If Chicken Tikka Masala remains our favourite national dish, then fragrant, spicy Thai curries surely come in second. A nation that welcomes millions of UK visitors each year offers an incredible kaleidoscope of aromatic flavours, spiciness and a rich cultural heritage that merges the best elements of several South-East Asian cuisines.
Moreover, as the number of British tourists visiting Thailand increases each year, the renown of this complex and varied cuisine can only flourish. In fact, Thai food only started to earn any recognition after the 1960s, when Thailand became a destination for global tourism and America troops began to take their leave on the various island during the Vietnam War.
What the initial visitors to this beautiful country discovered was not one single food culture, but rather four regional cuisines that correspond to the vast geographical differences across Thailand – southern Thai cuisine is very different to the Chinese-influenced dishes found in the North. One commonality amongst all Thai regions is the custom of serving more dishes than there are guests at a table. In Thailand everything is shared and the concept of each individual enjoying one starter and then main course is totally alien and even offensive to Thai. Their dining habits do make our western conventions and ‘manners’ seem rather selfish.
Today there are over 600 Thai restaurants through-out Britain and the numbers continue to grow. Ailing pubs, ever fearful of falling revenues have started offering Thai food with cheap prices and this has been a major hit. Yet 40 years ago there were but a handful of restaurants – The first Thai restaurant to open in the UK was The Bangkok in Bute Street London, which opened in 1967. followed by The Siam in 1970. Of course, things have moved on considerably since then – we’ve selected a few highlights below:
Patara Thai Restaurant – Soho
15 Greek St, Soho, London W1D 4DP
020 7437 1071
A London institution, Patara serves consistently excellent dishes, that are both utterly authentic and decidedly moreish. The minimalist, sleek dining room only adds to the appeal, as does the extensive wine list and extremely professional, charming staff.
Thai Square – Islington
347-349 Upper St, Islington, London N1 0PD
020 7704 2000
A uniformly excellent chain of Thai restaurants, Thai Square offers friendly, no fuss service and reasonably priced, delicious food. The formula clearly works as the Islington branch, which has recently reopened following a major refurbishment, is usually jam- packed. Redesigned sleek interiors, a late night bar serving innovative cocktails and a £12 lunch menu – what’s not to like?
First Floor, Lancaster Terrace, London W2 2TY
020 7551 6039
Now for something a bit special. Nipa Thai is one of the world’s leading Thai restaurants; the setting, service and of course food is extremely polished, slick and at the same time authentic. Head Chef Sanguan is already a living legend in Thai cooking – his approach is to update classical dishes with contemporary touches, while still remaining faithful to the traditions on which this venerable culinary art is founded.
Port of Siam
3 Pier Place Edinburgh, EH6 4LP
0131 467 8628
Port of Siam is a wonderful, family run Thai restaurant that attracts a loyal clientele who return time and time again for the fantastic food, homely atmosphere and friendly service. There is nothing to dislike about the place.
87 Whiteladies Road Bristol, Avon BS8 2NT
0117 973 8930
Undoubtedly the south west’s best Asian restaurant, Thai Classic occupies a simple space that is always full to bursting on weekends with regulars and tourists visiting Bristol. Food is top-notch and doesn’t leave a massive dent in your wallet.
Credit Images: Thai Square Islington