Regular readers know of my love of London and in particular the restaurant scene. I religiously follow all the new openings, accolades, bloggers and reviews and have a never-ending list of targets to visit. The highly acclaimed Ledbury (always featured in the world’s best 50) is coming up in July and I’m particularly looking forward to that – review to follow.
In amongst my high-end culinary experiences, however, there’s a fair smattering of early casual dinners with London friends. These mean I need to get the Victoria –Brighton train home. So, like the recently reviewed Iberica restaurant (see back issue of Platinum on-line or find it on peopleplacesfood.co.uk), last week I chose a venue just a stones throw from the station.
This time it was the Mango Tree, a well known Thai restaurant in Belgravia. I’ve been there a couple of times before over the last few years and it’s consistently good. Now when I say good I mean enjoyable, tasty, good quality, a nice environment and pretty good service. I don’t necessarily mean bang-on authentic like you’d get in Thailand itself. I do get fed up with those people who have been to Thailand and drone on about how you can never get authentic Thai food anywhere outside Thailand. Well I have also been to Thailand and I disagree. And anyway the regional food is so diverse I don’t know how anyone can proclaim such expertise. If any of you are that person, go to Som Saa in Shoreditch – widely acclaimed as the most ‘authentic’ Thai restaurant in London.
Back to the Mango Tree. It’s a smart restaurant, as you’d expect in Belgravia. And it’s huge, so don’t go there if you’re looking for cosy intimacy. Despite its size, the acoustics are good. Conversation was easy and they have created a good ambience. The waiting staff are superb – this is what I remember the most. Very attentive and eager to please, and everything was prompt without feeling rushed.
This restaurant is a slick operation, and has a number of other outposts, the original being in Bangkok and others in Harrods and various other spots across London. You can imagine the standards, therefore. The restaurant proclaims that it serves genuine Thai dishes from each of the four main culinary regions: rich and mild dishes from the north, spicy food from the east, mild dishes influenced by the Chinese cooking style from the central region, and hot and spicy food from the south.
We started in the bar area. This was the only low point. The bar feels like a bit of a waiting room – not a nice environment to have a drink in. The bar staff are not up to scratch. My gin and tonic came in a short glass with a measly two half melted ice cubes and the tonic completely poured in. It’s never good when you have to explain to a barman how to make a gin and tonic. This is basic stuff and was made worse for the fact that I had just come from the bar at The Goring where they really know what they’re doing. The Goring is an excellent place to hold business meetings, have pre dinner drinks and to dine. It has a lovely lounge (old school London hotel charm) and outside terrace. Highly recommended.
But back to the Mango Tree again! The nuts served with the drinks were very high quality, salted and roasted. This is not to be underestimated – there are nuts and there are nuts. As we were shown to our table we were immediately brought prawn crackers. They were good. The menu is comprehensive and enticing with all the bases covered and some interesting sounding dishes.
We chose mixed starters to share. Vegetable spring rolls were crisp and light and nice enough. Chicken Satay was a little dry but the satay sauce was dangerously addictive. I think I might have been spooning it out of the pot by the end (I do that with peanut butter too – it’s a problem). Crab fish cakes were spongy and crabby and a bit too sweet for my taste. Barbecued pork was sticky and rich – beautiful. A green papaya salad with cherry tomatoes, snake beans, peanuts, dried shrimp powder and the tamarind sauce was spicy and refreshing.
For mains, a red curry was more refined than you would probably find elsewhere, with a richly flavoured and smooth sauce, but not hot enough for me (oh I know you’re meant to ask for these things ‘how the Thai’s have it’ but this is not one of those places). A deep-fried sea bass with sweet, sour and spicy sauce dressing topped with mixed peppers, sweet basil and pineapple was a good piece of fish with crisp batter, but it was smothered in an over-sweet sauce. My friend loved it so it was probably just me. My Pad Ka Pow, a stir-fried minced chicken dish with fresh chilli, garlic, snake beans and holy basil leaves, had good sharp and sour flavour and was quite similar to Laab, one of my favourite Thai dishes but interestingly not similar to an authentic Pad Ka Pow. As I said, don’t come here if you’re one of those people.
Next time I come (and I will) I will have either the Baked Black Cod Served in a Rich Red Choo Chee Sauce with Sweet Basil and Pea Aubergines, or the Roasted Corn-Fed Poussin, Marinated in Coconut Milk, Lemongrass, Galangal, Turmeric and Lime Leaves, served with Papaya Salad and Mango Tree Signature Spicy Sour Sauce.
The wine list is very good. A great range and helpfully divided into styles. We chose a Muscadet at £23.50. The best thing was the price. They regularly do 50% off deals through Open Table, which was what we did on this evening. I think our bill for drinks, wine and two courses came to about £30 per head. In Belgravia!
This is smart cooking in a swanky environment with great service. Its location is perfect for anyone dining in London who lives in Sussex or Surrey and needs to get the train back. Recommended.
46 Grosvenor Place, London
0207 823 1888
020 7838 9275