Baan Thitiya, Bishops Stortford

Baan Thitiya resides in a former pub not far from the railway lines in Bishops Stortford, one of those places I had long intended to visit someday but never quite got around to until an opportunity arose to go with a few special people (henceforward VSP1 and VSP2.)  But I can honestly say it’s an opportunity I’m very glad I took, since it stands out from the ranks of Thai restaurants as a true gem. by virtue of being family run, relaxed, friendly and serving damn good food, made fresh on the premises.

Stick to the basics, do them very very well, and you really can’t go wrong.  Innovation is fine but when I see the effects of ambitious restaurants straining beyond their capabilities and going badly wrong as a result, sometimes it’s good to see places that stick to what they know best.  This is one such restaurant.

Actually, they do slightly better than that.  For all the fact that most Thai specialties are now as familiar as your sweet sour pork and chicken tikka masala (ie. regretfully the lines of red and green curries have been commoditised and rough approximations released in convenience packs by supermarkets), Baan Thitiya (henceforth BT) shares with another favourite of mine, Chilli Banana in my home town of Wilmslow, the inclusion on the menu of very Thai dishes less commonly known over this side of the world.  Who knows, Goong Mae-Naam Chu Chi may yet turn out to be the next Rogan Josh.

While from the outside the pub origins of BT are fairly self-evident, the inside conversion, built around the bar, is never less than interesting and comfortable.  Two good signs: that it filled with regulars on a Tuesday evening; and even when it did the acoustics were sufficiently decent that I didn’t miss too much of the conversation.

Front of house is run by Pat and Poppy, who are both charming and wreathed in smiles.  They may or may not be a married couple, but they certainly know the art of being warm, helpful, unobtrusive but there when required.  They almost certainly knew everything about the dishes on the menu, too, though that was not required on this occasion.

Once drinks were ordered, we took a view on the menu for the benefit of all: Special Set Menu A plus an additional soup course (Tom Kha Hed) and a side of vegetarian Pad Thai.  Yes, I know set meals are a ritual cliché and that any gourmet hunting for the most exquisite dishes should look to the extremities of the menu, but you can’t really argue with this selection, particularly since the mains include a green curry (you have to have a curry in a Thai meal), duck and, in deference to a lamb-loving VSP, a specialty dish containing lamb – most unusual:

Set StarterGolden Treasures (our chef’s selection of mixed starters)

set mainThai Green Chicken Curry
Stir-fried Roasted Duck with vegetables and Tamarind sauce
Lamb sautéed with vegetables in garlic and black pepper sauce – sizzling
Steamed Jasmine Rice

The mixed starters are de rigueur, even if they didn’t include Thai fish cakes. They were however home-made and totally divine.  For example, sesame prawn toasts, chicken satay and spring rolls are dishes so frequently commoditised and served straight from freezer to frier to table in most restaurants.  Not here they weren’t – the prawn toasts looked like no other I’ve ever seen, being created by the chef from short fingers of French bread.  They tasted irresistibly fresh, that elusive quality you always hope to find; this time I was not disappointed.

The soup, arriving as a middle course, was definitely a good decision.  The menu describes it as “hot & sour lemon grass soup in light coconut milk with mushrooms,” though in practice it is sweet, savoury, coconutty and delicious, as Thai soups usually are.  In Thailand they are usually much, much more chillified, as my throat once found out, but this was sublime and beautifully seasoned.

All of the mains kept up the high standard, though we were flagging towards the end.  The lamb was filled with incredibly tender and tasty morsels, thus justifying its selection on the set menu, also avoiding the inevitable fate in less sensitive hands of being greasy.  There was not a bad dish on the table, which speaks volumes for the excellence of BT’s chef.  VSP2 is a connoisseur of Pad Thai, and rated that and the starters very highly.

It would be great to know more about the kitchen team, though the website does tell us a nugget about the philosophy of BT, something you may consider pretentious in some hands.  It reads thus:

Our simple philosophy 
Is to serve you with an outstanding quality of authentic Thai cuisine complimented with fine wines a warm welcome and exceptional customer service. Do visit our menu and make a note to come and join us for your next eating out experience

I can honestly say it keeps to the letter and the simplicity works wonders.  Warmly recommended.

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