So where do you find a decent meal in Bournemouth in January? That’s not as straightforward a question as you might expect, since restaurants in hotels seem to shut down for part of the month, and on our recent visit even a fish and chip shop emblazoned with a banner declaring “OPEN” was manifestly shut. Yes there were a few places opened, but on this occasion it was my partner’s birthday dinner and therefore something a touch special was required.
Tiien Thai was conveniently located for our hotel and had an attractive feel to it – and suited the lady more than nearby Italian and Indian restaurants. I say “attractive feel,” by which I mean it is a classy joint – tastefully decorated, quality tables, quality crockery, cutlery with a good solid feel. There is a bar area for times when the fair sized dining room is jam packed, not that that was a likely contingency in January.
All told, Tiien Thai gives off the air of being professionally run by people who have invested well in their venture and, by extension, have probably employed good staff to provide front of house and kitchen service alike. Ergo… we agreed this was worthy of the birthday supper.
One benefit of dining out in Bournemouth in January is that the restaurant were staffed in the event of passing trade filling all covers. In practice, that meant we had at least four members of staff either taking drinks or food orders, and brining various dishes to the table. Perhaps a better test might be how they perform on a busy Saturday night, though I’ve known deserted restaurants cock up the service too. In this case the waiters were to a man and woman polite, efficient and capable, albeit with one who spoke English in such a way that I had to ask my partner for simultaneous translation.
The menus, brought promptly to the table, seemed comprehensive. That is, they follow the tradition whereby Thai menus are virtually identikit and rarely bring up new dishes, my favourite Chilli Banana being one honourable exception. Whether these are the dishes mother used to make back in the old country is not entirely clear to me, though they certainly differ very little from food served even in Thai restaurants in Thailand. Not that I’m complaining, since what differentiates Thai restaurants tends to be the quality of the spicing, presentation and ingredients – attention to detail, in other words.
We ordered water and Singha while perusing the menu, both of which were served and despatch with consummate ease. As for food, we went for the easy route of Menu A. Regular readers will know my usual practice is to head for the more obscure outposts and/or signature dishes, though in this case a set dinner permitted me to focus on conversation with the lady and was in any case suggested by her.
The inevitable mixed starters arrived with a flourish and rather beautiful presentation within baked pastry bowls. The descriptions may sound familiar:
A selection of spring rolls, barbecued chicken wings, chicken satay, prawn toasts and Thai fish cakes served with peanut sauce, sweet chilli sauce and cucumber salsa
However, what was noticeable was that the street snacks course were all home made, fresh and tasty – thereby avoiding the fate of cheaper Thai restaurants that buy in wholesale and transfer from freezer to frier their spring rolls and prawn sesame toasts. These had the vibrancy of flavour and uneven appearance that can only come from being hand-made in the kitchen by an enthusiastic sous-chef.
Even the Thai fish cakes were a clear improvement on the flattened savoury brownies you are often served, by virtue of a lightened texture and zingy flavour. Quite apart from the satay sauce served on the side, the satay sticks (which were excellent) came enveloped in a light and pleasantly yogurty sauce unlike any satay I’ve previously eaten, so a first for Tiien Thai.
Our mains certainly provided sufficient quantity. Indeed, a green curry (upgraded by me from chicken to tiger prawn), a pork stir-fry with pepper and garlic, pak choi (known here as “phak-choy”) in oyster sauce, chicken pad (phad?) Thai, plus a generous bowl of steamed jasmine rice would collectively have fed a hypothetical third in our party, though we made a decent stab at the food.
I have no criticism of any dish, except perhaps missing the ground peanuts to top the pad Thai. The spicing was in all cases subtle, though slices of chilli lurked beneath the coconutty surface of the green curry to catch the unwary. This causes me concern, since I wouldn’t be doing my job as food critic if I were not nitpicky over some aspect of the food, all of which avoided brown gloop syndrome and contrived to taste fresh and flavoursome. Perhaps I’m getting too mellow in my old age?
OK, so the dessert ice cream was not home made, and the topping of squirty cream and a glacé cherry probably did it no favours, but I would not have objected had that course been omitted entirely. In hindsight I should have ordered a pot of jasmine tea too, but that will have to wait for another occasion.
Actually, as standard Thai meals go this was £56 (including service) well spent. It demonstrated a zeal for care and going beyond the minimum. Ironically enough, I’ve been for several Thai meals lately and would be happy to award Tiien Thai the gold star for best Thai meal of 2015/16 to date. I hope they continue to raise standards and to win a keen following among tourists and locals alike.
Perhaps more to the point, I hope they follow the Chilli Banana modus operandi by innovating and organising tasting dishes to acquaint loyal followers with regional dishes and unusual ingredients. After all, we Brits have a hunger for trying new things and are not, or no longer as safe and predictable as we used to be, so restaurants need to stay one step ahead of the mass market catering industry!