It’s easy to be lazy if you own a restaurant around Frith Street in Soho. If you run an ever popular all-you-can-eat buffet for the lunch meeters, and cram as many tables in as you can to accommodate the starving souls who wander London’s most famous nightspot, you’re in business. Inoffensive food is a bonus. But when passing through @Siam’s unassuming entrance, it becomes clear that this relatively new addition to Soho’s eateries seeks to be far more than run-of-the-mill. Carefully selected Asian-style lighting features, flashes of deep purple against dark wood and the odd Buddha create a subtle backdrop to the vibrant food. Contemporary and comfortable, it manages to be atmospheric without being generic. Thorough consideration to user experience – cushioned seats, funky cutlery – gives the place a friendly air. The background pop music did jar somewhat, but could easily be rectified with some chilled out music more in-keeping with the general tone.
The staff who showed us to our table by the window were friendly and notably genuine for a mid-budget restaurant in the center of London. Despite a full house of packed out with tables in every nook and cranny, we never felt like ‘meat in the room’.
The menu is varied, with curries, pad thai, noodles, soups, salads and appetisers, but also feels streamlined. We began with a colourful beef salad, which was well flavoured, and tempura with a crisp and
light batter. The quality of the ingredients shone through in both of these dishes, but it was the soup that was by far and away the best starter. We imagined years spent reducing down ingredients to produce a single bowl of broth that was both rich and complexly flavoured.
It’s also worth mentioning the impressive presentation of the dishes throughout. Every dish was vibrant and carefully constructed, but remained inviting rather than intimidating. When the main courses arrived, it was the beautifully arranged Pad Thai that drew our eyes.
A Thai signature dish but so often too greasy, this didn’t disappoint and the crushed peanuts on the side added an extra layer of flavour. Another staple of Thai cuisine in the west is the Thai curry, and I was a little sceptical at first about the duck and lychee curry. However, the mixture of ingredients showed off an intelligent use of flavours – another recurrent theme throughout all the dishes. Our third main course was a wild-card: softshell crab. We were fascinated by the soft texture, and a restrained use of spices allowed the quality of the meat to come through.
The interesting thing about Thai food is, similar to other East Asian cuisines, you’re expected to order more dishes than there are guests. Accordingly, we found that three starters and three mains with rice was just the right amount for two. Duly moving onto the deserts, we were happy to find them light and, shock horror, authentic to the cuisine of the restaurant. Tea flavoured ice creams always look great on the menu, but they often taste watery at best and like vanilla with food colouring at worst. This was a palate refresher whilst still powerfully flavoured, and not trying to hide behind with over sweetening. The coconut ice-cream also avoided being overpowering and complimented the warmed waterchestnut dumplings nicely.
When adapted for a western audience, it’s very easy for Thai food to slip down the cracks between more established Asian cuisines. But at the end of the meal we came away with a well rounded impression of what makes Thai food unique. Great value for money, and in the middle of Soho, @Siam delivered over and above what was expected through its variety and quality of dishes, and in the overall dining experience.
Frith Street, Soho, London, http://www.atsiam.co.uk/