Imagine you’re in the mood for Indian food. Sometimes that means seeking out the amazing place you’ve found across the other side of London, the one that makes rotis and parathas just like the ones you had when you travelled around India. Or the one down in Peckham serving Keralan food redolent with curry leaves and coconut. Or the new place everyone’s talking about, specialising in fermented-rice appams and lentil-and-rice dosas. But sometimes it means heading to the nearest curry house for a lamb saag and a naan. And that’s just fine because they are all delicious and satisfying, if they are what you fancy in that moment.
Why am I talking about Indian food in the introduction to a Thai restaurant review?
Because this was one of the topics of conversation when Pete and I visited Suda Thai recently. Suda is one of the collection of restaurants within St Martin’s Courtyard, an open space between the buildings that line the triangle of Long Acre, Mercer Street, Shelton Street and Upper St Martin’s Lane.
Billed as a Thai Cafe Restaurant, Suda’s extensive menu is full of familiar Thai dishes, the classics you already know and love – the traffic-light of curries, som tam malakor (green papaya salad), satay chicken, pad thai (rice noodles), minced chicken sesame toasts and more. But there are also a wide range of dishes that are less likely to found in the Thai equivalent of a curry house, such as tub gai (chicken livers sautéed with garlic and black pepper), gui chay (pan-fried chive cake), kao soi (a yellow curry noodle soup in the Chiang Mai style), kao ob talay (seafood rice pot) and cho-chee pla (sizzling sea bass in a kaffir lime leaf and red curry sauce). This is no Janetira Thai but there are some interesting dishes here nonetheless.
The menu is a little bit all over the place though. Starters are split between regular portions and Small Bites – a kind of design-your-own-platter idea. There’s a Small Bowls section, more of which later. Mains are split across Curries, Thai Salads, Thai Soups, Stir Fried, Chef Recommends and To Each His Own (no, I have no idea what the meaning of that heading is either). And there are separate sections for Accompaniments and Rice. There’s also a page pulling together all the vegetarian starters and mains.
We are in the mood for familiar flavours, so our order is quite pedestrian. Perhaps next time we shall stray further into dishes we know less well.
The drinks menu is also extensive with a range of wines one side of the sheet and cocktails, smoothies, juices and soft drinks, beers, spirits and liqueurs on the other.
My Lychee Martini (£9.25) is lovely – full-on lychee, exactly as I’d hoped. I’m not as keen on the Thai Pimm’s (£7.85) as I’d asked for recommendations for a sweet cocktail, but this one has more sour and sharp flavours than I like.
The first starter we are served is the most disappointing, not to mention shockingly over-priced. Roti with Peanut Sauce (£3.25) turns out to be four small pieces of cold, fried roti (flatbread) with a small dish of peanut sauce. It’s genuinely hard to comprehend the pricing on this dish, surely one of the cheapest and easiest to put together?
Some of the Small Bites we pick are a better. The Toast Na Gai (minced chicken sesame toast £1.25 a piece) is nice enough, a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of dish. The Goong Sawan (king prawn wrapped in egg noodles and fried, £1.85 a piece) is far, far smaller than I expected and a little bland. The best of the selection is Gae Yang (marinated lamb chop, £6.50 a piece), though I’m not sure where the fresh green salad and sweet potato crisps promised on the menu disappear to.
The sauces that accompany the starters are served in shot glasses – these no doubt make it easier to fit more items on the serving plate, and perhaps someone decided they look stylish too – but they are awkward to dip food into and a perfect example of style over substance or practicality. Give me wide shallow sauce dishes any day.
One of the strongest menu ideas for me is Suda’s Small Bowls – a short and sweet list of five Thai curries which can be individually ordered in small portions; I love the option to enjoy more variety than a single main portion of one curry would afford. The Gaeng Kiew Waan (green curry with chicken £4.25) packs a punch of flavour – the thin sauce is hot and delicious. The Gaeng Panang Nua (beef penang curry £4.25) is thick and creamy, generous in the amount of beef and seriously hot. Another delicious whack to the taste buds!
With these we have a portion of Kao Mun (steamed coconut rice £3.50).
One of Pete’s long time favourites is Pad Thai with chicken (£10.50) and the mound of stir fried rice noodles is generous and enjoyable. Note that you’ll pay a whopping £6 extra for king prawns instead of chicken, and the menu stipulates that you’ll get just two of them – if they’re the same size as the one I had as a starter, I’d steer well clear!
We also order a Nua Yang Salad (£13.95) of grilled sirloin steak with a spicy dressing. This is good and tasty but the salad alongside is not what I expected – a standard mixed salad leaves affair with it’s own dressing on the side; I think a small dressed som tam would work much better here.
I cannot resist finishing with Kao Niew Mamuang (sticky rice with fresh mango £5.95), a huge favourite of mine. The sticky rice is unsweetened, dense and chewy – gorgeous against the fresh, sweet mango. Suda Thai do this dish very well, though I don’t think the vanilla ice cream adds anything.
Pete orders a Suda Coffee (£2.70) which comes in glass cups tucked into a charming carrying frame. Mild black coffee sits above a layer of sweet condensed milk. The second glass holds richly-scented jasmine tea, provided as a chaser.
There are certainly some missteps in our meal – the pricing and portion size of some of the starters and a boring pile of leaves with the sirloin beef salad. But there are highlights too, the two Small Bowl curries are superbly delicious and well priced; the sticky mango rice is wonderful and the novel (to us) coffee and tea combo is a delight.
Staff are helpful, guiding customers through the menu with warmth and efficiency. The restaurant itself is attractive, split across two floors and with plenty of space, plus a disabled lift to the first floor.
Would I go again? Yes, particularly with a group of friends – I think sharing a few more dishes between 4 or 5 would work well for this menu. The location is very handy too.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Suda Thai, St Martin’s Courtyard.