Here in St Albans Thai Square can be found in the historical quarter of the city on the corner of George Street. The entrance of Thai Square is flanked by two stone elephants with their trunks fortuitously elevated. We open the door to a richly decorated lobby.
Amazingly, it is housed in an original Tudor building with sagging and crooked timber frames. We have stepped into a minimal contemporary interior, dimly lit and decorated with Golden Buddha statues on the mantle pieces and small stone candleholders of Buddhist monks emitting a soft light along the windowsills.
We are warmly greeted, shown to our table and handed the menus. We take a look at the wine menu first and immediately go for the dark red Shiraz Monsoon Valley, native to Thailand. It’s full-bodied and sweet, ideal for such a cold wintry night, and the menu informs us that it exudes “characters of dark plum, cherries, toffee and spices.”
Sipping my wine, I sit back and look out onto George Street’s pretty fairy lights sparkling through the window. Faint music weaves though the air. My husband observes that you’d never have expected a Tudor building to work so well as a contemporary interior with eastern décor.
I open the menu to a huge culinary repertoire and look forward to my dining experience. This menu looks fit for a royal entourage to just walk in and be more than impressed with these dishes. In fact, here at Thai Square many dishes ranging from crispy noodles to the dried fish originate in the royal court dating back 300 years. Royal Green Thai Curry is one of my husband’s favourites and apparently one of Thailand’s most popular dishes.
We sit in silence concentrating on the menu and taking in the varied ingredients of each dish. We want to get our order right with so many sensational flavours on offer. I love the three chilli symbol – it looks like a serious warning signal. I steer clear of it, as these red hot vegetables can reduce me to tears.
We agree on the three course Gold Set Menu; it looks delicious and well balanced with a variety of flavours that the Thai expert chefs have put together. My husband agrees as long as we have the soup with it.
Our prawn crackers arrive and my husband tries his best to share them! The waitress then brings our starter dishes. The platter is filled with crispy textures in unusual shapes. The vegetable spring roll works well when dipped into the sweet chilli sauce. The prawn toast is thick and firm on the inside and perfectly crisp with sesame seeds on the outside; the satay chicken is perfectly tender and the butterfly prawns nicely chewy in a soft batter.
However, for me, it’s the Thai dumplings that are the star of the show! I bite into one slowly savouring the succulent texture. Their sweetness and saltiness are perfectly balanced.
My husband is in his element as our steaming Tom Yum Gai Chicken soup arrives. The vibrant clean and aromatic flavours of this soup are infused with red hot chillis and other spices – a lot of them! Namely lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal and oyster mushrooms. In my naivety I take my first spoonful without hesitation. Within seconds, the back of my throat is burning, and I call the waitress for some tap water. I look up at my husband who is thoroughly enjoying it; his cheeks have reddened, and a mild perspiration has spread across his forehead.
I persevere as I have a slight cold and my sinuses have cleared a little already after only four or five spoonfuls. The button mushrooms are tender and rich in flavour.
In the end, I only manage to eat half of it alongside half a bottle of water! “Did you not like it?” my husband asks, oblivious to my struggle. I smile at him with raised eyebrows. He knows perfectly well how I feel about very spicy food.
By the time we’re served our main dishes, the restaurant is getting livelier and the atmosphere jovial. The duck and crab dishes are beautifully presented in small boat-like platters alongside three small bowls of vegetables, ribbon noodles and steamed rice. The duck dish is garnished in oyster sauce. It’s simply exquisite and even tastier served alongside crunchy broccoli, carrots and seaweed served in a luscious garlic sauce.
My husband has ordered the golden soft-shell crab marinated in yellow curry powder, eggs, onions and celery. I have not been able to work out why they’re such a strange shape and why there is very little delicate white meat. I ask the waiter about it and he explains that soft crab served this way is a very popular Thai dish and you’re supposed to eat the soft shell and bones too.
We chat away and finish our wine, having enjoyed dining by candlelight at Thai Square. It has been a celebration in textures, colours, tastes and smells. I just love the way these cultures freely toss sweet, salty, savoury, spicy and sour flavours together and I’m not at all surprised that Thai Square restaurants have been around now for over 20 years. We say our goodbyes and look forward to next time.
Thai Square, 28 George Street, St Albans, AL3 4ES. Details: 01727 893700 thaisq.com