Restaurant review: we try out Thai-tanic Noodle Bar
2 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast. Tel: 028 9066 8811
Since the closure of the Bo Tree Thai some four years ago, Belfast's choice of Thai restaurants and takeaways has been the poorer for it. According to a leading review site, Belfast's top five Thais include the Thai Village, The Golden Elephant, Same Happy, Zen and the Spice Club.
And this is why you should pay little if any attention to these sites and rely instead on this column. Because one Thai worth its salt, savoury, sweet and sourness is the Thai-tanic on Eglantine Avenue, which features in sixth place.
For years, I drove past the Thai-tanic and made a point of not stopping because that crazy name put me off; it's like jokes on T shirts - you got it the first time.
But then people kept mentioning it when conversations about Thai food came up. Daft name, but the food's good. So the advisor and I forsook another Saturday night family-cooked dinner, going instead to Eglantine Avenue for a takeaway. In fact, we went a second night just to make sure.
Thai-tanic is as authentic as anything I've seen and tasted in Chiang Mai, or the markets of Bangkok. The tiny little sit-in restaurant and takeaway is a steamy, noisy and mildly frantic hub of fast and furious Thai cooking, with every single order made from scratch.
There is a handful of tables tucked away to one side and a row of stools facing a high ledge at the window and you can sit down and have your meal in peace.
This may sound odd, but because there is so much activity in the open kitchen next to you, it's the perfect place to go alone and contemplate, or just switch off for a while.
On the surface it is a cauldron of bubbling, sizzling cooking and a good bit of shouting, but for those of us there to order and eat, it is a remarkably peaceful little temple of tranquillity.
There are dishes to look out for and things to avoid and the great attraction of Thai-tanic is that you call the shots.
The vegetables which go into the various dishes are all prepped and ready to go, displayed in a glass chill cabinet. There is nothing remotely attractive about these and, in particular, the mountain of chopped carrot rings.
There are courgettes, peas, French runner beans, onions and other bits and bobs which pass. And while these are all fine and nutritious, they are not exactly Far Eastern exotic. Some balsam apple, green eggplant and bitter melon might be nice and there's plenty more available in the Asian supermarket.
This is the wonder of Thai food, however: given the building blocks of coconut milk, chilli, fish sauce, sugar and limes, a good Thai chef will knock up an authentic Thai with whatever is to hand. We're in Belfast and I'm just grateful they haven't gone the whole hog and used frozen chips.
The first night we ordered a Pad Thai, a red curry and stir fry with cashew nuts. Pad Thai is the Irish Stew of Thailand (Thai-rish Stew, lol). It is that dish which causes more rows, because everyone claims theirs is the authentic one. The fact that it is considered a national dish heaps even more pressure on those who cook it.
Thai-tanic's effort is an absolute winner. The crushed peanuts provide bite, the rice noodles and sweet-salty tamarind sauce, the sour limes and prawns all punch through with their separate flavours and textures, yet blend beautifully to create something lush, fine and deeply tasty.
The red curry with chicken is light with a hint of a kick (you can ask for it to be spiced up, sweetened, or softened) and is one of the finest red curry sauces I've had. The only problem is the visual effect of those big ignorant carrots. I didn't see them in Thailand and don't want to see them here. The solution is simple: ask for no carrots.
This thing about you calling the shots is accurate: you can basically compose the dish yourself and tell them what you want.
The following night I went back for crispy chicken wings, which are certainly crispy, but could be pepped up a bit with more spices (the KFC Zinger Burger has more kick).
The special Singapore noodles dishes are too sweet, but again this is a feature of Thai cooking; adjustments can be made and sweetness, saltiness, savouriness or sourness can be tempered at the ordering stage.
Thai-tanic: crazy name, great kitchen and very real.
Crispy chicken wings £2.95
Satay chicken skewers £3.95
Singapore noodles £5.95
Thai red curry with prawns £8.50
Peanut noodles £6.95
Jasmine rice (x2) £3.00
Still water £1.00