About nine years ago I spent six months in South East Asia, with three months of the time in Thailand. The whole trip holds incredible memories for many different reasons but in particualr I can trace back to this time my keen interest and love of Asian food. From the stereotypical backpacker Thai Cooking Course I have developed a love of this simple cuisine.
When a friend invited me to dinner on Wednesday evening, therefore, I was more than delighted with their choice of Sala Thai on Stirling Highway. I remember many years ago heading to the restaurant of the same name in Freo and being blown away by the quality of food. I was assured that this experience would be equally impressive.
The restaurant itself is well-presented and has a lovely, welcoming atmosphere. Staff are warm and friendly and are always on hand to offer help and advice – without being too over-bearing.
The menu has all of the usual Thai suspects but we decided to start with two vegetarian entrees. The vegetarian spring rolls are probably one of the most common items sold in a whole array of Asian and not-so-Asian eateries and sadly in many places they are the disappointing disatser that deep fried foods tend to be. Not so here! The rolls arrive piping hot, definitely freshly made and quickly and yet lightly fried to a crispy perfection. The filling was fresh and tasty and the sweet chilli sauce provided the usual balance for these delights. Second choice for entree was an enticingly named ‘Tofu Tod’ (which potentially soudned like some cartoon hero from a vegetarian comic strip). I am not normally a lover of tofu – I find both its texture and taste difficult to like. Tofu Tod, however, was a different character. Inside a light batter we found a light, fluffy texture with an ‘eggy’ taste that melted in the mouth. These bitesize delights were accompanied by a chunkier, zingier chilli sauce than the rolls and again, the balance between the two worked perfectly.
As a slight aside, a question… Why in some Thai restaurants – even the ones such as this at the higher end of the scale – do they insist on leaving you with your dirty used cutlery from your entree, to be used again on your main. Ok, it may be that it is actually more environmentally friendly to not have clean forks and spoons for each course, but in a place where the linen table cloths and napkins add a crisp white finish to the tables, the dirty cutlery just adds mess!
But I digress…on to the main courses. We opted for a vegetarian Pad Thai and a chicken Pud Prik with steamed rice. The Pad Thai is a simple dish but as such it is one that can so easily go wrong. The thin noodles need to be cooked lightly for them to remain individual and the mix of veggies also has to be manged to ensure that there are none too soggy or undercooked. Here at Sala Thai they had the balance just right. So much so that it reminded us of the authentic dish available on the streets and in the restaurants of Bangkok itself.
The Pud Prik is essentially a chilli and basil flavoured stir fry. Again, with the simpliscity of the dish, the flavour balance has to be sport on for the dish to be right. With its plentiful supply of chicken and several chilli elements it did not disappoint. Being a diner with a desire to have the chilli hit pretty hard, however, the dish was not quite as hot as I would have liked. With fresh and dried chilli along with chilli flakes thrown in too, the dish did pack some punch – but not a knock out!
The staff at Sala are delightful. They are attentive and yet not constantly hovering. They are knowledgable about the menu items and they are friendly without being overbearing Cheshire cats! It was particularly endearing when a slight oversight was made with the rice (ie the bowl turned up with the lid on only to be opened and to have no contents) that they were beside themselves with apologies and dismay that they had made such a mistake. A tiny glitch to us but seemingly an unforgivable sin to them.
All in all the meal was light, fresh and tasty and well-priced for the quality provided.