Thairiffic303 Sauchiehall Street,
0141 332 3000
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Thai not to laugh
Review published on 01/10/2012 © Sunday Herald
I didnt split my sides when Thairiffic opened in Glasgow. I know I should be in stitches at the name, but then I didnt fall off my seat laughing either when Thai Me Up opened in Edinburgh, possibly a distant relation of Thai Mee Kangaroo Down Sport in Oz. Who needs another establishment to swell the giggly litany of Thai eateries that includes N Thai Sing, Bow Thai, Thai Tanic, Thai Riffic, Thai Foon, Thai Ranosauraus, and EnThaiCing? The puns are a little tired. Or should that be Thai Rd?
There are two good Thai restaurants in Edinburgh, and neither plays with words: Absolute Thai and Passorn. Maybe that tells you something. Mind you, we Scots are dab hands at parodying ourselves with deep fried Mars bars and Jimmy bunnets, so we can scarcely complain if Thais are prone to a similar lapse.
I had hoped that silly name notwithstanding, Thairiffic in Glasgow might be a thrilling addition to Glasgows eating out culture. It is located in Sauchiehall Street, home to an eye-popping number of restaurants. Increasingly, this thoroughfare looks like the caterers equivalent of hot desking. One restaurant moves out, another opens, then closes, only to be replaced by another and so on, as a fickle and promiscuous eating out public tries them all out, like a hopeful attendee at a matchmaking ball. To be brutal, very few restaurants in the street inspire repeat attendance, so its not surprising if the turnover is shall we say rapid. Blink and youll miss them.
Thairiffic isnt atrocious. You wont be asking for your money back. But eating there is an anondyne, forgettable experience only the most unimaginative among us will actively seek to repeat. In terms of delivering food that makes a decent fist of representing the glory that is Thai cuisine, you can forget it. If the chef is Thai, then he (or she) needs a trip back home to refresh his or her cooking.
Thairiffic puts food on the plate that is bland, even by Scotlands muted standards. Not to knock our vernacular cuisine, but Scots food can tend to the beige. Things are changing, thanks heavens, but traditionally, we havent used the vibrant spices, and the green injection of fresh herbs, that make many foreign cuisines so attractive.
And Thai cuisine has the capacity to dazzle like few others. The unmistakeable whiff of kaffir lime leaf, the tang of lemon grass, those tastebud-teasing plays on texture and temperature, the juxtaposition of the lethally hot with the refreshingly cool, and the sour with the sweet, thats what Im looking for from any Thai restaurant.
We cant know whether the chef just cant come up with a more freshly authentic offering, or whether a value judgement has been made that diners will be scared off by something more true. The menu is ludicrously large, an auger, perhaps, of a fuzzy blurring of dishes. Our crab and pork dumplings, described ominously as Thai version of Chinese-invented cuisine, tasted like greasy old fish. Golden egg omelette was nothing much more than a lazy pile of near raw beansprouts and a gratuitous amount of dessert-sweet coconut, lying in a flaccid, malformed roll.
Typically Thai delicacy of presentation was missing. What should have been an invigorating palate-teasing salad of sliced papaya had turned into something that looked like coleslaw shredded too finely using the wrong food processor attachment. Its dressing lacked the oomph that might have pepped it up.
Panaeng curry, a pallid offering that should have been aromatic and coconutty, had all the pizazz of one of those would-be globetrotting supermarket ready meals that comes out a British factory. Coconut rice was mushy and bonded almost into a paste that stuck to the roof of the mouth. Stir-fried beef with cashew nuts and seasonal vegetables (sorry-looking green beans) resembled and tasted like what youd get in a very standard Chinese restaurant. Garnishes of fried seaweed, and the general cooking style, made me wonder if Thairiffic is more Chinese repackaged as Thai than out-and-out Thai. Either way, it isnt adding much to Sauchiehall Streets over subscribed eating out scene.
Thai, Thai and Thai again
Review published on 24/09/2012 © Sunday Herald
I give you Glasgows Sauchiehall Street on a midweek night, ladies and gentlemen. Passing in no particular order: some loud semi-drunk English people; a flickering half-full, low-lit flash-fry restaurant called Wok to Walk, which is a Chinese buffet joint that surprising this is completely full of Chinese people, and some very drunk semi-naked Scottish people. And all this as the icy rain pours down, the cars hiss by and we search for a Thai restaurant with a slightly daft name.
So its up some narrow stairs, through a doorway and into ... whoosh. Calm, warmth, dragon-red wallpaper, modern oriental artefacts, twinkling lights and a smiling, willowy waitress guiding us all the way to a seat beside an open window which looks back down on Sauchiehall Street, still going like a fair in all its gallus glory. Menu? Check. Drinks? Check. Starters? Check. Oh hang on. We take the mixed starters at £14 for two consisting of delicious crunchy then soft and fragrant Thai spring rolls stuffed with delicate glass noodles and minced chicken.
We have fish cakes with red curry flavours, crab dumplings, vegetable tempura and a chicken satay with a great peanut sauce, but apart from the spring rolls its all a bit muted tasting. And is the fryer hot enough tonight, chef? Too much oil pooling on some of those dishes. The starters are saved by a dish of sweet and sharply sour som tum papaya, chilli, peanuts, lime juice and carrots a wonderfully refreshing combination and exactly what were looking for, though do we really need a side-salad with a salad?
The trouble with city centre restaurants is of course keeping that bish-bosh city centre attitude out and Thairiffic does have a modern, sophisticated feel even though a glance at those ceiling cornices hints this was probably once a couple of flats or offices.
Theres a real mix in here tonight. Are the couple at the next table on a date? Are the wispy bearded grungsters filling the tables below the Chinese lantern display on the back wall in a band? Dunno, the answers to those questions and many more are beyond me but were right across from the O2 theatre here. It all adds atmosphere. What doesnt add much atmosphere is the strange names on the menu. Spring rolls? Known here as Rock and Roll. Love Duck Curry? Ginger Tossed on Fire? Jungle Curry? The last is at least familiar and comes with a deeply spiced broth, the ubiquitous red pepper slices and a modicum of style. Ginger Tossed on Fire is sadly not such a success, largely because it tastes very little of ginger and is a big, blandish dish.
Luca chose the Pad See Ew for his main course and it arrived some time after ours yet the noodles in soy and fried egg were already coalescing into a slightly gooey mass. Not great. Most disappointing are the meats in every dish. We have chicken, pork and beef yet for some reason they all have the same puffy and bland taste and texture.
Theres a real buzz about Thai food in Scotland these days. Port of Siam through in Edinburgh offers fabulous fresh flavoured dishes with real flair and clever twists. Here in Glasgow we not only have the recent addition of Thairiffic but Chaophraya too just off Buchanan Street. Unfortunately both the Glasgow Thai restaurants are of the mainstream variety. Safe, sensible and perhaps just a little bit dull and Britishised. Thairiffic tonight provides a reasonable meal, the spring rolls were great, the som tum refreshing but after that it all just slips into culinary dullness.
Did it give us Thai fireworks? No. But I suppose not everybody wants that.