Wednesday, 21 September 2011

No Need To Fly To Bangkok To Feast On The Streets Of Thailand

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Underneath the Mango Tree (from James Bond film, Dr. No)
Underneath the Mango Tree
Me +1 and me can eat Thai cuisine
Underneath the Mango Tree
Me +1 and me will dine on mung beans.

When I was 18 I decided to do a mini world tour in an attempt to ‘find myself’. I didn’t find anything. In fact, I lost two sets of earrings, my beloved Nokia 3330, and my eyelashes from standing too close to a spit roast fire pit. Despite my losses, I had a brilliant time because of some sound advice from a Jolly Uncle Laval: ‘if you want to get to know a culture, eat its street food’ (very true). Uncle also told me that drinking rice whiskey by tipping the head all the way to the right side doesn’t get you drunk (a big fat lie and one that led to a nasty egg sized bump on the forehead).

There’s only so many museums, temples, and scenic routes to cultivated landmarks you can take before secretly screaming to get back on the bus, back to your hotel for a bubble bath and bedtime. I’ll admit, Thailand’s River Kwai is stunning and a sight not to be missed, but the country’s street food is where Thai culture is truly at it’s best.

Alas, Britain is apparently heading into a new recession, and a plane ticket to Thailand isn’t in everybody’s immediate price range. What to do? Well, fear not folks, because you don’t have to fly all the way to Bangkok to sample the delights of Thai street food. All you have to do is head to Belgravia; hoorah!

The Thai Street Food Festival at London’s award winning Mango Tree restaurant is already well underway (from 5 September to 9 October), and diners are promised authentic Far East flavours to tickle the taste buds in a fine-dining environment. The d├ęcor is very feng-shui and minimalist which is fantastic for keeping everyone in a composed Zen-like manner when, around 8pm, the place starts to heave with bodies squeezing themselves in to any available space (see before atmosphere and during atmosphere photos below).

Mango Tree is one of those restaurants that you can easily miss if you don’t know about it. Somehow the place manages to stand alone round the corner from Victoria. Entering through the less than flamboyant doors, you feel like you’ve stumbled into a hidden lair. For a moment the senses heighten to new extremes. Your eyes adjust to the soft lighting, your ears forget the sound of traffic and take in the sound of busy chitter chatter, the air is fresh and spicy, and the mouth waters as you glance at the earlier diners’ already disappearing dishes.

Kai Nok-krata Tord. Pla-muek Yang. Kuay-tiew Kuae Thale. Pad Khee-mao Nuer. Ruam Mitt Yen.

If you can get your tongue round these, I salute you. It’s all Thai to me! Luckily, the so-beautiful-it-hurts waitresses are on hand to offer smiles, translations, and a menu with a description of what each dish my +1 and I have selected:

Kai Nok-krata Tord – deep fried quail eggs wrapped in golden wanton skin served with home made sweet chilli sauce
Pla-muek Yang – grilled marinade squid in Thai style served with spicy lime sauce

Kuay-tiew Kuae Thale – stir fried thick noodles with mixed seafood in soya sauce and egg
Pad Khee-mao Nuer – stir fried thick noodles with beef, bamboo shoots and Thai sweet basil and spicy sauce

Ruam Mitt Yen – Kidney beans, plum seed coconut meat, jack fruit and mung bean noodles served with sweet coconut cream

While the Zen-like environment of Mango Tree isn’t exactly ‘street’ (you’re more likely to hear the sound of champagne bottles popping than cars back firing) you can, at least, adopt the street food ethic of sharing your chosen dishes. My +1 chooses Jasmine tea instead of dessert so I gobble the concoction of beans, coconut and noodles (sounds weird but tastes wonderful) with greedy relish; a rather sweet and refreshing end to a what’s been a sophisticated street evening.

There’s only two and half weeks left for a chance to feast on the restaurant’s street food festival menu. While Mango Tree has a variety of menus on offer from A La Carte to Business and Pre Theatre to their Sunday meals, the Street Food Menu is not to be missed. The menu caters for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

Word of advice: book a table in advance. Yes I know, again that’s not a very ‘street’ thing to do, but don’t forget you’re still in Belgravia. Treat the booking as if you’re arranging a flight to Bangkok. Both situations will lead you to a cultural feast of experience.

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