Fancying a meal out, a few weeks back, Mrs. SF and I mulled over various options including the Bangkok Cafe in Canton, Cardiff.
This was her choice on the basis that any mention of Thai makes her instantly recall (with much merriment) an incident (massage related as the title implies) during a trip to Thailand where part of the package at one of the hotels we stayed in was a spa session. We opted for a Thai massage (when in Rome and all that) assuming it would be a gentle, relaxing “bit of a back rub” affair.
It started off gently and relaxing enough for the first 5 minutes, but then the petite Thai lady promptly changed tack and spend the rest of the hour beating me up (did I say something?) – alternating between trying to dislocate my limbs and attempting to break my back.
Mrs. SF (who is much more flexible and thus had an easier time of it than me) was in tears laughing at my cries of agony (ignored by the sadistic masseuse) and the hideous cracks of my bones.
Thai food is often a bit like this, starts off nice and easy with subtle fragrant flavours before you get hit by a chilli punch.
Situated on the restaurant filled Cowbridge Road East, the Bangkok Cafe is viewed by many as one of Cardiff’s best Thai restaurant.
It has a rather unassuming, but still smart enough, exterior.
I love Thai food, with its aromatic flavours, use of fresh fragant herbs, sour notes and chilli heat. To me it is one of the world’s great cuisines.
The menu at the Bangkok Cafe covers dishes from the far South to the North East corner of Thailand and you are spoilt for choice in terms of what to go for.
Starters are priced reasonably, ranging from £4.50 ( Kanom Bang Na Hed -Thai toasties) up to £5.95 (for two of their starter prawn dishes)
On the starter front, Mrs SF and I shared two dishes. The first was that Thai classic, satay (£4.95). Tender chicken on skewers (a decent portion size) with a good punchy peanut sauce and a nice chilli and cucumber dipping sauce.
Satay rarely fails to please and this was a pretty text book example of it. Mrs SF – an authority on Thai having been there loads of times before she had the misfortune of meeting me – did express the view that the chicken skewers were a bit too chunky, but this was a minor quibble.
The second dish was Larb Gai (£4.95), which was described on the menu as Northern style minced chicken with chilli and Thai herbs served in lettuce wraps.
Minced, the chicken had a slightly weird crumbly dry texture to it. This suggested to me that the chicken had been cooked initially, cooled and then left overly long in the limey dressing, causing the meat to be “cooked” again by the acid in the lime juice.
It was also served on what seemed to be a Chinese cabbage leaf rather than lettuce. This leaf was nice enough, but perhaps lacked the refreshing quality of actual lettuce leaves. A nice dish on the flavour front, but not without its flaws. I was certainly keener on it than Mrs. SF.
On to the mains, Mrs. SF had a fried rice dish in the form of Kow Pat Boo (£11.50) whereas I went for a Southern style beef curry – Penang Ner (£11.50).
My curry – described as dry style spicy beef with ground peanuts and coconut – was far from dry with lots of sauce.
I would have expected it to have had a much stiffer sauce based on its description on the menu, but not having had this dish before I couldn’t really say if it was as it should be (or not) consistency wise. Not that this really mattered, mind, as what it certainly had was bags of flavour, with lovely, typical Thai aromas and flavours and a big chilli hit (there were loads of red chillis in it).
It came with some crisp tempura vegetables (nice, but a bit out of place I thought – would have preferred a refreshing Thai salad personally) and a mound of nicely cooked rice.
My only real criticism of this dish was the beef was a bit dry and crumbly in texture (a recurring theme it seemed). It looked and tasted like a very lean cut of beef that had been cooked for a bit too long and due to it lacking fat had dried out. The cut used here should perhaps have been flash fried rather than long braised in my opinion. Whilst the sauce (albeit a tad runny) was dynamite, the texture and dryness of the beef let down an otherwise very good dish.
The rice itself was a bit lacking in crab (also it seemed only to have the less tasty white meat in it) and benefited immeasurably from the addition of the accompanying lime and chilli sauce (without which it would have been a bit dull).
With the rice and salsa (more a Thai salad) came a breaded deep fried crab claw.
Whilst nice enough, Mrs. SF felt that a better use of the crab meat here would have been to add it to the fried rice (which was a bit wanting on the crab front).
Service was prompt and attentive, but all the food arrived very (and I mean very) quickly. On ordering our food, the starters were on the table in about two minute and the mains arrived nanoseconds after the starter plates had been removed. We got the distinct impression that they wanted us done and dusted and the table freed up for other diners ASAP.
From us arriving to walking out of the door the total time was less than a hour and we weren’t in a rush nor did we eat particularly quickly.
This super speedy service was not that conducive to a relaxed and leisurely dining experiance and if you are looking for a romantic meal the breakneck speed of service may leave you with a bit of time to fill. To me it is more a place to go before or after somewhere else rather than a dining destination in its own right (if our meal was anything to go by).
Puds are limited to ice cream – we passed.
The wine list is ok and not unreasonably priced. It had a gewurtraminer and a chenin blanc on it – both good wines for the otherwise quite challenging to match, wine wise, Thai food. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more adventure on the wine list though. A few rieslings (including an off dry German one) and an Austrian gruner veltliner on the list wouldn’t go amiss – both working very well with Thai flavours and chilli spice.
We skipped on the wine as nothing took my fancy and defaulted to Thai Singha beer (£3.50 a bottle) – a decent enough lager.
Although not perfect, the good Thai flavours on display here make this place a good spot for a tasty meal.
Best thing we had was the green mango salsa/salad, which was really fresh and zingy. A perfect Thai salad.
The damage for both of us (two courses each plus 2 beers) was a smidgen under £40 (before tip) which I though was good value .
Would I go back? Yes – whilst not without fault I enjoyed the food.
Next time I will know not to expect a long leisurely meal here, with one of the faults being disconcertingly rapid service.
Definately a place we would go to again, but only perhaps before or after going somewhere else (the cinema at Chapter Art Centre for instance).
207 Cowbridge Road East
Tel: 029 2034 0455
Website : http://www.bangkokcafe.co.uk
Takeaway also available.
Mon – Wed : 17.30 – 22.00
Thurs : 12.00 – 14.30 and 17.30 – 22.00
Fri & Sat: 12.00 – 14.30 and 17.50 – 22.30
Sun: 17.30 – 22.00