Tuesday, 18 October 2011

@Siam Frith Street Soho review - where phad thai is a boring dish


Address: 48 Frith Street, London W1D 4SF
Tel: 020 7494 4511
Nearest Tube station: Leicester Square

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: Below £25pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ****
Service: ***
Ambience: ***
Of all the things that you wouldn't expect when having a meal, having the lights go out on you must count among the top of the list. But that was exactly what happened after our starters at a dinner hosted by @Siam. It was a shame really for we rather enjoyed the deep fried pork (moo daad deow) that was served.

As we stepped out of @Siam later on, we realised that the power outage affected half of the businesses along Frith Street. It was rather surreal to see people filing out in bewildered amusement from Koya and Ronnie Scott, which @Siam is located in between.

We were back again at @Siam a couple of weeks later. Like most invitations, we let @Siam's waiter help us make our selections. Other than phad Thai, chicken green curry, tom yum chicken and Thai fish cakes, I'm not really familiar with other Thai dishes and I suspect I speak for more than a few.

..the waiter whispered in an
almost conspiratorial tone,
"Don't go for phad Thai,
it's so boring."

The funny thing is that if you were to ask me for my favourite Thai dish, it would have to be this noodles dish that I had at a dingy canteen in an army barrack in northern Thailand many years ago. I recall that it cost just 23 Thai baht, which was just about what we can afford for a meal on our meagre army allowance. After an entire night of shivering in the dark, the group of us filed listlessly into the canteen. The thatched roof barely held together in the tropical storm gathering outside. I knew what I would order even before we returned to the camp - the noodle stall tucked in the corner of the canteen served the a simple instant noodle stir fried in mild ketchup with everything wrapped up in a thin ommelette. As you break open the ommelette, the steam from the still warm springy noodles rose with a whiff of ketchup. That is my favourite dish.


After making some selections for us, the waiter whispered in an almost conspiratorial tone, "Don't go for the phad Thai, it's so boring...". I was mildly amused for that would be exactly what I would go for. On hearing that we didn't mind going for the hot and spicy dishes, he got a bit excited and quickly recommended a couple of his favourites (as I requested).

For some reason, none of the Thai restaurants that I've been to in London actually serve naam manaaw (fresh lime juice) and that include @Siam. A pity really, this sour (slight sweet if some honey has been added) concoction, which is a Thai favourite, is one of the most refreshing drink I ever had. It helps increase one's appetite as well. For hot beverages, only mint tea and green tea were served at @Siam. Wife asked whether @Siam served any specialty drink and the Thai ice tea was recommended.


The ice cool tea was served with a small layer of condensed milk lying the bottom of the clear tall glass. When mixed, the slight bitter taste of the tea intermingled with the ostensibly sweet milk - heavenly. In the height of summer, give me a glass of this over Pimms anytime.


E-sarn sausages (£6.95) were served soon after. Don't be misled by the disparate presentation of the fried traditional Thai sour pork sausages. While they looked carelessly tossed on a longish plate together with a small handful of cashewnuts and a couple of cabbage leaves, They tasted better than they looked. Infused with herbs, the meaty nature of the compactly packed sausages complemented the nuttiness of the fresh cashewnuts. If only the cabbage slices were a bit larger, I would simply warp up a sausage and some cashewnuts and down them in a mouthful.


If you think that E-sarn sausages were a tad dry, som tum Thai (£7.50) should definitely be ordered together with it. This green papaya salad was an explosive mix of sourness due to the unripe papaya and spiciness of the chilli seeds dispersed generously. To add some texture, peanuts bits and dried shrimps were added. Fabulous.


Tom yum goong (£6.50) is almost mandatory for every Thai meal. @Siam's was one of the better ones that I had come across - full bodied with a satisfying spicy aftertaste, which made me reached out for Wife's Thai ice tea. But I thought that the prawns could be a little fresher.


Gang phed ped yang (£11.95) was definitely the star of the meal. I love my duck. This one had sliced chargrilled marinated duck breast (skin still attached) cooked in red curry. What made the dish special were the pineapple chunks, lychees, grapes and cherry tomatoes that swirled in the thick creamy curry. A portion of Thai fragrant rice must be had with this.


Weeping Tiger (£11.95) was the final dish. I would love to hear the story behind that name. A quick search online came up with various origins, one of which talked about a tiger who wept when a hunter hunted down one of its cow. Fascinating. A small slab of grilled beef with a small sauce bowl of "exotic Thai sauce", it looked rather underwhelming. But it wasn't too bad when you eventually manage to cut down through the beef (I would prefer a sharper knife). The sauce itself made all the difference - it was sweet and sour with a slight peppery taste. Yes, it did taste somewhat exotic.

One thing that I love about London's Soho is the variety of cuisine that can be found within the small area. You would almost certain to find something different. The ground floor was packed by 2pm when we left for our lunch. @Siam is certainly not the typical Thai restaurant that you would expect. While there are certain items on the menu that would suit the locals' tastebuds (I would avoid using the word "Anglicised" here), there are some traditional dishes to be had. One thing's for sure, I'll check out its phad Thai the next time I'm there.

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