THERE’S compact and bijou and then there’s Café Thai.
But is this odd little place in West Vale near Elland really a café? It’s certainly a takeaway – no question about that – but perhaps it has pretensions to be the smallest restaurant in the region.
After opening the takeaway they realised they had enough space for a small restaurant, so here it is –
five tables with a grand total of 16 chairs around them. Just three steps away is the takeaway part and the chefs at work.
It opened less than a couple of months ago directly opposite the landmark mill housing Andy Thornton Architectural Antiques. We popped in on spec one Thursday night. It was quiet then but it gets quite busy at weekends so its reputation must be growing.
But I was puzzled about one aspect of this quirky little place – and my curiosity eventually overcome my naturally English reserve.
To open a restaurant they must have a toilet, but where on earth could it be in a place as tiny as this. Just where were they concealing their ablutions? I’m glad I asked. It was an eye-opener. It’s an outside loo and as traditionally English as anything you’d find searching about inside Andy Thornton’s. A solid, stone outbuilding three steps away in a courtyard that certainly was going back in time. It’s worth a visit just to pay a visit.
Café Thai has the strapline Where East Meets West. Well it does in that little ‘Coronation Street’ style backyard.
It’s unlicensed but you’re welcome to take your own booze along. I like these kind of places. And so to the food. Not your usual takeaway or, come to think of it, cafe fare. How many do you know that would do a whole sea bass fillet lightly fried and topped with red curry or coconut sauce flavoured with lime leaves and sweet basil.
Or Thai style chargrilled marinated sirloin steak served with Thai chilli sauce.
And the takeaway price is the same as eating in so you can’t really go wrong. You can, of course, make countless mistakes trying desperately to pronounce the names and get them wrong.
Names to conjure with and then drop include Ploh Plia Tod, Pak Chub Bang Tod, Som Tum Tale, Larb and the unforgettable Pad Prik Gang. But behind the names lurk a style of cooking that puts so many other countries to shame.
So to begin and one of our starters was Tod Mun Pla (£3.99) – minced fish blended with red curry paste, lime leaves, green beans and chilli. It has a solid, almost rubbery texture offset by the sweet chilli and peanut sauce.
The other starter was the wonderfully-named See-Krong Moo Ob and there was nothing wrong with this Krong – slow-baked marinated spare ribs covered in a thick sauce. A sticky fingers job if ever there was one, but the meat was tender and fell straight from the bone and the spice was one of those that danced around on the tastebuds rather than stuck the boot in.
But the piece de resistance for this meal came with the mains in the form of the bowl-filling signature dish Gang Massaman (£5.99). Now this one does gang up on the tastebuds – spicy yet creamy Southern Thai curry featuring potatoes and peanuts. One for the sauce fanatics.
Several years ago BC (before children) my wife Ruth and I went to a curry house in Huddersfield that served the best chicken makhan we’d ever tasted. We just kept going back and back. Café Thai’s massaman was hitting that high note – a fantastic example of a Thai dish and rekindled memories of a holiday to Thailand, again in this distant yet perhaps not so dim past. Thai food is about as good as it gets and that holiday was a culinary classic.
The other dish was Pla Neung Ma-Now (£9.50) which was whole steamed sea bass topped with Thai style spicy lemon chilli sauce. It was a thin yet ultra spicy sauce, but most of the sauce was gathered around the base of the fish. The tip there is to keep pouring it back over.
The fish had been delicately cooked – perhaps a tad too delicate in places – but was bright, colourful with deftly cut celery. Now I’m no celery fan but this actually worked well with the fish.
The egg fried rice was OK but the coconut rice was expertly sticky and just the right shade of sweetness.
There are dishes here you probably won’t get elsewhere so a revisit is on the cards to try Pad Prik Gang (£5.99) featuring red curry, mushroom, red peppers and lime leaves or Pad Gramtium Prik Tai (£5.99), chicken, pork or beef marinated in spices and stir-fried with garlic and pepper.
There are set menus that come in at £14 per person for two or £16 per person for 4. If there was any criticism I’d say it was a priced slightly on the high side for the surroundings, but at least you can take your own booze!
1 Green Lane, West Vale, Halifax, HX4 8AB.
Tel 01422 372037
Website: No, but Café Thai is on Facebook
Opening hours 5pm to 11pm Tuesday to Saturday, 4pm to 10pm on Sundays and will start to open from 11am to 2pm Wednesday to Friday lunchtimes in the next few weeks
Disabled access No
The bill £28.47
Would you go back? Yes