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Let's do Lunch! at Zaap Thai

8 December 2015
Let's do Lunch! at Zaap Thai
I have travelled all over Europe and North America but have never had the urge to visit the Far East. I am a city boy at heart and love the buzz of places like London, New York and Berlin but I don’t think that I could handle the culture shock of Beijing, Bangkok or even Tokyo. The only thing which would entice me is the food. My first encounter with Thai cuisine was about twenty years ago when the menu seemed to consist entirely of red or green curry, neither of which inspired me to travel half way round the globe for second helpings. In hindsight this was probably the watered down version of Thai food, sometimes seemingly literally, to break we Westerners in gently. The same thing happened in the fifties with Chinese food when all you could get was chop suey, chow mein or sweet and sour.

Recently, however, Thai eating houses seem to have gone more hardcore. They have also developeda sense of humour when naming their businesses. This used to be the preserve of ladies’ hairdressers with names like ‘Curl up and Dye’ and ‘Hair Conditioning’ but recently in London I came across a restaurant called ‘Thai Pin’. The prize for the most inventive name however must go the one I saw in Southern Ireland. It is situated just outside Cohb in the town of Midleton. Cohb was the last pick up point for the ill fated Transatlantic liner which sunk on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg in 1912. I was in Midleton to visit the Jameson’s distillery, for research purposes obviously, when I came across a restaurant with the brilliant name of ‘Thai Tanic’.

Enough of the waffle and on to the review. I have passed Zaap several times but it has always looked packed so I have given it a miss. This week I was a bit earlier than usual and there were some empty tables so I went in. I was led to a table, passing a parked tuk-tuk en route. The fare on offer is the now ubiquitous ‘street food’ and most of the items were a complete mystery to me. There was a range of snacking dishes and some items which were more substantial. From the latter I opted for pad ga-prao described as ‘stir fried minced pork or chicken with basil and jasmine rice’. There was also the option of adding a fried egg so I went for the pork and the egg (£7.60). Wine did not seem very appropriate with Thai street food so I had a Singha beer at £3.50. It came ice cold, perfect. As I had been seated next to the open kitchen the Telegraph crossword remained undone as I could not take my eyes off the intricately choreographed ballet which meant that the many cooks could rush about from place to place in the kitchen without bumping into one another. Amazing. Speaking of amazing the food was absolutely phenomenal. The fried egg was perched on a mound of jasmine rice and the stir fried pork sat along side. What was not mentioned on the menu was the green beans which were in the stir fry and absolutely perfectly cooked, hot but still with a crunch. The taste of the pork was like nothing I have ever had before in that it was spicy but with a background sweetness. The rice was delicious and the fried egg was, well, a fried egg. The service was also excellent.

The place began to fill up after about 15 minutes and I noticed that there seems to be an overflow in the back. I would really urge you to visit Zaap but don’t be put off ,as I was, if it looks full as I am sure that they will find you a table.

As the restaurant was so busy I was not going to put the staff off their work by asking too many questions so I decided to look the dish up on the internet when I got home. It seems that the unique taste is due to the basil which is not the normal Italian variety much beloved on pizza and in pasta, but something called Holy Basil. I made a note to seek some out in one of the neighbouring far east supermarkets. The internet article said that pad ga-prao is one of the most common dishes in Thailand so it appears that we are now being served the real deal rather than the toned down introductory version. I suppose that you could say that street food is definitely 'old school' Thai. Look, they started it, all right?

Mange toutes,

Stan Graham

Stan is a freelance food journalist who writes 'Let's do Lunch!' restaurant reviews for Leeds Living's eat/drink section.