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 2nd 2015
Taste The Food, Discover The Culture
162 The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 1RX
When my mum asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I decided that we were long overdue for a visit to our favourite restaurant, Mae Ping. A few days before when passing by on the bus, we saw that the name was no longer above the door and worry set in that the restaurant might have closed down and been turned into something else. We rushed to the Mae Ping website to find out what was going on and discovered that the family who run the business have branched out to try a new style of food and renamed it Imm Thai Fusion. Reception of this news brought out a range of emotions: relief that the restaurant had not closed down and that it was still the same family running it; excitement about trying something new; fear that the changes would ruin what we loved most.
As Imm Thai Fusion is closed on Mondays, we went the evening after my birthday, and immediately relaxed when we saw that the atmospheric decor had remained the same. The walls are a mixture of warm red, cool green, neutral cream, and wooden panelling. There are also several Buddhist artworks to complete the setting. It may sound like there is a lot going on, but it feels very calming.
Surprisingly it was the owner who greeted us, showed us to our seats, and served us for the whole evening. I expect this is because Tuesdays is a quiet day, so she does not need extra staff. Whatever the reason, I am very pleased about it, because I have never had better table service in all my life. She was very helpful, friendly, and went out of her way to give us the perfect evening.
When we said this was our first visit since the change, she explained a bit more about how the structure had changed both in terms of management structure and the new menu. The first thing we noticed was how limited the drinks menu now was. There used to be an entire booklet, but it had now been reduced to a double-sided page. Sensing we were disappointed by this, the owner immediately brought out the old Mae Ping menu and let us choose something else if it was still available. Although they did not have our preferred Merlot, we were happy with a Rioja, which she reduced in price.
Mum and I also asked if they could still do two Virgin Pina Coladas for us, and it was no problem at all. The non-alcoholic cocktail is a mix of pineapple juice, lemon juice, coconut milk, and syrup, and is incredibly refreshing. Whether or not it will be possible to make this request again in the future, I'm not sure, as it was probably just left over stock and ingredients, and they are unlikely to be ordering in more. The fact that she went to the trouble to sort it all out for us though, made us feel very welcome.
Whenever the family goes out to a restaurant, we always say 'last time we ordered too much, this time we are going to get less.' Usually these good intentions fall flat and we still end up with more than we can finish, but we were determined, and finally succeeded in finding the right balance. We found that for three people the best combination is two starters, two mains, and two sides. We finished everything, feeling full, but not uncomfortably full, like we have made ourselves so often in the past.
The new menu has not actually changed that dramatically. Most of Mae Ping's best dishes are still available under the heading of 'Classic Thai'. Their set menu has now been removed and replaced with a section called 'Imm Fusion'. Basically this means you can stick to classic Thai dishes or try some of their new recipes which merge the flavours and traditions of different cultures. One such example is Thai fried sea bass dressed with English Bramley apple sauce.
We always start off with a basket of prawn crackers (£3) with sweet chilli sauce. These were larger than we last remembered, making it easier to scoop up the sauce without spillages. The crackers are mildly spicy, but the heat grows with each bite, so I was glad to have my pina colada on hand.
For our starters we chose grilled chicken satay (£5.95) and Dragon's Den (£5.95). The tender chicken pieces were marinated on skewers and came with a peanut dipping sauce, while Dragon's Den is fried tofu stuffed with vegetables.
We knew from previous experience that we like the chicken satay, but this was the first time trying Dragon's Den, simply because it would never occur to my parents to order anything with tofu in it. I could already hear Dad making a sort of dismissive grunt when he heard what was inside. Grunts were quickly replaced by ones of pleasure, and we all agreed they were delicious. It went particularly well with the sweet sesame sauce.
When the owner came to clear our plates, she was very keen to hear our thoughts on the Dragon's Den. She said that they were still trying to perfect the recipe after altering it slightly from their original. We all gave a thumbs up; I don't know how they could improve on it.
For our mains we shared a beef Thai green curry (£8.50) and duck teriyaki (£12.95) with Pad Thai prawns (£8.50) and egg fried rice (£3.25) as sides. To ensure that we had the best experience, the owner told us that the best way to enjoy the rice noodles was to sprinkle over the cashew nuts, squeeze in the lemon juice and then mix it all up. While the nuts added texture, the lemon added sharpness. The prawns in the dish were so large, they looked like Siamese twins.
Thai green curry is one of our usual selections; freshly made green chilli paste simmered in coconut milk and Thai herbs with a choice of chicken, beef, prawns, duck, or vegetables. Since beef was the only thing we had not had in a different dish, we went for that. Like the Dragon's Den, the curry also had a new recipe. It used to be served in a deep bowl over an open flame to keep it hot, but now it comes in a wider ceramic dish. There are some new veggies inside, including aubergine and one that I could not identify. The main difference though is the sauce, which I did not find as creamy.
The duck teriyaki is part of their new fusion menu and came marinated in an in-house sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. All I can say is that they need to keep that sauce recipe a heavily guarded secret, because it was amazing: sweet, sticky, salivating. The duck was delightfully tender and melted in the mouth.
So far we had seen Imm Thai Fusion make minor alterations to what we were used to. The reduced drinks list was a disappointment, the fusion menu did not affect our opinion, but now it was time to see where the big improvements came in, and that was with their dessert menu. Mae Ping's desserts never particularly excited us, but the fusion concept really came into its own here. We were all tempted by different things, and the owner helped entice us more by explaining the cultural background behind them. For example, Mum's crepes (£4.95) were made from pandan leaves and rice flour filled with coconut flakes caramelised in brown sugar and served with coconut ice cream. She told us pandanus is an indigenous plant and used widely in Asian cooking. Mum thought it was exquisite and produced a range of textures.
Dad went for the sticky mango rice (£4.95), which is made from Thai hom mali, also known as jasmine rice. Jasmine rice is fragrant, softer, and more absorbent than our standard long grain rice, which gives it its sticky texture.
I was taken in by the description of taro ice cream (£4.95). To us it might sound bizarre putting a vegetable into ice cream, but it is extremely popular in Thailand, and she said it makes the ice cream sweeter. I was surprised at just how attractive the ice cream looked when it arrived. Given that taro is a rather bland brownish colour, I was not expecting the pretty lilac scoop before me. The exact flavour is hard to describe, but it was something of a mix between vanilla and coconut.
The owner is a very good sales woman, because as well as tempting us with desserts, she convinced all of us to try one of her 'tea' blends. She recommended the Blue Pea Fusion, which looks more like a chemical you might create in a science lab than something you would want to drink. It was in fact entirely natural, and simply water infused with a blue flower native to Thailand. Apparently people from Thailand also use it as an ingredient in hair products to prevent going grey. The infusion starts off a light Mediterranean blue, but the longer it brews, the darker it gets. As someone who does not like hot drinks I thought it had a pleasantly subtle floral flavour. I then waited for it to go cold and found I enjoyed it a lot more as it made the flavour more intense.
Talking about chemistry, we were given a mini science lesson, when she showed us that squeezing lemon into the drink turned it purple. Not only did it change colour, but the flavour altered dramatically to something heavenly sweet. Chemistry never was my strong point, so I am still confused as to how something acidic turned an alkalising purple and made the drink sweet rather than sour. But hey, I'm not complaining.
Just as we were all giving our compliments about the tremendous service and thinking about making an exit, I thought I would ask a question about one of the drinks on the menu. Dad had previously asked me 'what do you think that Vietnamese coffee dip is?' Out of curiosity I asked the owner, and she explained that it was a coffee filtered in a Vietnamese style. She then offered to show us how it is done. I said yes, thinking she was merely going to give us a demonstration, but she actually brought us an entire coffee set and said it was on the house as a belated birthday treat.
Because it is so hot in Vietnam, milk goes off very quickly, so instead they use evaporated milk or condensed milk to make it extra sweet. Lucky for me, they also like to drink it cold. I was surprised at how quickly boiling hot coffee becomes cold when poured over ice. It makes such a difference to the taste too; no longer is it harsh and bitter, but smooth and creamy.
In Thai, 'Imm' means 'full', and that's how we left, full bellied and culturally richer.
Bryony, I came across your review on imm Thai fusion by chance and have read it thoroughly with a great pleasure. Thank you so much for your compliment and I will take all your comments on board for further improvement. As a reader and not as a representative of the restaurant, I think you are an observant and reflective writer which makes your articles informative and objective. I am glad that you like most things at imm and I really look forward to your next visit Bryony. In the meantime, I will surly enjoy reading the rest of your articles :)