand-made vanilla ice cream.

This was a good value evening, and clearly many a Wortley regular loves it, but we kind of wished we’d stayed downstairs in the cosy pub and had one of Andy’s famous pies.

If we do go back for anther taste of some exotic land, it will have to be with a large group of friends.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.