Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published September 15th 2016
The Best Customer Service from Here to Thaliand
Another year has come and gone, and I am another year older. Birthdays are considered a time of celebration, but I haven't looked forward to my birthday since I was fourteen. Rather than excitement, I look towards birthdays with a sigh of resignation as they are just a reminder of how fast time flies and that I am another step closer to mortality. Yet on that cheery note, there is one good thing that my birthday means, and that is trip to my favourite restaurant, Imm Thai Fusion. So rarely does the family go out for dinner that it has been a whole year since our last visit.
We must have very memorable visits, however, as the owner/manager, Siri, recognised us straight away and was thrilled to see us return. Perhaps it was not my face that is so memorable, but my writing - an even greater compliment - as it was on my last visit that I wrote a glowing review of Imm Thai Fusion, which Siri accounts for much of the restaurant's success. How much influence my review truly had, I do not know, but it is lovely to know how much she appreciated the article. What's more, Siri made changes to Imm Thai Fusion as a direct result of my review, in which I gave a few minor suggestions for improvement. It feels so uplifting when feedback is taken on board and acted upon in such a positive manner.
So here I am again. I do not usually review the same place twice, but I felt that in this instance, it felt appropriate to note the changes the restaurant has gone. Minor or not, small things can make a big difference.
As mentioned previously, Imm Thai Fusion, was once called Mae Ping, until last year when the family handed the business down to their daughter, Siri, so she could run it in her own style. Siri branched off from their small chain of restaurants (of which there is still one Mae Ping located in Beckenham) and changed the name to Imm Thai Fusion. As the name suggests, the restaurant is a mixture of classic Thai cuisine and an adventurous fusion of Thai and Indo-Chinese dishes. Located on the Broadway of Wimbledon, in between New Wimbledon Theatre to the Polka Theatre, it is the most welcoming restaurant I have ever been to.
During the warm weather months, the bi-folding doors are open wide like a pair of arms reaching out to pull you into a full embrace. On the one hand, this lets lovely cool air in, but on the other, it can be a bit noisy with the traffic outside, so I would recommend sitting further to the back of the restaurant. Yes, you can decide. Last year we were the first arrivals and were asked where we would like to sit. This year, the restaurant was much busier (in fact, I've never known it to be so busy); it would have been so easy for the waiter to show us to any available seat, but he still asked us which spot we would prefer. We chose a table near the back with a seating combination of chairs and benches fitted to the walls. One thing that has not changed about Imm Thai Fusion is the atmospheric decor, which features beautiful wooden panelling and traditional Thai artwork, such as long smoking pipes, and Buddha statues. The benches were covered in silk cushions and block pillows for a back rest. The music, however, has become more modern, and slightly louder. I think I'd preferred gentler classic Thai music, which would marry the entire theme so much more comfortably. It wold also make it easier to hold a conversation without having to raising your voice or lean in across the table.
Despite being busy, a waiter came to attend us very early on; unfortunately my Mum received an important phone call at an inconvenient moment, so we had to ask for more time to look at the menu before we made any decisions. Once the phone was placed squarely back in bag where it belonged, we spotted straight away that my feedback about the wine list had been addressed. Before it had been quite limited, but now it has been expanded and even included the merlot we had previously enquired about. Siri said she added it to the list especially for us, but that the added selection has gone down well with all her customers.
The food menu has also expanded, particularly in the starters department, with new additions such as a beef salad, papaya salad, and although I doubt it will last much longer, they had a few summer special starters, of which we ordered chicken salad. Chicken salad may not sound particularly exotic, but it's what you do with it that counts. The grilled chicken pieces were marinated with a refreshing lime and dressing that gave it extra zing.
We also asked for the Dragon's Den, which we remembered loving last year. I am very curious to know exactly where the name came from and if there is any significance behind it, because the title gives nothing away. If it was not for the description that follows, one might guess it to be a very hot and spicy meat dish. Quite the contrary. Dragon's Den is a vegan starter of lightly battered tofu and vegetables served with a tamarind sauce and crushed peanuts. Last year, Siri said that she was still trying to perfect the recipe, and I don't think it could taste anymore perfect.
After we finished our starter, a short while passed before Siri came to the table to apologise for something. She started to say 'because it is so busy...', and I thought she was finish with 'we have run out of "such and such"'. Instead she was very apologetic about how long our main course was taking to arrive. I hadn't even noticed. My family were so busy chatting that it did not feel like we had been waiting very long, and the time gap allowed us to digest our starters before tackling the next round. All the same, Siri insisted that she serve us ice cream on the house for dessert.
One dish I remember seeing on the menu last year was fried sea bass with Bramley apple sauce. We did not choose it, but it was on my 'next time' list. It was now 'next time', but although I could see a number of sea bass dishes, I did not see one with Bramley apple sauce. They must have refined the dish as there was now an option for fried sea bass with fish sauce and spicy apple salad. It is always interesting to see how menus evolve, and it was no great loss because we returned to two of our favourite long standing dishes, a classic Thai green curry and duck tamarind alongside a vegetable side dish of pak choi in oyster sauce.
I had never eaten pak choi before; although I see it available in the supermarket, I am always reluctant to buy it as I know it is part of the cabbage family, a green I definitely do not like. I decided to a chance this time, as I knew it would be prepared and cooked by skilled chefs as opposed to little old me steaming it in the microwave. The risk paid off because we all thought it a delicious accompaniment.
As with all their curries, you have an option of chicken, beef, prawn, duck, or vegetable/tofu. The green curry is the mildest of the curries, which is why I think the light flavour of chicken or veg works best. They also have a variety of spicier red curries, which I think would work best with the dark meats or prawns.
To mop up all the gorgeous juices and sauces from our two main meals, we ordered egg fried rice and prawn phad Thai noodles, which is mixed with spring onions, soy sauce, and an optional topping of crushed peanuts and lime juice, which is added in front of you at the table.
All the dishes are designed in a way for sharing, so that everyone can take a bit of everything from each plate. It is amazing that despite the fact that there were several different sauces all getting mixed together from one dish to another, they all worked seamlessly. The flavours did not clash in the slightest, but actually enhanced everything.
Another sharing dish was the free dessert we'd been offered: a rainbow of ice cream in elegant glasses, each topped with a strawberry and kiwi. Siri loves to provide interesting tidbits of information about the food at her restaurant. She helped us decide which flavours to try based on her description, such as vanilla being the safe option - 'That's me,' Mum raises her hand. Then there was durian, thought to be the smelliest fruit in the world and a favourite of the nineteenth-century British naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace.
Dad's favourite was taro, also know as yam or purple sweet potato. The colour is enchanting and it has a unique sweetness. The matcha green tea ice cream was my favourite, which as also sweet, but very soothing. Despite Mum being the safe vanilla person, her favourite was actually the red Thai tea. This had a very subtle flavour that was just right for cleansing the palate after meal. None of us were that fond of the durian, which had a nice citrusy aftertaste, but the initial flavour was a bit too piquant and bitter.
But did our evening finish there? Oh no. One cannot leave Imm Thai Fusion without experiencing a touch of theatre first. Last year they had removed their coffee liqueurs from the menu, which we had been disappointed about, but now it is back thanks to a gentle nudge and suggestion. You can just order your coffee, and have it brought straight to the table, but where is the fun in that? Imm Thai Fusion give the option to see it made by one of their expert mixers. It is very enjoyable to watch as he 'glues' granules of sugar around the rim of the wine glasses, and rolls them over an open flame. The next stage is are generous few dashes of your chosen liqueur (I had Bailey's and the folks had Tia Maria). The best part is when the kahula is added and a long waterfall of blue flames falls into the glass. There is something magical about their liqueur coffees, because I am neither a fan of coffee, alcohol, or hot drinks, yet I find their Bailey's coffee divine.
Thoroughly full and ready to be transported home Star Trek style (no such luck, we had to get the bus), Siri gave us one last parting gift: a tub of dried blue pea flowers for making tea with. We said our goodbyes with a cordial before wondering when our next visit should be.