Rosa’s Thai launches a new Issan menu

Rosa’s Thai started out as a street stall on Brick Lane’s Sunday market in London. It became a favourite food spot for locals and by 2008, Rosa’s found a permanent location on Hanbury Street. Over the next few years, Rosa’s expanded across the UK, with restaurants now in London, Birmingham, York, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

Having started out with the aim of serving authentic Thai food in a no-frills and relaxed atmosphere, and despite its expansion, Rosa’s continues with this same vibe at all its locations today. You can find Rosa’s Thai at Trinity Upper Dining Terrace in Leeds.

The Leeds restaurant recently launched a new Issan menu, which celebrates food from the north-eastern region of Thailand, the birthplace of co-founder Saiphin Moore. Isaan is a region which is both hot and humid. This is the reason behind the heavy use of preservation and fermentation techniques, and the area’s range of herbs, vegetables and spices. Popular dishes from the region include sticky rice, grilled chicken (Kai Yang –ไก่ย่าง), and som tam (ส้มตำ) – green papaya salad.

This week, I tried out the new menu. I arrived at 6pm, when the sun was still shining brightly and Trinity was still busy with people. I sat inside the restaurant in one of the booths, and ordered a drink whilst I had a look over the new menu and waited for my friend to arrive. The menu isn’t huge, and I couldn’t make out what size the dishes were as it wasn’t clear from the description or the price point. However, I liked the sound of lots of the dishes, and was excited to order and dig in.

When my friend arrived, we decided to ask one of the attentive waiters which of the dishes we should try. He recommended that we opt for the sharing ‘Pla Tod’, which is whole-fried sea bass with a refreshing mango, cashew nut and red onion salad. I thought it sounded delicious, but my friend isn’t a big fish eater, so we asked for a couple of alternative options. He suggested we go for one of the som tam dishes, seeing as it’s one of the most popular dishes from the Issan region, and also to try out one of the meat sharing plates.

After much deliberation, we ordered the sweetcorn som tam, which was touted as being a play on the traditional papaya som tam, with sweetcorn, tomatoes, shredded carrots, fine beans and cashew nuts in a Som Tum dressing. On the menu, I had thought that the som tam would be a main course size salad, but when it arrived, it was more like a large side dish. I wasn’t sure what flavour to expect from the dish, but it was sweet, salty, savoury and fresh all at the same time. I was a bit worried that it would be super spicy, but thankfully, it just had a slight kick. We enjoyed eating the som tam almost as a thick salsa with our prawn crackers.

We also ordered the sausage dish which was (very) spicy! The sausages were served with slices of raw ginger, coriander, chili and lettuce. The idea, we were told, was to slice the sausage up and then to build a lettuce cup with the sausage, coriander and ginger. Whilst I liked the sound of the dish, I couldn’t handle the heat of the sausage. But, my friend enjoyed making the lettuce cups and said that the heat settled as you got into the dish.

Alongside the two special dishes, we also ordered the classic sharing platter. This included chicken satay, tamarind pork skewers, spring rolls, calamari and a bowl of prawn crackers. It also came with three dipping sauces, all of which were really tasty. The sharing platter wasn’t huge, but as a starter or addition to a couple of other smaller dishes, it was ideal. I thought it was all cooked really well and the flavours were well balanced, without blowing your head off. The satay sauce went well with everything, and was the stand out on the platter for me!

To go with our meal, we ordered a Lychee Ginger Spritz, which is a cocktail from the newly launched cocktail menu, and an iced tea with lemon. Although the Spritz didn’t have a strong ginger flavour, it was refreshing and helped to cut through the spicy dishes. The iced tea was also refreshing. I liked how you could taste the black tea under the vanilla and lemon additional flavours. I would certainly order the iced tea again.

Overall, we both had a lovely meal at Rosa’s. The dishes on the special menu were unexpectedly tasty and it was great to be able to try new dishes from a part of Thailand that neither of us knew much about. I would certainly recommend others to head to Rosa’s in Trinity Shopping Centre to get a taste of those dishes on the special menu.

Photographs by Gemma Bridge.

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