Restaurant review: Camile on Belfast's Lisburn Road
348 Lisburn Road, Belfast. www.camile.co.uk
Thai red and green curry started popping up in Chinese takeaways in and around Belfast about 15 years ago. Soon, you could get a Thai curry chip in a lot of chip shops and then Michael Deane was booking flights to Bangkok to undergo intensive training in Thai cooking skills. We were gripped by Thai food fever.
The fact that nobody really knew what it was meant to be or how it really tasted didn't matter. It was cool and different, didn't burn the bake off you and had reassuring reference points like chicken pieces and prawns. In short, it looked like most rice dishes from Asia. What was not to like?
Fast forward a decade and a half and Belfast has seen a few authentic Thai restaurants come and go. Sawadi and Bo Tree Thai were memorable but didn't last. Some established Chinese restaurants have branched out to offer full Thai menus and Thai dishes appear in most hipster cafés and bistros of note. But the one making the most waves currently is Camile Thai on the Lisburn Road.
Slick, modern, bright and geared up for online orders, Camile is principally a takeaway and delivery service but there are tables, stools and chairs in the canteen-like operation. And so it was a takeaway the advisor and I ordered to test the service.
The website is easily navigated, attractive with loads of pictures, and there's even a dish you can order for the dog (£2.50). Once you've ordered, an estimated time of delivery is posted of around 30 minutes. Sadly, the delivery did not materialise for about an hour. But that's OK because on a Saturday night when there's nothing much else on after Strictly and X Factor, what's the rush?
Nonetheless, I did phone them and suggested that instead of putting up the ambitious estimated time of delivery, they just put a realistic one up.
Anyway, was the food up to the hype? Yes and no. The packaging visuals are stunning, so stunning in fact, that they raise expectations to dizzy heights. The tiffin box for two people did not disappoint. Packed hard with a selection of starters including skewered chicken, vegetable and duck spring rolls, hot wings and an assortment of sauces, it was exciting to look at and open and the contents matched the ignited hopes. Things were crispy or soft where needed and as flavourful as they were colourful. We agreed this was value for money at £10.50.
The pad Thai noodles, again in a US sitcom style carton, were less impressive. This dish can be light and satisfying, a good platform for the four basic Thai flavours of sour, sweet, savoury and salty. This, however, was on the point of turning to mush. Perhaps it was in the box too long and kept cooking itself.
A Choo Chee curry was more successful, maintaining a rich but not heavy presence. The light liquor had plenty of heat and spice and was rated "very hot". I've had hotter zinger burgers but the flavours were delightful. The jasmine rice worked beautifully with it.
There are masses of dishes to choose from at Camile's. There are nibbles including wasabi nuts and sticky cashews, salads, soups and stir fries, low calorie options and dishes for children. The dog's dinner, by the way, consists of rice pudding and three biscuits.
The offer is very compelling, well packaged and slickly marketed. But when I went back to the website to have a second go a few days later I realised they must have taken my advice to its ultimate conclusion, that or they've barred me, as when I keyed in my address up popped the message: "address is outside delivery area".
So I went along to the actual Camile with our work experience student Evie to see if the restaurant matches its virtual face. It's an impressive place with acres of steel fronts and surfaces in the kitchen and dozens of little polished containers on shelves which the cooks reach up to from time to time to add to their creations. They are fast and an order for Tom Yam Goon soup, Choo Chee curry, red curry, sticky rice and noodles arrives a few minutes after sitting down. There is a distinct difference in the quality. Served fresh from the kitchen everything sparkles and crunches. Spices are fresh and zingy, noodles have texture and everything feels just picked. It is very good. And Evie says it's the kind of place she'd bring her friends to. The room is draughty, however, so sit up as close to the counter as you can.
Camile is a welcome addition to Lisburn Road. Its focus on local produce is not just cosmetic: it makes sense for Thai chefs to go for the freshest and best as the cooking process is so short, very little of the true produce is lost. I'll be back.
1 Tiffin Box for 2 £10.50
Pad Thai Noodles £9.95
Chu Chee Curry Chicken and Jasmine rice £10.95
Duck Spring Roll (regular) £5.95
Delivery fee ...................................£2.50
Total (incl VAT £5.94) ................. £39.85