Sukhothai, Chapel Allerton – Restaurant Review
By Matt Callard
My greatest foodie experience remains, and possibly will forever remain, Thai. Phi Phi Island, secluded harbour restaurant, the setting sun. A boat rolls in over the gentle waves. It unloads a churning haul of seafood, mind-boggling in its exotic variety, colour and size. The locals scrap over the best of the catch. But we few lucky tourists sit back, safe in the knowledge that our friend, the proprietor, has already snaffled this one haul’s finest sea dwellers for a banquet fit for kings.
The delicate array of seafood we are served, matched with some classically simple Thai herbs and sauces, becomes my foodie heaven incarnate. I thought I knew what squid tasted like. But I was wrong.
UK Thai restaurants will, of course, have a tricky time replicating the herby freshness associated with authentic Thai cuisine. So the best ones, quite rightly, look instead for that famed exquisite Asian balance between the five taste senses. And generally add a touching, if somewhat flowery, dedication to colour and presentation.
Chapel Allerton’s Sukhothai (named after an area north of Bangkok, fact fans) has been picking up plaudits and, if a jammed Thursday night service is anything to go by, plenty of followers for a good few years now. There’s an old adage that says if a restaurant is full on a Thursday night it’s either serving damn good food, or they’re giving it away. So maybe we’re in for a treat (or a cheap evening).
A King Prawn and Avocado Salad starter (£5.95) rests on a crisp bed of lettuce and comes with a quite unique – and very strong – garlic and avocado dressing. The prawns are the real deal. Huge and overflowing with flavour. The zingy freshness of the dish complements the classic Mixed Starter (£11.95). It surprises with some real attention to detail and nice twists on familiar tastes.
There is a part of me, however, that does long for a more adventurous collection of mixed starters. How about an alternative option of bite-size first course delicacies that eschews prawn toast and skewered chicken for some things a little more daring? It’s just a thought.
“Impressive attention to detail”
The restaurant throngs and buzzes. Yet service is charming and perfectly timed. Only one thing puzzles me – in-between the occasional pungent drifts of garlic, lemongrass and sizzling meat there is an unmistakable aroma of seaside doughnuts. Or have my olfactory senses gone haywire?
Mains are dynamite. A spicy Thai Green Curry does well not to overwhelm a perfectly cooked Sea Bass (£11.95). A chicken, cashew nut, spring onion and pineapple combo is beautifully presented and neatly balanced. Extra plaudits too for the vegetable extras. All too often an overlooked inconvenience, but not here. Thank you, Sukhothai, for not annihilating the mushrooms. Why do these poor, delicate ingredients get pummelled into oblivion by so many restaurants? Treat them gently, so they just give to the bite. It’s not rocket science. But it still underlines Sukhothai’s impressive attention to detail.
“An authentic experience”
We finished with an eye-wateringly sweet Mango Sorbet (£2.80). And a real find – Deep Fried Coconut Rolls (£3.50). A sweet, sticky and delicious rolled rice dish – and the source of that lovely, if slightly incongruous, doughnut smell.
There’s no doubt about it, Sukhothai has got it right. The ambience, the price, the eager service and the very fine food. For someone whose food heart is forever Thai, it’s nice to know there’s an authentic experience a little closer to home.
Sukhothai, 8 Regent Street, Chapel Allerton, LEEDS, LS7 4PE
0113 237 0141
Opening Times: Tuesday – Sunday lunch 12pm – 3pm. Monday – Saturday evening 5pm – 11pm. Sunday evening 6pm – 11pm