It’s been a long time since I last enjoyed a good Thai meal. New menu launch at Chaophraya in Manchester? Oh, yes please.
Mo and I visited Chaophraya several times, shortly after we first got married. Thai food was always something I WANTED to enjoy, but some of the flavours were just never really my cup of tea. Over the years, I started to appreciate the cuisine as I grew more adventurous, but I didn’t feel the need to return to Chaophraya. I never avoided the restaurant, it was just never top of my agenda to go and visit. Let’s just say it never blew me away.
But all of that changed last week….
Mo arrived back from work in Yorkshire last Thursday evening and I had a table booked for 8, I picked a time slot that ensured I wouldn’t have to deal with any pre-meal hangriness (from his side rather than mine). I picked him up from the train station and we headed straight to the restaurant, where we were greeted with the traditional Thai, ‘sawadika’ by a lovely lady called Fon.
The Manchester venue is a pretty good looking place to eat. I literally can’t fault the design. If you need a place to impress a date, loved one, friend, party – this should be top on your list. This centrally located restaurant oozes seriously good style.
(FYI – most of these images I requested from Chaphraya – I wanted you to see how amazing it looks but I hadn’t had the time to snap my own shots whilst we were there)
Fon found us the perfect table for an intimate evening meal, brought over the brand new menus and took the time to explain exactly how the range of food on offer, had changed. The previous menu contained food of a traditional Bangkok style, the flavours and spices used were all of one type and every dish kind of blended into one.
As we perused the options whilst sipping on our Mai Mao mocktails, we listened intently as Fon explained what this launch set out to achieve, the taste of Thai cuisine from the various different regions of Thailand. And so off the Chaophraya team went, to Thailand on a ‘working holiday’ (lucky sods!) to see what they could bring back to our shores. They cut the menu size down, practically in half, and really concentrated on providing the British consumer with dishes you probably won’t have encountered at many other Thai restaurants. The menu clearly emphasises their journey across the country, using various spices and cooking techniques specific to its region. It was clear that each dish had been developed to be part of a taste-driven menu. Don’t worry though, they’ve held onto firm favourites such as pad thai.
Fon, our host that evening, was lovely, very vivacious, she spoke of how she had started as a waitress before getting a job in the marketing department after graduating. When it came to discussing the Chaophraya brand, she really knew what she was talking about and it was obvious from her genuine passion that this wasn’t just spin.
She was also responsible for delivering possibly the best news of the evening before we began: the chicken, lamb and beef are all halal here.
Well, this evening just got SO much more interesting.
My meat-eating husband breathed the hugest sigh of relief as we started pressing Fon for her recommendations, most of which we ended up going with. For starters, we chose the squid tempura and chicken tacos. On receiving the tempura I instantly regretted not choosing Fon’s recommendation, the soft-shell crab salad. There was nothing actually wrong with the tempura, but the minute I saw it I remembered that anything fried just doesn’t sit well with me at the moment. What I will say is the accompanying sauce was delicious – and not your usual dipping sauce – and the portion was a really generous size.
Now the tacos, well they were absolutely delightful, bursting with flavour. My taste-buds were literally dancing. Already, this was NOT the Chaophraya I remember.
Then came the mains, the super impressive mains. I ordered the chilli glazed spatchcock poussin (baby chicken) which came on a bed beautifully presented mango salad.
Mo ordered the sirloin steak which came with it’s own baked brick of Himalayan salt on which to cook the meat. We had come across a similar concept as a restaurant in Stockholm which served a hot brick to cook tuna, but had never seen it here in the UK, or done with a salt brick (I couldn’t resist checking and my taste test can confirm it most definitely was salt). The beef was served with Thai vegetables. The tenderest slices of spicy peppered beef which melted in the mouth. Mo was in heaven.
We also ordered a side portion of the crab fried rice on Fon’s recommendation which was absolutely delicious, sweetened naturally by the gorgeous crab meat. Thinking about it now, I just want to go back and have it all over again.
With each course came a warning – leave room for dessert.
After polishing off every morsel of food from our main courses, we were presented with dessert menus. Everything sounded incredible. Mo – a chocolate connoisseur, was seriously DYING to try the chocolate bombe, but it came only with Thai whiskey ice-cream (we have suggested a non-alcoholic option as we suspect this is going to be a hugely popular choice).
Instead, he opted for the coconut panna cotta instead. I ordered the white chocolate box and we finished the night with a couple of herbal teas – Moroccan mint for me, and ginger and lemongrass for the hubby.
The desserts were stunning (really should have listened to the advice given and left more room). The white chocolate box simply melted in my mouth. It wasn’t a cheesecake, nor was it a mousse, it was somewhere in between. Not too rich, not too sweet, with a perfect biscuit base. I should also point out, that choosing a dessert here was ridiculously hard. I am usually a real fuss pot when it comes to this part of the meal and I am known for bypassing this course purely as I’m so specific with what I like, however there is no problem of that here, my main issue was deciding what not to have. A dilemma I welcomed.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get better for Mo after he inhaled his steak, well the best, evidently, was yet to come. He took one bite of his lime sorbet which came with the coconut panna cotta and literally shouted ‘THIS IS THAILAND’. With every bite he took he said it again and again and again and again. It was cute at first, but then I felt myself rolling my eyes at his constant gushing, putting it down to him having a nice evening. I decided to nick a taste to see what all the fuss was about, and I totally got it. The instant that sorbet settled on my tongue, I could see how it catapulted him straight back to Thailand. I couldn’t quite describe it either but I could see exactly what he meant. For Mo, this was a really new food experience for him, he has never had the luxury of finding a dish that could take him right back to a specific place, specific memories. I’d say that’s a pretty good way to end a meal.
All in all how did we find the new food concept?
The new menu was a firm 10 out of 10 from our side. For flavour, for presentation, for experience. Needless to say that I was quite taken aback by how great the new Chaophraya menu actually was, after not expecting much to have changed. Mo and I are definitely looking forward to testing out the other creations on the menu, I’ve certainly got my eye on a number of the thai curries.
The food here is not Thai street food, nor is it high dining. It is a perfect amalgamation of the two and knowing now that this was their goal, I can safely say that they achieved the balance perfectly.
Aside from exploring the other menu options, we are most looking forward to taking our friends and family there to share the wonderful taste journey we experienced that evening.
So… who’s up for thai tacos?!?
*** Thank you to Chaophraya for inviting us to taste a selection of dishes from the new menu. Of course all opinions on this post are completely my own. Thank you to the team at Manchester (and Leeds) for a wonderful evening ***
Have you been to Chaophraya? What do you think??? Have you ever had a food take you back to a special memory??