Nipa Thai – The Closest Thing to Thailand Without Leaving the UK:
Food for me is as much, if not more, influenced by ‘terroir’ as wine. The soil, the slope of the land, the altitude, the sunshine, the rain, the wind and even the lifestyle of the farmers will affect produce, each element adding something to the overall flavour of everything from tomato to onions. I was brought up in Fenland Norfolk, where the soil is rich and peaty. Our strawberries, celery and asparagus had a unique taste that I’ve never found elsewhere and didn’t consciously remember until last year someone sent me a box of Fenland celery. Thirty-five years later it brought back vivid memories of my childhood, of the flat landscape where roads and canals run above the levels of the fields, creating a patchwork crayoned drawing of countryside through the eyes of a five year old.
Nipa Thai is, I believe, unique in that the ingredients used in their kitchen are flown in daily from Thailand. The hotel that is home to the restaurant is owned by Thai Airways and they source and supply the kitchen with produce that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere in the UK. I was lucky to be dining with my Malaysian friend May who helped explain some of the intricacies of the dishes we were served. The original idea was that we were going to review the Khantok menu that is offered for pre-theatre dining, served between 5pm and 7pm each evening. At £19.50 per person, including a glass of wine, Thai beer or a soft drink together with five dishes, this must be one of London’s best value offerings, especially when it comes in the refined and elegant setting of the Nipa Thai restaurant. All with immaculate and charming service.
Our hostess though, had other ideas and wanted us to try the specialities of the restaurant, offering an amuse bouche of spicy beef to start. Quite a delicate mouthful wrapped up in a chicory leaf, a lovely way to start the meal.
On to the Nipa platter for two which was a mixture of small(ish) portions all the dishes I’d be tempted to choose from the menu. Spring rolls, Thai fishcakes, chicken and beef satay, deep fried prawn dumplings and some curious steamed dumplings with rice wrappers in blue and green. A feast in its own right, served with a variety of dipping sauces and accompaniments. Beautifully presented, everything tasted as good as it looked,
Then a spicy prawn soup, tom yum koong. I do like heat, but my first mouthful of this fragrant soup took me by surprise. I hadn’t noticed the 3 chillis on the menu! Once I’d grown accustomed to the heat, the sweet-sour flavours of the broth and fragrance of the coriander and lemongrass came through well, punctuated by a variety of vegetables and some plump and juicy prawns.
My choice of main course was red curry with scallops – cho chee hoi shell. Made with red chilli paste, coriander and basil coconut broth, this was nicely spicey, especially after the tom yum soup. Hot enough to carry through from the soup, but not too hot to overwhelm the juicy scallops.
May ordered pla rad prik, a filleted crisp fried seabass with aromatic coriander, onion and chillies, topped with fried holy basil. Now, I tasted a little and it was beautiful, delicate and finely seasoned. But I was told off for pulling off the crispy skin – apparently that is part of the dish and on reflection that makes perfect sense.
Our hostess was very keen for us to try Kana Plakem, which is a stir fry of a type of kale with special salted fish. And it turned out to be a great side dish to accompany the fish dishes with a lightly salty sauce and tiny morsels of the fish punctuating the fresh green leaves.
Another great touch was the lychee water-ice palate cleanser. The sort of dainty morsel that you don’t need but that adds something special and gives you a chance to digest the main course. On to desserts though.
A fruit platter with all manner of tropical fruits, including dragon fruit, rambutan, mango and pineapple, amazingly fresh and carefully presented.
And for me, those special tropical bananas that you can’t get in the UK normally, dipped in a light batter and deep fried, served with a dollop of ice-cream.
We did manage to eat everything offered to us. And, although we left feeling just a little full, everything was light and carefully cooked and there was none of that ‘hangover’ effect you sometimes get from eating just a little too much. I was very impressed with the evening as a whole. Immaculate service, very fresh and well cooked food presented stylishly. We marvelled over the carved vegetable flowers and loved some of the Thai specialities that you seldom find in the UK.
There are a range of set menus at Nipa Thai from £35 per person. Or you can chose from the main menu with starters around £10-£15 and most main courses hovering around £20.
It’s well worth going in my opinion and probably the closest thing to high quality authentic thai food you’ll find outside of Thailand itself.
We dined as guests of Nipa Thai