This weekend we paid a visit to some friends in St Albans. After a few hours of Rugby-watching we had worked up an appetite for a Thai feast. Thai Square is part of a chain, but the St Albans branch does a good job of feeling like an independent restaurant. It’s taken over an old Tudor tavern, so you have the historic atmosphere that comes with an olde-worlde place like St Albans, with traditional beams overhead juxtaposed with the whiff of modern Asian cooking.
On the starter menu are all the usual suspects, with a few different offerings thrown in. There were obvious choices of Mr M’s salt and pepper squid – lightly battered and seasoned deep fried squid rings; and butterfly king prawns, again deep fried and served up with sweet chilli sauce. They may be standard menu fodder, but these were well-cooked and nicely presented. No complaints there.
The standout starters were one person’s ‘Duo Scallops’ – two fresh steamed scallops, nicely served in shells, with ginger homemade soya sauce and a spicy Thai chilli dressing with aromatic herbs. Since these weren’t my choice, I can’t testify to their exact taste, but I’m told they were cooked just right, soft and tender, yet not underdone, with the sauce tangy but not too overpowering.
I chose Thai dumplings, not an ordinary choice for me, but just something that caught my eye. These were pretty little parcels of minced chicken and prawns, with water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms and pepper, wrapped in wanton leaves. They had been steamed in a traditional bamboo steamer, making them soft and slightly squishy, yet still with enough bite to keep them appetising. And the fried garlic they were topped with further enhanced the flavour of the chicken and prawns. Truly a delicious starter!
For a Thai main course, you’re always faced with the choice of curry vs stir fry. Hmmm, what to do. Most of the table opted for curries. Mr Manning chose the jungle curry, the spiciest of their offerings and the only one that isn’t made with coconut milk. His lamb had been cooked in mixed Thai herbs, and came with aubergines, bamboo shoots and beans. It certainly packed a punch, and was full of flavour, with tender pieces of lamb that made it rich as well as spicy.
Like a magpie drawn to shinyness, my eye had been caught by the seafood menu, namely the tempting description of the Golden Soft Shell Crab. I’m a glutton for seafood at the best of times, but this sounded indulgent, different, and tasty. And it didn’t disappoint. Deep fried soft shell crab in a light, golden batter, topped with yellow curry sauce, cooked with egg, onions and celery. The batter was light and crispy and didn’t overpower the delicate flavour of the crab. The contrast of the crunchy batter and soft crabmeat worked well, while the sauce was piquant and full of flavour, but again not too heavy for such a delicate meat. It didn’t just taste good, but looked fab too, like a feast of gold laid out before me. Definitely something I’d look out for again on a menu.
Obviously I think mine was the best. But there will always be those who disagree, and Mr M voted our friend’s his favourite choice, so I’d best give it a mention. He had ordered Panang Curry, a rich, red Thai style curry, made with Panang paste with coconut milk and meat, garnished with shredded lime leaves. Less spicy than the jungle curry, but still with a rich warmth. The coconut milk gives a rich, indulgent smoothness that the jungle curry has, but without that over-the-top creaminess you get in the milder Indian curries like Kormas. Instead there’s a silky texture and taste, that precedes the heat of the curry and the taste of the meat, all finished off with the tangy lime leaves. Definitely a good choice.
It’s been a while since we had Thai food. For some reason we tend to opt for Indian, especially when eating out, but Thai Square reminded us both how much we love Thai. Taste, spice and favour, yet somehow seems slightly more delicate and refined. It’s the kind of lip-smacking tastiness that comes with flavour and not just heat. And so we came away suitably chastised by our tastebuds for depriving of them of such yumminess.
Needless to say, I imagine it won’t be long before some more Thai treats pop up on here. Do you like Thai food? Are you a curry or a stir fry person? Let me know and I’ll be inspired to try even more new things.
We paid in full for our meals at Thai Square.