Featured Restaurant: Thai Square

22nd September 2017

27 George Street • St Albans • AL3 4ES • 01727 893700

Reviewed by Jill Glenn

Thai Square, a largely London-based chain of restaurants, promises 'authentic Thai food in Thai-inspired surroundings'. Although the Tudor Tavern, a former public house with origins in the Middle Ages, might not seem an obvious choice, the fusion of past and present, east and west is actually very beguiling, with its exposed beams, pale walls, warm golden wood tables, each with a candle. The place is perhaps half-full, and there's a low buzz of conversation and a general air of relaxed enjoyment. It's all stacking up very well.

There's a warm welcome from the staff, whose service is courteous and well-paced throughout – and who never, thankfully, interrupt the eating to ask 'how's everything with your food?'… a practice, commonplace now, that always irritates me. I'm delighted to find an establishment where the kitchen is confident in the dishes it's sending out, and doesn't ask its colleagues to seek constant reassurance.

We begin with Salt & Pepper Squid (deep-fried squid in batter, topped with spring onion, salt, pepper and a touch of fresh chillies) and Papaya Salad (green papaya mixed with chillies, lime juice, garlic, nuts, palm sugar, tomatoes and long beans). The presentation is neat, but not elaborate. Here, it's all about the flavour and the ingredients. The squid could be a few degrees hotter; in fact, that applies to the main courses too (I imagine the kitchen to be some distance away, and the food cooling down on its long journey to reach us). That small niggle aside, it's delicious: the flavour comes through well and the exterior is nicely crunchy. The papaya salad, which resembles a coleslaw minus the gloopy coating, is palate-cleansingly zingy – full of fresh flavours and textures, and really refreshing. These are great choices, both pleasantly light, and they leave our appetites whetted but not sated.

Next up – Weeping Tiger (chargrilled, marinated sirloin of beef, served with North-Eastern style spicy sauce) and King Prawn Panang (a spicy and relatively dry curry, cooked with coconut milk, garnished with shredded lime leaves), plus Coconut Rice, and Broccoli with Garlic and Soya Sauce.

It's a really good selection. Served in thin slices, the beef is silkily tender; it really does melt in the mouth, and the sauce brings it very much to life, without overpowering the good taste of the meat.

The Panang Curry is astonishing; these are not King Prawns… these are Saviour of the Universe Prawns. They're enormous, but so tender and sweet, and the accompanying sauce is beautifully mellow. We clear our plates.…

… and, as a result, are completely defeated by the idea of dessert, so settle for finishing the wine instead. At the suggestion of our waitress, we've accompanied the meal with a Thai white, a blend of Colombard and White Malaga grapes, which is light and fruity, with a lemony, melony character that goes well with the spicy flavours of the food. It's unexpectedly good, and I'm ashamed that I didn't know that Thailand produced wine. Later I learn that Louis XIV sent vine cuttings from France to Thailand in the 1600s; to be fair, modern wine-making there only dates from the 1990s, but the fact that it has its cultural roots in European history seems particularly appropriate as we sit in this medieval English hostelry reimagined as a smart contemporary oriental restaurant.

STARTERS: £6.95-£9.95 • MAINS: £9.95-£15.95
DESSERTS: £2.90-£6.50 • HOUSE WINE: £17.95

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