Thai restaurants seem to be popping up in Cardiff city centre like no tomorrow and we now have a multitude of options including the very good Malai and the not so good (at least in my book) Busada, the somewhat off my radar Praya Thai on Churchill Way (not been so can’t comment, but looks like they have a promising lunch menu) and the soon to open Giggling Squid (which already annoys me – Thai tapas you say, begone with thy blasphemous words I reply!).
To add to this growing list is Rosa’s Thai, a smallish chain that originated as a market stall on Brick Lane in London’s East end. They then graduated to bricks and mortar taking over a cafe called Rosa’s (the name stayed and stuck). It has steadily grown to a multiple outlets operation in London and is starting the inexorable spread out into the regions (Birmingham and now Cardiff).
I know people tend to rile against the chains, often with some justification (Frankie & Benny’s, Cafe Rouge et al I am looking at you), but I think you have to give those that actually grow organically from humble beginnings the benefit of the doubt. After all kudos to them for being successful enough to grow past the blood, sweat and tears stage. I think both Honest Burger and Pho have managed to maintain standard despite being multi-outlet operations.
Of course things are easier to maintain when you are small and can be very hands on and I assume it becomes increasingly tricky to maintain standards as an enterprise expands with multiple units. This is especially the case where the bean counters and VC’s become involved. Cash has to be paid back, usually with a pound of flesh attached, and that can lead to corners being cut.
I, however, entered Rosa’s with a pretty open mind.
Inside it eschews some of the gold leaf “pagoda” gaudiness you sometimes get in Thai places over here and goes for a rather more minimalist approach.
Quite like that if I am honest.
The menu is broad and covers pretty much all you would expect, without straying far from the familiar in terms of what Brits generally expect with regard to Thai food.
There is nothing on there that makes me think ” Ooh, I wonder what that is, not come across it before”. Would be nice to see them go for a bit more of deep dive into Thai cuisine, but I understand why they don’t in terms of their likely business model.
I did rather raise an eyebrow (no mean feat when you have my eyebrows) at the “Rosa’s Homemade Spring Rolls“. Only certain things on menu have the homemade monicker on them, which begs the question of where is the stuff that doesn’t made/from?
So to the food, with me dining with work wife Rachel, we decided to take our time and have a starter. To cover as many bases as possible, we went for the classic platter (£7 each) offering a bit of almost every starter.
The crispy squid was the star of the starter show,
with a well seasoned, light and crispy coating and nicely cooked squid. This paired well with a sharp, tangy, dipping sauce.
The “homemade” spring rolls where also nice,
with a crisp shell and a bountiful filling. Bit lacking in oomph on the flavour front perhaps.
Less successsful were the pork skewers
and the chicken satay sticks, both of which were a touch over cooked and dry (chicken more so than the pork).
As for the dipping sauces, the peanut one lacked chilli heat and the tamarind one tasted like black treacle that had caught (with a not particularly pleasant bitterness to it that I don’t associate with tamarind).
The third of the trio, a nam pla prik – I think, was by far the best of the three with heat and sourness as well as a touch of sweet.
With the weather set fair on the day of our visit, regrettably pretty much back to Baltic conditions now, I went for that classic Thai salad Som Tum/Tam (£9.50). When done well Som Tum is a lovely refreshing mix of heat, salty, sweet and sour (central tenets of Thai cuisine), with varied textures. When not, it is just bland.
I quite enjoyed the initial hit of sharp sourness (love a bit of battery acid sour me) and heat here, but it became all a bit one dimensional as I ploughed through the robustly sized portion.
The cashews added a nice textural contrast, but there needed to be more of them and I wanted sweetness as a counterpoint to all the sourness. Cherry tomatoes (seemingly present in homeopathic proportions at best) and/or a touch more palm sugar would have solved this I think.
Nice enough, but I was getting a bit bored by the end. Best to share this with someone and add another dish I think.
Rachel went for drunken noodles (king prawn option – £12.00), which was advertised as being “Thai” hot.
Now I have had stuff in Thailand that has blown my socks off chilli wise and this was nowhere near as hot.
I am a bit of a chilli wuss and had no problem at all with the heat of this dish. Actually it was way milder then my Tom Sum, even though it was advertised as being hotter.
The sauce was ok, but lacked depth and was again a tad one dimensional. Whilst the king prawns were well cooked (not over at all, which is the ruination of many a noble prawn), there were only a miserly three of them – bit mean that.
It was a big (prawns aside) portion (could have easy just shared it), but I found it a bit wanting flavour wise. Defanged for perceived Western tastes I wonder or did the ramped up chilli element get left out in the kitchen? A discussion with a work colleague, who said she had it and found it “bloody hot”, suggests the latter or a complete and utter chilli wussness on her part (I advised she to visit Fowl and Fury and go for the “cooling” full on fury 😱)!
The booze selection has the mandatory cocktails (probably get cancelled by the mob if don’t do them) and the compulsory riff on an espresso martini.
Do like that there are non alcoholic options at a much reduced price.
Not really a cocktail drinker, so on we moved to the wine list.
Not a bad list, with it nice to see verdejo (if you like sauv. blanc you will probably like verdejo), a picpoul de pinet and Portuguese wines as the house red and white. Shame no riesling on the list or sherry, both of which pair fantastically well with Thai food.
If I was choosing wine from the list to pair with what we had I would probably have gone for the chenin blanc.
Price wise the mark ups aren’t hideous by any means based on UK standards, with the verdejo on the list at £22.50 (retails at around £9 – £10 mark), the Sachetto Pinot Nero on the list at £24 (retails at around a tenner) and the chenin on at £24 (retails at £9 – £10 mark).
We decided, as it was a lunch time to go non alcoholic
and both of us went for the Rosa’s Mai Mao light (0.5% abv) Thai beer (in effect non alcoholic lager).
I don’t drink much lager (and even less non alcoholic lager – actually this was my first one ever I think), as it is usually utter phish, but as lagers go it was perfectly fine. I actually don’t, if tasting it blind, think I would have twigged it was non – alcoholic. Not sure if that is an endorsement of this beer, a damning indictment of the quality of most commercial lagers or an indication that my taste buds are shot to bits!
Do think the price is bit leery at £4.75 for what looks like a standard 330ml bottle. Scaling that up to a pint you would be paying just under £8.20 for this stuff. As I said I don’t drink lager much, but that seems a lot to me especially san the booze and is hardly an encouragement to abstain/be the designated driver.
Whilst all day menus seem to be quite deriguer these days, I think to tempt in the office worker/week day lunch time crowd they need a lunch time offer.
We paid £50 plus (inc. automatically added 12.5% tip – grrrr, service was good mind) for lunch which seemed quite a lot to me with no proper booze.
I also think charging rice and noddles as an extra for many of the dishes makes it expensive, especially for lunch, with a chicken based green curry and rice (if dining solo) nigh on £15 (with the basic steamed rice, more if you upscale the rice option).
As stated above, a £10 lunch option (inc. rice) at least on week days would be a good idea in my humble opinion.
Whilst there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the food, it was all a bit inoffensive/underpowered. With Thai food, you really want the heat, sweet and sour to tingle/even assail the tastebuds and here I was left a bit wanting.
Would I go back? Maybe for a works do (i.e. if I am not paying) or if they bought in a £10 lunch menu option, otherwise probably not if I am honest.
In terms of the city centre opposition, it is better than Busaba, but not a patch on Malai. I shall aim to try Praya Thai, which does have a set price lunch menu, in due course.
Address: 5 – 10 Church St. Cardiff, CF10 1 BG.