If you’ve been to London lately, you’ll have noticed that the capital’s hottest restaurants don’t bear the names of Gordon Ramsey, Heston Blumenthal, Fergus Henderson or Trevor Gulliver. In fact, they don’t boast any famous monikers at all – the rage now is for casual eateries without celebrity chefs, places that attract a tragically hip crowd who want to dine in style, but within a budget.
Enter Box Thai on Arbuthnot Road. Their concept is taken straight out of case studies of London’s cheap and chic diners, such as Wagamama’s, Yauatcha, Cha Cha Moon and Busaba Eathai. In fact, I had dined in Busaba Eathai just three days previously, and, as I walked in, I had the eerie feeling I was back in London again. The warm wooden space was familiar, the communal tables the same, the music an identical mix of bossanova and low-tempo jazz, and, if my short-term memory serves me right, they had matching lights hanging above each table.
The comparisons don’t stop there. I had a déjà vu dining experience, too. We started with chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves ($50); a classic as far as westernised Thai cuisine goes. The one thing they do differently at Box Thai, and therefore inauthentically, is to steam the chicken in the leaves first before deep-frying them. Though the exterior is not as crispy, the meat remains tender and juicy inside. So what if they don’t follow the traditional recipe – it’s a great improvement on the original.
Sticking with the cheap and chic theme, we subsequently went for the Pad Thai with vegetables ($55), soft rice noodles tossed with eggs, bean sprouts, chillies and lime – cooked with the right amount of heat, citrus, and salt. It’s worth noting that the portions at Box Thai are great for a solo diner, as well as sharing as part of a multi-course meal.
Next was the tale of two curries. The grilled pork neck and pineapple curry ($75) was unusually good. The tender morsels of meat offered a bit of fat on the tongue, but it was the pineapple – a burst of sweetness – and the delicious mild curry that left us wanting more. Meanwhile, the deep-fried snapper with rich red curry ($175) was a gorgeously sculptured piece of fish, split in half and cooked to a perfect crisp. It sat in a thick, viscous curry dotted with eggplants. To accompany the curry you have the choice of either steamed jasmine or sticky rice ($15 each), presented in single-serve bamboo steamers.
Our next main was beef with Thai sweet basil leaves ($75), which was one of the simplest, but best executed dishes of the night. Tender beef slices were stir-fried with just the right quantity of spice and tang. Lastly, the smoked fish salad ($60) was where they got fancy with the plating. A good-sized portion of centre-cut salmon loin sat stacked on a bed of just-pickled cucumber, lettuce and red chillies. This dish was so much milder in taste than the other Thai dishes that it almost seemed out of place. It was certainly great value, but in retrospect we should’ve gone for a different mouth cleanser, such as the grilled calamari pomelo salad ($55).
Ultimately, while the upstairs Arbuthnot Road location might prove to be a hard sell, we’re hoping that curious diners will give this place a try for what seems to be the trend for restaurants today: cheap, cheerful and simple good food done well.
1/F, Shui King Court, 4-8 Arbuthnot Rd, Central, 2537 6887; www.boxthai-moderneating.com. Daily noon-11pm. Meal for two: $500.
|Venue name:||Box Thai (closed)|
1/F, Shui King Court, 4-8 Arbuthnot Rd, Central