Many, many moons ago every village, town and city had half-day closing, which meant that shops and other businesses would shut at lunchtime on one day a week.
The reason was that, as they only opened from 9.00am until 6.00pm, they could work with one set of staff putting in a five and a half day week. The consequence was that if you travelled around the country you would need to know what the local half-day was or risk going to an appointment and finding the place shut or not being able to pick up something for dinner.
In Leeds, Wednesday was the designated half-day. To complicate things even further, there was a posh department store called Schofield’s, which was a privately owned business and very pioneering. They demolished their old store and built a big new one on the Headrow where the Core is now, which stayed open on Wednesday but closed all day Monday. They were also the ones to introduce late night shopping to Leeds on Thursdays. Once stores started opening six days a week, then having late nights and ultimately trading all seven days, they needed to hire extra people to work on a rota basis.
The reason I begin with this piece of history is that I set out to review an eating house in Leeds only to discover that it closes all day on Wednesday and so the memories came flooding back, not least because Wednesday was the blooming day I had chosen to pay it a visit! Undaunted, I turned to Plan B and, realising that I didn’t have a Plan B, went to the nearest place I hadn’t reviewed before, Thai A Roy Dee on Vicar Lane. Serendipity.
The outside is not very impressive and the inside is a bit basic as well, but the food and service are wonderful. I was seated at a small table and given a menu. Thai is not my first language and it took me a while to work my way through the menu, so when the waiter arrived to take my order I was still musing over the choices. He was happy to let me take my time to continue perusing and smiled when I asked for a further five minutes. Obviously, the minute he had left I decided on my dishes and a charming waitress came back to take my order. I could not believe the deal here. They have a Happy Hour menu which runs from noon until 5.00pm (they obviously cross the time zones) and is £6.95 for a starter, a main course and rice or chips. Amazing value.
The menu is divided into starters and main courses but, as is the way with Thai restaurants, they both arrive together, in this case also on the same plate. My starter was Chicken Satay served with peanut sauce and pickled vegetable, and my main Pad Pad Nor Mai, which is stir fried special red curry paste with bamboo shoots and lime leaves. As with all of the main dishes, you choose what you want to add to the sauce from a list of chicken, beef, pork, tofu or vegetables. I had the beef and jasmine rice. It doesn’t matter that everything comes at once as the curry was in a porcelain bowl with a lid which trapped the heat. I was so far into the Thai mode that I eschewed alcohol for one of the Special Thai Cold Drinks, Longan Juice made from dried longans sweetened with syrup for £2.00 and delicious it was, too. The berries were floating on a small iceberg which made them very Instagram friendly but, as the ice melted, they sunk to the bottom of the brown liquid, making the glass resemble a laboratory sample, but the flavour intensified with their dunking. I tried one of the floating berries which was a bit chewy. Later I asked the waiter if one should eat the berries. He smiled and told me that they were edible, but the look on his face said that only a total plonker like myself would actually try.
The satay was delicious if unspectacular to look at. It is chicken skewers when all said and done, but the meat was lovely and tasty, being cooked to perfection. The peanut sauce tasted as it should and the whole lot was very satisfying. The curry was the star of the show, with large pieces of beef mixed with the bamboo shoots and perfectly cooked green beans, which still had a crunch but were cooked enough to heat them through and soften them a little. There were plenty of red chillies to give the dish a kick as well. This item was identified on the menu with two chillies out of a possible three to indicate medium heat, but while it was on the hot side of medium it was not so much so as to obliterate the taste of the meat and vegetables. The lime leaves and Thai basil gave that distinctive fragrance and flavour associated with the nation’s cuisine and the rice again was perfectly cooked. The red curry sauce was the consistency of ghee or oio but it had a red colour to it – obviously – and was totally delicious when spooned over the rice.
The cooking and price made this one of the most outstanding meals I have had for a long time and I heartily recommend it. A cafetière of coffee, enough for two cups, was only £2.00 as well.
In those dim and distant days I used to curse the half-day closing tradition but today I could not have been more pleased to be a victim once again as I doubt if Plan A could have beaten the non-existent Plan B. I will try again soon and find out. I had better not go on a Monday, though, in case they have taken a leaf out of Schofield’s book.
All photographs by Stan Graham.