It was my birthday recently and so we went out locally to eat. The Basement Thai fitted the bill perfectly. It’s a short walk away in the town centre and is consistent. It’s also cosy – down some steps into a red-walled cellar with polite and attentive service. I fancied something which wasn’t too filling but was interesting – that sounds like Thai food to me.
I can’t think of a more variable cuisine in Britain right now. It’s almost as if you need a “sighted visit” to understand what the little chilli symbols mean. This happens with Indian cuisine too. Some restaurants play it safe and tone down dishes or put chunks of chilli into the dish in some form of deconstruction so that the spicing becomes your job rather than the restaurant’s. With Thai food though, I find that the whole point is about freshness and clarity of flavours – miss out the judicious heat and you are missing the point of the dish. I’m saying this knowing full well that almost all Thai restaurants tone down to an extent. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men; “the chilli? You can’t handle the chilli.” I’ve eaten a real mouth-burning tom yum soup in Thailand that left me with nose, eyes and pores running and that doesn’t make for a good dining companion. I suppose I am looking for good BritThai in the same way I go for TexMex.
Another characteristic of going to local restaurants regularly is that you notice the difference between chefs. Even in small family-run restaurants there will be a change around in staff through night’s off and illness. The benchmark is the high volume cooking on a Saturday night which I find is often different than the experience on a Wednesday evening (which was when we visited here).
We declined the spicy prawn crackers which can fill you up before you even start the meal. I do like poppadoms with an Indian meal but I’m fully aware they are the reason you never finish the main dish and can never face a dessert.
We ordered the chicken satay skewers and battered prawns for starters. It’s not my favourite Thai course. The chicken satay is good. I like a slight bite to the peanut sauce and they do it well here. The beer battered prawns were disappointing; not through execution, just bad ordering. They are nice enoug prawns served in a crispy batter but the plum sauce is just average and it just wasn’t what I wanted (note to self: try the ribs next time).
I really like the sea bass with Apple salad here. I really like Thai salads and the combination of fresh crunchy vegetables with a zingy dressing right through it. The celery and Apple have a freshness to them. Served with crispy-skinned white dish it is a light but tasty main. On a weekend I am used to getting smaller goujons of fish, finely shredded salad and a small sprinkling of cashews. Tonight it was altogether more rustic. A whole filleted sea bass was cooked well. The salad was much more coarsely cut and there were lashings of nuts in the top. The spiciness was the same but texturally it was different. Still really nice though.
My wife had a beautifully rich red curry with shell-on king prawns. It was fabulously creamy with a nice balance of acidity to cut through the coconut and medium spicing. It was the sort of sauce you can try a few spoonfuls on its own or eat with a bit of the rice and be very content.
With a bottle of sauvignon blanc it fitted the bill perfectly. We were home before bed time and it celebrated by birthday well.