Even if Thai Sakon wasn’t one of the few places where we can dine out with our vegan son and his wife, I’d still go there.
It’s not just that the food has that umami deliciousness, is freshly cooked to order, crisp and authentically Southeast Asian, the restaurant also has a soothing ambience and the staff are wonderfully polite and gracious.
It’s clear that I’m not alone in this opinion, as getting a table usually requires booking at least a week in advance - especially for weekend dining.
While the exterior of the restaurant is far from imposing (it’s in a basement off a dusty main road) the interior is comfortable, clean, modern and stylish. The menu has crispy starters, Thai curries, stir-fries and the ‘soup-style’ dishes that feature strongly in Thai cuisine. There’s a lot to choose from but, more importantly for our purposes, it has an entirely separate vegetarian menu.
It has to be said that eating out with vegans can be a logistical nightmare. I imagine it’s similarly difficult finding restaurants that have gluten-free dishes or other free-from meals suitable for people with allergies – although Thai Sakon also promises gluten-free food. While most restaurants these days offer at least one dish for vegetarians they often fall back on the use of cheese or eggs. Vegans consume neither of these ingredients, a point they frequently have to make when ordering even the simplest of meals. For them, every dish has to be entirely vegetable-based.
Thai Sakon offers not just one, but several vegetarian (and mostly vegan) options for starters and main courses. What’s more, they’ve even adapted one of the starters of deep-fried battered vegetables with dipping sauce especially for vegans. The new recipe has a batter with no eggs. There’s also a vegetarian oyster sauce, free from oysters, and dishes made without the ubiquitous fish sauce.
Our favourite starters are the hot and fragrant vegetable soups, Tom Kaa Pak and Tom Yam Hed – one hotter than the other – that are a mouth-watering blend of sweet coconut milk, lemongrass, lime and savoury soy. Firstborn also favours the melt-in-the-mouth sweetcorn fritters, which come with a chilli dipping sauce. Animal-free food at the Thai Sakon is certainly not free from taste. (For meat eaters, the soups are featured on the main menu with chicken etc).
Moving on to main courses: despite my best intentions to try something new I almost always go for the Pad Mameuang with both vegetables and tofu – a perfect mix of just-crunchy vegetables, tangy sauce, pillowy tofu and soft cashews - served with fluffy jasmine rice. In fact, we all have our favourites and tend to order the same meals each time. But as we share and share alike, everyone gets to taste four or five different dishes.
Daughter-in-law is fond of the Pad Briaaw Wan, sweet and sour vegetables with tofu, while the men folk go for red and green curries or stir-fried vegetables in oysterless sauce, Pad Gra-pao Pak. And, if anyone is rolling their eyes at the thought of tofu, let me explain that Thai Sakon chefs have a way with tofu. They give it a taste and texture that I’ve found hard to replicate at home. In fact, impossible to replicate. (They also do a satay peanut sauce that is so good we asked to buy some to take home for a party and were promptly gifted a large dollop in a takeaway container.)
Because we usually dine before seven, we benefit from the restaurant’s Early Bird offer of two courses for £11.95. Add an ice-cold Singha or two each and the bill rarely comes to much more than £65 or £70 for four. Even if we dined later, this is a moderately-priced restaurant with main courses (including meat and fish dishes) at around £9 to £10 and starters at £6 or so.
As we leave Thai Sakon we often remark that we don’t know what we’d do without it because there are so few places in Huddersfield that even come close to catering for vegans the way this restaurant does. But I don’t think we need to worry too much for now, as it seems to be a thriving business and well deserving of its success. From our point of view, however, it’s just a shame that so few other restaurants go to the trouble of providing separate veggie menus or bothering to find out what vegans actually eat. The answer is EVERYTHING, except meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce – which, when you think about it, is a lot to go at for the thoughtful and imaginative chef. And, bearing in mind that one of the conclusions of a recent BBC television series How to Stay Young was to adopt a vegan lifestyle, perhaps it’s something more of us should seriously consider looking into.
5 St John’s Road, Huddersfield
Phone: 01484 450159
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 5.30pm to 10.30pm; Saturday 6pm to 11pm; Sunday 6pm to 10pm.
Disabled access: Difficult as there is a flight of stairs to navigate
The bill: £68.50
Would you go back? Sure