Soliciting Flavours

Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine

Food that brings a smile to your face? Bann Thai Smile, Canton, Cardiff

Thailand is often referred to as the “Land of Smiles” and from my experiences (of the food out there) good Thai food always brings a smile to my face.

Thai is, to my mind, one of the World’s great cuisines with its focus on combining the four core tastes of salty, sweet, sour and bitter.

Aromatics also play a key role, with Thai basil, coriander, ginger, galangal lemongrass and kaffir lime to the fore, as well as the pungency of fish sauce (nam pla) and shrimp paste (kapi). Then there are the chillies- fiery little Thai “birdseye” ones.

With the demise of the Thai House, Thai restaurants in Cardiff seem to be few and far between. Bangkok Cafe in Canton, Thai & Asian Delish in the central market and Chilli Basil in Roath (not been to the latter, but it is rated by Gormet Gorro – alway a good sign) are the two that immediately spring to mind. Sure there are others, just can’t think of them off hand.

As a result, the recent opening of a new Thai place (on the site which use to house Dubai Nights) on Cowbridge Road East (the town end, next to Castle Bingo) peeked my interest.

Both Mrs. SF and I (having been to Thailand – in Mrs. SF’s case on multiple occasions) love Thai food and thus were keen to try this new place.

A night out with friends presented the perfect opportunity to run the rule over this place.

The place

I only took one photo of the interior, as to be honest it is a bit stark. Bar from the lamp shades (oddly the same as in my kitchen and sited in a cluster over the bar area only) it is a bit minimalist

It is also a much bigger unit than you would expect from the exterior, with it going back a long way. I reckon they have 70 + covers (at least) in there.

Seating is all in booths (as far as I could tell) and is comfortable enough, but it is pretty no frills. Not sure how this all booth set up would work for parties of more than four?!

The issue with the somewhat cavernous interior is even if there are a fair few people in it looks empty. This means it lacks atmosphere when less than full and, I suspect, intimacy when it is. On the night of our visit it was far from full and thus a bit lacking in atmosphere.

One of our party suggested a screen could be used to close off the space a bit if the large back area is not in use. I think this would create a better atmosphere.

The food

The menu is quite expansive, which is not unusual for a Thai place. All the classic are there, so plenty to choose from.

I did find the “Chinese Corner” element of the menu a bit odd.

Is this a attempt to be all things to all people or is there a large Chinese Community in Thailand that would warrant such inclusion?

As far as I am aware the Thais do not have the equivalent of Malaysian Nyonya cuisine and, therefore, I presume it is the former. If so, I think it is a mistake to offer Chinese dishes – better to keep it to just Thai in my opinion.

In terms of the strictly Thai offerings on the menu, I have always been a big fan of Thai soups and salads. Both offer a refreshing and invigorating mix of hot and sour, which I find very much to my taste.

I was torn between the Tom Yum (soup) and the Som Tam (papaya salad).

I went for the latter, which had the trademark hot and sour dressing and a nice sweetness from the cherry tomatoes and cane sugar in the mix.

Real lip tingling stuff this, with a fair bit of zesty heat. What it was a bit lacking in was the green papaya, with a seeming equal ratio (if not more) of carrot to papaya.

As it is a papaya salad I would ideally want that ratio to be very much in favour of the papaya. The rather good dressing made this an enjoyable dish, nonetheless.

Good portion size for the price (£5.95), with our party of four shared two portion of it, with two other starters.

Mrs. SF had the duck spring rolls (£5.95), which had a good ratio of tender duck in the filling, nice fragrant aromatics in the mix and a good, oil free, crisp shell.

I thought the dish was, perhaps, let down a bit by the regulation hoisin sauce (more Chinese than Thai). I think a nam pla prik (Thai dipping sauce) would have been a much better option.

For me the star of the show, starter wise (we all shared), was the Thai fish cakes (£5.95).

Lovely yielding (text book slightly springy) texture to these, with a pleasing hit of kaffir lime and lemongrass. The chilli sauce was bit meh (again I would have preferred the option of nam pla prik), but that didn’t detract from the quality fish cakes.

On to the mains, Mrs SF had a yellow (chicken) curry (£9.95) with steamed rice (£2.50).

Quite a mild curry, with coriander cumin, turmeric and lemongrass to the fore and chilli taking a back seat.

There is an option of tofu, prawn, duck, lamb, chicken or beef

with all the curries (noodle, stir fry and rice) dishes and this led me to suspect the protein is added to the sauce only on ordering.

A taste of Mrs. SF’s chicken confirmed this to my mind – nice and tender, but not fully infused with the flavours of the sauce that would come from scratch cooking of it with the sauce.

There was a nice ratio of veggies to meat in the curry, with the potatoes having (more so than the chicken) absorbed the flavours of the sauce.

One of our friends had the red curry (£9 95, with chicken) and steamed rice

More heat with this curry, with the “red” moniker coming from a preponderance of red chilli in the spice mix. Nice blend of flavours here, with the Thai basil, lemongrass and kaffir line really coming though.

The steamed rice with both these dish was nicely fluffy, with good grain separation.

Myself and another of our party had the grilled duck with a tamarind sauce (£12.95)

Very nice bit of duck this, with well flavoured, tender, breast meat and some rather satisfying crispy nuggets (of leg meat I think) on the side. The tamarind sauce had that nice combination of salt, sweet and sour (so typical of Thai food) which works so well with the richness of duck.

The only slight criticism of the duck in this dish was a less than crispy skin.

On the menu there was no indication that the duck came with any carbohydrate element and we therefore asked what rice was best suited with the dish. We were told sticky rice.

This was fine as a medium for mopping up the sauce, however, when the dish arrived it transpires it came with noodles.

These were more than adequate as an accompaniment to the duck and I think we should have been told (when we asked about rice to go with it) that it came with noodles rather than being recommending the sticky rice. I regard this as a bit of a service fail (still ate it all mind).

Notwithstanding the rice/noodle issue, this was a very nice dish which I really enjoyed.

The drink

On the booze front, the wine list is a rather dispiriting “by the numbers” affair.

Mark ups are not hideous (the Para Dos Malbec retails at £8.95 – £17.95 on list here – and the Honu Sauvignon Blanc retails at £8.95 – £18.95 on the list here), but there is little of interest on there in terms of pairing with the challenges of Thai cuisines.

Best bets would be the off dry rosé from Anjou, the South Africa chenin Blanc in the whites and the merlot in the reds, but none particularly enthralled me so we passed and all went for beers.

Keeping it Thai, we went for 600ml bottles of Singha (reasonably priced at £4.95)

and standards bottle of Chang (I preferred the latter – £3.95).

Both fine with the food, but I would have liked to have had the wine option of a riesling or a grüner veltliner or even a gerwurstraminer (the latter would have worked well as a pairing with the tamarind duck I think). It is a shame none of them feature on the list here.

Sherry/Montilla Moriles wines are also a good pairing option with Thai food and, with the dishes we had, an amontillado would have been a fine pairing. Only Harvey’s Bristol Cream on the list here though😕.

The verdict

Despite a few hiccups food wise and the lack of atmosphere (it being a bit busier would help with the latter), we all enjoyed our food (good company always helps). The flavours are certainly there – with the starters, the curries and the duck hitting the spice mark nicely.

Price wise I thought it was decent value, with the bill for 4 (with a fair few beers) coming in at £113.40 (sans a tip, which we gave).

Bar from the rice/noodle issue with the duck, service was very good. Thai people are so affable, they do truly put a smile on your face.

Would I go back? Yes, we enjoyed the food which was in line with my memories of decent (rather than wow factor) Thai food we had (many moons ago) in Thailand. I think the food here is at least as good as at Bangkok Cafe (just down the road from it) and is worth a look in my opinion

OK – it ain’t going to win any awards, but it in fairly priced, decently flavoured stuff and, to my mind, a good addition to the Cowbridge Road East food scene. Certainly deserves to be busy than it was on our visit (a Saturday night).

Personally, if I were them I would ditch the “Chinese Corner” stuff and go with an all Thai menu. I would also (if I were them) cut back on the multiple “add to” protein options.

In terms of the latter suggestion, I don’t think they really need 6 protein options for each curry, noodle, stir fry and rice dish, with it smacking of trying to be all things to all people. Veggie and one other protein option is enough to my mind – for the curry dishes I would say it should be duck (but concede, in reality, if it were to be only one it would more than likely be chicken).

They do both eat in and takeaway so may well try this place for my next (albeit very infrequent) takeaway.

The details

Address: 145 Cowbridge Road East, Canton, Cardiff, CF11 9AH

Tel: 029 2023 3945

Website: Click here (Facebook page).

Instagram: @bannthaismilecardiff

Twitter: Can’t find them on Twitter.

Opening hours: Mon – Sun: 17.30 – 22.30.

Takeaway also available.

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