Leaving the grey paving stones of Castle Street behind me, as soon as I head up several floors and enter Chaophraya, in the rooftop location formerly occupied by Oloroso, I feel for a moment like I’ve been transported thousands of miles east.
The self-proclaimed ‘opulent’ interior design is certainly that, decked out in dark woods and golds with subdued lighting, and combining classic oriental and modern decor to stylish effect.
An army of immaculately dressed staff hover between tables, and we sit down to tuck into the menu, which along with the restaurant’s logo and signage has undergone a revamp to deliver a “sophisticated edge” to Thai dining, with a mix of dishes inspired by tastes from across the Thai regions.
It flags an increasing focus on eating ‘family-style’ in the traditional Thai fashion, sharing dishes. However, with the menu still offering conventional course choices, my dining partner and I opt to power through three courses. That said, narrowing down the choices was not easy and the sharing style recommends at least one curry dish. I enviously eye this part of the menu, with a couple of green and red options, and the Massaman dish made with turmeric, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and chillies is apparently one of the favourite dishes of the Thai royal family, dating back to the 16th century.
However, that will have to wait for another time, and I decide to start the way I would like to start every meal, with a sizeable portion of piping hot and crunchy-coated soft shell crab and squid tempura served with a chili and lime avocado dip, although the latter lacks the level of tangy firepower I would have liked.
My guest chooses the Thai fishcakes that combine spicy cod and coley fish with green beans, lime leaves and red curry paste, resulting in a somewhat dense texture and served with a sweet chilli sauce and peanut vegetable relish.
When it comes to the mains, I can’t resist the sound of one of the menu’s signature dishes, an 8oz chamber-aged sirloin steak that you can cook yourself on a Himalayan rock salt block, with stir-fried shimeji mushrooms, onions and Bok choy. However, the meat arrives cooked and seasoned perfectly so it feels unnecessary to heat it through any further, and I’m also worried about accidentally scalding myself on the piping hot block, especially as it’s placed right next to me. However, in pursuit of some sizzle, I use it to brown the meat a little extra and it remains perfectly tender.
The menu has also apparently been refreshed to dispel the perception that eating Thai food always has to be done with chopsticks, which are mostly reserved for noodle dishes, and a fork and spoon is apparently the most traditional way to eat its dishes.
I’m of the opinion that chopsticks are always a welcome addition, and my guest, who loves Thai food, opts to go down the noodles route, which she has with deliciously scented fillets of seabass, infused with the likes of lemongrass, coriander root and lime leaves, served with fresh chilli and lime sauce and a salad including yellow soy beans and sugar snap peas.
By the time we order desserts several options have run out, but I’m happy to choose the coconut panna cotta that comes with one of the meal’s highlights, a tangy and fragrant lime and lemongrass sorbet, as well as a berry compote and served with edible flowers. My guest targets the white chocolate box, a mousse with raspberry coulis on shortbread with an ultra-cute mini macaron and passion fruit syrup.
Chaophraya is named after the main waterway in Thailand that in days of yore ‘breathed life into the families who lived along its banks’ and is still regarded as central to the country. It is also a big inspiration to the menu, according to the restaurant that launched in the UK in 2004 and has grown to seven branches, including three north of the Border.
It says the new menu comes after its ‘senior culinary brigade’ travelled to Thailand over the course of six months to research the latest developments in the country’s cooking, to create an offering that ‘takes Thai dining to a new level here in the UK’.
There is also a focus on ‘heightened service levels’, but while service was uniformly friendly and professional, it wasn’t quick, with a wait of at least half an hour for the starters. What’s more, the menu is not an option for a particularly reasonable meal, and while individual dishes are priced starting at £6.50 for starters, £10.50 for mains and £7.50 for desserts, many came in far higher than that. The sea bass dish, for example, is £17.50, with side dishes extra.
It was certainly a stylish and luxurious dining experience overall, with some excellent touches, but at some points it felt that some key aspects were overlooked in favour of presentation.