Have you ever wondered what guys talk about over dinner? In the absence of their girlfriends/wives (select one) and little ones (delete if appropriate), that is. Well, after a while they would run out of dirty jokes and an uncomfortable silence reigns. It's especially bad if there are only two of them at the table - staring into each others' eyes and giggling clearly isn't an option.
It's not that bad for Singaporean guys. At least we can recount the two and the half years spent plowing through thick forests in the middle of the night wearing camouflage and layering ourselves with generous lubes of mosquito repellant. But after awhile, even the most garang of us all ran out of tall tales to tell. Like I said, we would prefer not to stare into each others' eyes in silence.
So we talked about the food on our table instead. YQ was in town again a couple of days back and I asked him to go along for a dinner hosted by Patara. Having done a bit of reading up beforehand, I immediately notices that it was given an average rating of 8.2 on Toptable based on over 600 ratings (at the time of writing). I was told that any restaurant rated 8.0 and above would be quite decent so we were in for a treat it seemed.
Like most invitations, I asked the staff for recommendation and she immediately pointed to the deep fried oysters, which Patara is serving till end November 2011. A mandatory tom yum goong was quickly added at YQ's request. As we flipped through Patara's menu, it became apparent that Patara is one of the few Thai restaurants in London which menu is still entirely in Thai save for the description of the dishes themselves. Not only that, Patara not only boosts a number of branches in London but can also be found in Singapore's Tanglin Mall too.
Incidentally, Patara is the only Thai restaurant in London that serves freshly squeezed naam manaaw (lime juice). This traditional drink is an appetizer like none other and definitely goes much better with Thai dishes than any of the wine available. Patara's naam manaaw is exactly how I remembered it to be - utterly refreshing and palate cleansing.
The Maldon Rock Oysters (three for £5.50) came soon after. "What a waste," YQ quietly remarked. He wasn't commenting on the freshness of the oysters. Being a purist, he prefers to have his oysters raw. In his opinion, asking for a deep fried oyster is likened to ordering a deep fried fish in a Chinese restaurant - one can no longer taste the freshness in it. I wasn't too hung up about that and thought that flash fried oysters tasted more pleasant than expected, especially with a squeeze of lemon.
YQ adored Patara's tom yum goong (£7.15) though. The prawn bisque infused with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf came full of fat juicy prawns and squid, which were probably as fresh as they could get. The tom yum was a bit too succinct for my liking and lacked the kick that I was looking for. But this would be a good one to try for those who have a penchant for subtlety.
Miang guaytiew (£8.95) came highly recommended and I wonder why. The rice paper rolls with prawns, crabmeat and five spiced duck turned out to be quite a disappointment. While I couldn't quibble about the prawns, the crabmeat turned out to be the frozen crabsticks stocked in supermarkets. The duck was equally unimpressive. To get any taste out of this, we had to dunk each piece in the accompanying lime and chilli dip, which nullified any differences between the three.
Kao ob sapparod (£7.10) or pineapple seafood fried rice looked a bit over the top with a huge scallop perched at the top, generous slices of squid and a number of jumbo prawns thrown in for good measure. I guess by then we were quite certain that Patara prided itself on the freshness of its seafood and for good reasons too. There was however, just a slight hint of pineapple in the rice. As for turmeric, we almost missed that.
Nua prig Thai dum (£17.95) would please any beef fans. Thinly sliced tender beef fillets sauteed in cracked (thus gritter) black pepper sauce were laid on top of shitake mushroom and poached broccoli with a sprinkling of deep fried shallots over it. Brilliantly executed, I thought the broccoli, which quickly soaked up the peppery gravy took the cake. One would do well using the beef fillet with a wrap over mushroom and broccoli.
Next up was gang kia goong (£14.10). This strong coconut curry came across as a bit too liberal with its salt. The unmistakable strong peppery taste of betalnut cut cleanly through the kaffir lime and turmeric. Curiously, it reminded me of the smoky keluak nuts that I had at Candlenut Kitchen back home. Oh, there were huge fresh prawns in the concoction too, need I say more?
Pak choy pad hed horm (£6.50) was ordered almost as an afterthought - we thought it would be apt to balance our seafood feast with some greens. A simple dish it was and the pak choy was nicely cooked and retained much of its crunch.
Dessert came in the form of kaoneow nanyang (£7.10). After repeatedly getting sour mangoes at Isarn, I was all ready for a proper Thai mango dessert. Patara's was right at the mark. Its mango was not overly ripe and sweet to the taste. Coconut cream oozed over soft glutinous rice with some sesame seeds on it. Heavenly.
Tart sangkaya (£6.65) was a soft Thai custard pudding, like huat kueh (steam rice cakes) as suggested by YQ. We agreed that the ginger ice-cream went extremely well with the pudding. An apt end to the dinner that evening I must say.
Located in Greek Street in London's Soho, Patara is in the company of a number of popular eating establishments (Yauatcha, Bar Shu, Princi, Koya and @Siam are a few names coming off the top of my head), but looking at the crowd on a Tuesday evening (we counted two sittings), it is certainly one of the more popular ones. Fiery Thai cuisine it's not but in terms of service and presentation, it's in a league of its own.
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