For some people it’s sausage and mash, for others it’s a curry. The Child will choose pizza over any other meal choice and my grandparents will happily tuck into any roast dinner they can find. So what’s my favourite meal? Well, the truth is that it changes all the time. I’ve been bouncing between anything with pasta and best of British this past year with some amazing meals at The Hand and Flowers, Nelson Street and Trinity. This week it’s Thai.
Hello Busaba Eathai!
Mrs P. and I recently had a child free weekend and so inexplicably decided to drive into London. We entered Westfield Stratford full of innocent dreams of a pleasurable day of retail therapy. Unfortunately the 26 million other people who had also descended on the end of season sales had the same sharp elbow shoving, 10 quid designer jean snatching ambitions. We lasted 20 minutes before Mrs P. mercifully saved us; ‘fancy a drink and something to eat?’ she muttered and she knew that like a Banker being offered free cocaine I just couldn’t say no.
We escaped the clutches of the 50% discount crazed locals in the main building, and headed out to the Southern Terrace, wandering down the line of restaurants trying to find something that took our fancy. Busaba Eathai did not look exciting, it did not look particularly special and it’s only concession to the fashionable London tosserati was a lonely, somewhat incongruously placed and clearly unused delivery bike sitting outside. In short, it was exactly what Mrs P. and I like to look for.
Once we were inside things got a bit more high class and the décor became the modern Thai of which the website boasts. We took a bench-seat by the window which would clearly be removed during the warm summer months and probably increase the kerb appeal by about a thousand percent. The table was set with some well known names that will bring some recognisable flavour combinations to those of us who tread a little further afield from our usual fish and chip supper.
It was lunchtime so we decided to keep things light. Busaba Eathai’s menu is really interesting but we were drawn to the starter and main for £19.95 option. Look closely though because it’s only a decent deal if you are careful with what you order because some dish combos are actually better value when ordered separately if you don’t count the prawn crackers. Having sniffed out the best deal we ordered prawns followed by beef rib and because we knew that wasn’t going to be enough to take us through several further hours of retail hell, we also took a plate of matchstick chicken on the side.
The brown ‘Thai style’ prawn crackers arrived to share as they were included in the meal deal, and they were… Thai crackers. Having never been to Thailand, or in any position to judge their authenticity, I can say that they were better than the usual bleached white Chinese style ‘prawn’ crackers especially when lavished with buckets of sweet chilli sauce, which was thankfully also provided. However, they were also no more authentic or tasty than your average local Thai takeaway will serve you on a Saturday night.
The prawns themselves arrived and looked pretty enough. They were cooked delicately and were certainly not over done, the crispy batter was light and had a really nice crunch over the soft, sweet prawn. The plate itself was presented without added fuss and if ordered separately for £7.50, it’s a half decent plate of grub. Well, it would have been if they hadn’t ruined the whole bloody thing with mayonnaise. I’m sure a lot of people like it but for me, the creamy mayo just put a cloying, gunky blanket over what should have been a zingy, fresh and crisply balanced experience. Mayo on the side please, always on the side!
Let us then compare that to the matchstick chicken; a bowl of either questionably obtained pieces of baby chicken, or heroically sourced supermarket snubbed chicken portions. You can choose which side you want to look at them from but one thing that is undeniable was that these guys delivered across the board. The pile of tiny wings and legs were fried until super hero crisp and delivered without apology or pretence. Mrs P and I devoured the crunchy little buggers without hesitation.
That leaves us with the beef rib. You can see here that the portion is nicely sized and comes with a Thai style roti – traditional Indian deliciousness – as well as unlimited jasmine rice and a dressed salad. The beef itself was soft and meaty, I can’t pretend that it was the best bit of beef I’ve ever eaten but it was a damn fine attempt. The flaky roti (think pasty pancake style) probably has it’s own special Thai name but all I know is that it was buttery and delicious. Certainly something that I would choose again and be more than happy should it appear on my plate in the future. The salad had the citrus punch and energy that I wanted from the prawns; it was sour, sweet, lightly chilli warmed and salty all pooled in one beautifully combined bowl. The only let down on the tray was the alleged BBQ sauce – it just wasn’t up to the same standard. I suspect that it’s pitched as a half way house between some of the Thai flavours that they’ve got going on and what regular punters think of when we see ‘BBQ sauce’. It’s a shame, but I consoled myself by mixing in some of the Siracha that was hiding at the end of the table behind the Aloe Vera cactus thing.
Busaba Eathai in round up
So how do we finish up with Busaba Eathai? Well, If you really want to seek out some proper good Thai in London, then you need to get yourself over to The Begging Bowl in Peckham but in the meantime, these guys offer you good chain style value for when you need your Thai fix fast. In fact, they become even better value when you add the unlimited rice into the mix, because once you’ve shared two starters and the beef between two of you then picked through the salad, you might think you’re done but just pour that dressing over the top of another portion of rice and you’re back in business! As a light meal for two in London, at £33 with drinks and service charge included, it’s got the value and interesting flavours that are hard to disagree with in central London outside of China Town. I’m told that they’ve got 18 locations over the city and I can certainly see us popping in again should we be passing and feel the need for some fried baby chicken.