Taking a Thaime Out
A Thai eatery off Oxford Street proves to be a quick, easy and tasty stopover for a post-work meal
Review by Izzy Ashton
When it’s a bit cold out, a bit dreary and you’re bored of cooking for yourself – hello boiled eggs, pasta and the occasional baked potato – there’s only one type of food that without fail I go back to time and time again. Whether in takeaway form out of a box on my lap or dressed up and sat at a table, Thai food has never let me down.
That’s why, after my initial excitement, I was a little concerned upon being asked to visit Busaba Eathai, a popular Thai establishment with branches all over the UK. I’d never been before and, being a creature of habit, prefer to stick with what I know. But, in the name of journalism, and with the promise of tasty food, I was prepared to go out of my comfort zone and try something new. I know, so brave of me.
Busaba employs the same service method as Wagamama, the popular Japanese-inspired restaurant: when your food is ready, it will be brought out to you. No frills, nothing glamorous. It’s all about the hard-hitting flavours. So it made for the ideal place to grab a quick bite on a Tuesday evening, a night made for Tinder-dates (if that’s your thing) or staying in with a pot of humus and a bag of crisps (more my thing).
Large square tables built for sharing fill the room, overhung with origami-style lights, while small, more intimate benches lie in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows. The open kitchen at the back fills the air with the sweet and spicy aromas of chilli and lemongrass, comfortingly reassuring after the sweaty gym smells of the tube.
We decide to sit at one of the larger tables rather than hide away in the window, so lining ourselves up for the slightly awkward (at least to a grumpy, unfriendly individual such as myself) enforced chat that can ensue when seated at a shared table. But, of course, it was Tuesday so, although the restaurant was humming with chattering shoppers, daters and businessmen alike, we were left as the hosts of our own empty table.
Over-excited about the starters and of course conscious of having to stick to the traditional at the same time, my mind was made up in no time. A bottle of Tempranillo red wine was ordered – just because it’s Tuesday doesn’t mean you have to abstain – and a new favourite found. If you haven’t tried this wine, you should, although I may just be betraying my lack of wine knowledge by having only just discovered how good it is. It’s woody and delicious and, surprisingly for a red, goes rather perfectly with Thai food.
We dived into a bowl of sweetened, chili cashews which were gone before we’d even realised we’d been inhaling nuts for five minutes rather than talking to one another or even taking a breath. Chicken satay skewers were silky, tender with smoky overtones. The peanut sauce was nutty perfection, although served in a small bowl rather than smothering the chicken as I would have preferred. The Thai calamari was crispy and sticky, tasty but for me you can’t beat a classic so why would you try?
My classic pad Thai was truly up there with the best. And I don’t say that lightly. A combination of prawn and tofu, it rivals the unbeatable deliciousness of Rosa’s Thai and the simplicity of my Shepherd’s Bush local takeaway back in the day, Jasmine on Goldhawk Road. What I love about Pad Thai, besides the sticky sauce, zesty lime and crunchy bean sprouts, is that you always get so much of it. And being a relatively greedy individual, there’s nothing that disappoints me greater than a plate of food that I know won’t fill me up. And this was a plate that certainly did not disappoint.
My guest enjoyed the Massaman duck curry with sticky white rice, a rich sauce that was pronounced to be good but lacking slightly in meatiness. The side of sweet potato fries had such a strong kick to them that I lost the original flavour of the sweet potato altogether, a sad moment for such an avid fan as I. A joint adoration was bestowed upon the Chinese broccoli and shitake mushroom side which was stir fried and slathered with delicious pieces of garlic and provided the perfect accompaniment to both the fresh pad Thai and the rich curry.
A lack of desert menu meant that we were left to finish off the last of our wine as the restaurant emptied out around us. Busaba is not the kind of place that I would go for an extravagant evening out. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the food or the place. But, it does produce reliable, consistent and delicious food that is sometimes, all you really want. That and proper portion size, obviously. And Busaba certainly delivers on that front.