It was a special occasion, my mum’s 85th birthday no less, and it warranted something extraordinary. A little more about mum: a year ago she was in intensive care and looked to be on her last legs, but with care and moving in with my sister’s family she has flourished. She is also a true foodie, which is one reason both of her children are also foodies. Unlike many of her vintage, she will try almost anything and has a penchant for Thai, even if her medical condition means she has to treat curries with caution. I took a view that a couple of spoons of red curry would not do her any harm.
As always, I did a little research to find the right venue, which had to be Ipswich – half way between sister’s house and mine. Best reviewed Thai restaurant in Ipswich? Had to be the Kwan Thai, family owned and run, and clearly treated with no little pride – for people on a quiet night out just as much as parties on celebrations. It shares the family-run culture with another of my favourite Thai establishments, the Chilli Banana of Wilmslow.
The personal touch made a difference before we even got there, since my email correspondence with co-owner Lesley (who runs front of house) demonstrated a willingness to help, to the extent of putting happy birthday banners on a nearby wall, placing beautiful lilies on the table (mum’s favourite) and bringing in her dessert with a candle and a chorus of “happy birthday to you.”
They accommodated the two vegetarian diners in our party but for the other three put together a banquet based on dishes that would appeal to my mother’s diverse tastes (more anon.) If I’d asked them to go off-piste and create authentic dishes not on the menu, I’m sure the chef/owner would have done that too; restaurants rewarding enthusiasm and knowledge among their customers are greatly to be valued ahead of those merely catering by taking dish X out of the freezer, warming it, plating it and conveying it to the table.
Once you’ve parked (not always an easy proposition in central Ipswich – I finally found a place on the street with a dodgy walk through backstreets to get to the restaurant), what you see is a pleasant and warmly inviting, well-lit double-fronted restaurant with pleasing and sensible Thai decor and artefacts (ie. not excessive), dominated by yellow-painted walls and reasonably spaced tables that allowed some leeway for a chap to pass by without accidentally splattering a diner with Gai Phad Nam Mun Hoy. Granted the loos are a bit of an obstacle course; they almost caused my brother-in-law to attempt an unwise short-cut through a glass screen, but otherwise KT struck me as a delightful ambience in which to dine.
Drinks flowed (wine, Jasmine tea, Singha beer), courtesy of a jovial waiting team drilled well by Lesley, who herself was much in evidence. Since orders did not need to be taken (other than veggie, but that happened before I arrived), the food arrived at regular intervals too. The starters looked a picture, as witnessed in the photos, centrepiece of which was crispy duck in coffee sauce – selected for being unique in my experience.
Also selected for appeal to mum were the Tom Yum Goong, which I’ve had in Thailand and elsewhere. This version was less creamy than the one I had in Chiang Mai (coconut milk omitted), but with a good balance of shrimp stock, lemon grass, galangal and chilli paste. Truly yum!
Veggie dishes apart (including a green curry that my niece and sister both enjoyed), our mains included whole crispy sea bass in sweet-sour sauce, this being a dish I wanted to repeat since eating some very fine deep-fried bream recently in Mien Tay. Also selected were “weeping tiger,” pad thai, pork red curry and rice, plus gai yahng phad prig (chicken breast grilled and topped with a chilli, garlic & onion sauce) added to make the banquet up to full proportions.
There was nothing wrong with chicken dish, though of this ensemble it was possibly my least favourite dish; however, both the steak dish and sea bass were utterly sublime, beautifully cooked and won huge praise from all diners. Both can easily be overcooked in the wrong hands, but the fish was moist and the steak rare and succulent. The kitchen passed the test with flying colours and is clearly capable of greater feats.
Weakest part of the menu is desserts, since these largely comprise ice creams brought in wholesale – much appreciated though they were. Would be nice to see some homemade authentic desserts added; in fact there should be a cottage industry making them in the same way that Indian sweet shops make great barfi. I like the look of some of these authentic desserts, and look forward to going back to Kwan Thai to try them next time!
However, there is no doubt that KT deserves to be regarded as a very favourite treasure, certainly close enough to my Essex base to justify a regular trip, and equally deserving of recommendation to all friends and family.
Why? Because this is a restaurant that cares, both about the quality and authenticity of its dishes, and how they reach the paying customer – the humility of the craft is noted. The service was never less than charming too, every aspect of customer service was handled with aplomb. As for mum, she was thrilled with the occasion and the food – and more than that you can never ask of any restaurant.
PS. Reply from the restaurant:
Thank you so much for your kind words and feedback, we have been working on some new thai desserts which will be available in the next couple of weeks, next time you come in I’ll arrange one on the house for you to try.