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 November 2nd 2013
Can't compete with the restaurant down the street
Seven years ago, I went to Mai Thai in Wimbledon for an afternoon meal, and remember enjoying it very much. Not longer after, however, another Thai restaurant opened up just a few doors down, and it quickly became the family favourite. Since then, I have never revisited Mai Thai; that is until the other day, when my dad and I went to the cinema. We knew we'd be coming out shortly after five, and were looking for a possible place to eat afterwards. Most restaurants don't open their doors until six o'clock for evening business, but we were pleased to see that Mai Thai was an exception.
The restaurant had a lot to live up to if it was going to compete against Mae Ping, but I'm afraid it did not meet the challenge. The food was substandard in comparison, but just because it couldn't match the best, doesn't mean it should be dismissed right out of hand. At about a third the size of Mae Ping, there was no way it could cater on the same scale.
A red and gold banner above the entrance entices customers inside, where you are greeted by friendly staff, and surrounded by elegant Thai décor, including a beautiful staff counter, carved out to resemble a traditional wooden hut. With only ten tables, it is a cosy dinning establishment, but never feels overcrowded. White panelled walls, creates a more spacious setting, while dinning areas were separated by a balustrade.
We were the first to arrive, and were seated in the exact same spot that I sat seven years ago. I think it is the best seat in the house, neither too close to the kitchen or the front window, but still having a good view of what is going on outside.
Pow Phad Khal, Egg Fried Rice
The appetisers ranged from £3.95-£5.95, and my first reaction upon reading the list was 'Oo, that sounds nice; oh, I like the sound of that; but I want to try that one too.' The fact that everything was appealing was both a good and bad thing. What do I go for? At Mae Ping, there is no such difficulty because if you can't make up your mind, you can choose an hors d'oeuvre tray with a bit of everything. You can't do that at Mai Thai.
Phad Thai Noodles
I therefore decided to take a look at the mains before making my final decision. Here you can pick from salad, curry, or stir-fry. Most of these you can choose to have as vegetarian (£6.50), chicken, pork (£7.50), beef (£8.50), or prawns (£9.50). There are other things you can have too, such as soup, fish, and a red duck curry, that Dad and I were both keen to try. We also ordered a beef curry, phad thai noodles, and egg fried rice.
Poh Pia Tord Spring Rolls
For his starter, Dad chose pork spare ribs, and seeing as how we already had a lot of meat on our plates, I opted to vegetable spring rolls. They were meant to be filled with glass noodles, black mushrooms, and served with a 'thick chilli sauce'. I say 'meant' because I could not detect the slightest hint of mushroom. The fact that my dad - who is allergic to mushrooms – tempted fate by trying one, and did not become ill, is confirmation of that. Glass noodles are a thin translucent type of noodle that takes on the flavour of the things around it. Unfortunately, whatever was in my spring rolls didn't have much flavour. The chilli sauce should have compensated, but that was equally flavourless. It was sweet, but hardly any taste of chilli was present, and where as Mae Ping's chilli sauce is thick and gloopy, this was runny and diluted.
See Krong Moo, Spare Ribs
Dad's spare ribs were no improvement. In comparison to Mae Ping, which slow cooks prime cuts in sticky barbecue sauce until the meat falls off the bone, Mai Thai's couldn't be more different. They took the cheap end cuts, which were deep-fried them with a bit of garlic seasoning. The end result was something fatty, gristly, and tough.
Gaeng Ped Yang, Red Duck Curry
Things were not boding well, but the mains turned out to save the day. It was a complete transformation from the first course, and I would not have guessed the food came from the same restaurant. Our duck curry was made with a coconut milk, and served with red peppers and hot pineapple, making for a delicious soup-like dish.
Phad Ped, Red Beef Curry
The stir-fried beef was marinated in a rich and creamy red curry paste sauce, and came with bamboo shoots and green peppers. While these were still no contest to Mae Ping, their prawn noodles with peanuts and beansprouts was in a dead heat. The noodles and rice were perfect for mopping up the curry sauces, and left you wanting to go back for more.
In the end I had to call it quits, and Dad finished off (he doesn't believe in taking home doggy bags). He was too full for a dessert after that, but settled for a liqueur coffee. Although they do make liqueur, for some reason they are not listed on the menu, so you will have to ask. Instead of being served with fresh cream like Mae Ping, Dad's tia maria came topped with squirty cream from a can. Perhaps this is because their liqueurs are not listed, so they don't get many requests for it.
After a brief rest, I felt that I could probably manage a dessert. The waitress brought us the menu, which though limited, offered a healthy offering of lychees or rambutans in light syrup, banana in coconut milk, or a selection of fruit sorbets. These included orange, lemon, melon, mango, and coconut. I chose an orange sorbet, which was beautifully presented inside a frozen scooped-out orange skin. Despite the fact that Thai cuisine does not specialise in desserts, the sorbet was excellent, sharp and tangy.
The evening may have started out a bit wobbly, but the food improved with each course. If you like Thai food, and plan on a family night out, then I would always recommend going to Mae Ping, but Mai Thai was very popular with singletons coming in for a single meal and a cup of herbal tea. If you do visit, I would advice you to skip the starter and head straight for main course.