“ Cuisine: Thai / Address: Thai Manor, 5 Folye Street, Sunniside Gardens, Sunderland SR11LE / Tel: 0191 567 6297 „
Sunderland. The heart of the North East, a thriving, bustling, vibrant city, full of sophisticated residents sporting the latest fashions enjoying the liveliest nightlife, a centre of culture and new business.
Wait... Sunderland? Oops. No. Of course not. The above description could apply to Newcastle, or possibly Durham, if you remove the lively nightlife and replace it with important historical landmarks. Sunderland, on the other hand, pales in comparison. You're more likely to find tracksuit-wearing chavs than fashionable sophisticates, and the history is largely limited to the tiny Museum and Winter Gardens and the Monkwearmouth Station Museum, which takes about fifteen minutes to walk round. I'm reliably informed by my parents, who met while studying in Sunderland, that the town as it was then (it only became a city in the 90s) used to be a lot nicer, but as a child growing up in a town about halfway between Sunderland and Newcastle, it was always Newcastle I chose for my shopping and socialising needs. As I got older, I began to enjoy going out for meals and this wasn't something that could be done in Sunderland. Choice was limited to about two (admittedly very nice) Italians and a few pubs.
In the last few years, to be fair, things have changed slightly. Sunderland is seeing the benefit of some new investment and, while it still can't compare to Newcastle it is looking a lot better these days, particularly certain areas. It also has a few new and interesting restaurants, among them the place I am going to review today - Thai Manor.
As mentioned, Thai Manor is located in Sunderland, a place you're unlikely to ever visit unless you're local, you meet someone from the area, or you're in the city to watch a footy match at the unfortunately named Stadium of Light. If you ever want to visit, you'll be pleased to know you can catch a direct rail link from London or York via Grand Central trains (which are lovely) and arrive at the horrible underground Sunderland station. Bus links to the Tyne & Wear and County Durham regions are good, and it's possible to catch a direct Metro from Newcastle or South Shields. The restaurant is in Sunniside, a part of the city a little further down from the Winter Gardens and the main shopping street, Fawcett Street, about five minutes away from the main station. Sunniside is actually a lovely area, and the restaurant is based in an old brick building surrounded by the remnants of a wall. On each side of the square are rows of Georgian housing (Sunderland used to have a lot of this, and there are lovely streets of Victorian and Georgian houses, remnants of the city's thriving industrial past, but a lot of it was destroyed in the Blitz). On one side there is a modern bar, called Eau Zone, a nice place to relax with a glass of wine before or after your meal, so long as it is open (it's closed some week nights). The square in the middle has been made over with lovely fountains, and at night they light up, looking lovely. It's something of a miracle that they haven't been destroyed by chavs yet, but this area doesn't seem to experience the rather rough atmosphere you can get in other parts of the city.
***Opening Hours and Special Menus***
The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday lunchtimes from 12pm-2pm and every evening from 5pm-11pm. There is a 10% student discount on all a la carte menus and 20% discount on takeaway (collection only).
Special offers include:
- Three course special lunch menu - every lunchtime, £9.95 per person for a starter, main course and ice cream or coffee
- Lunch express special set lunch - £8.95 for a three-course meal, £3.00 for a starter only and £5.95 for a main course only
- Early evening specials - £9.95 per person, 5pm-7pm Monday to Friday for a starter, main course and ice cream or coffee
- A selection of tapas is available.
As the name suggests, Thai Manor serves Thai food. I admit when the restaurant first opened, back in 2007 I think, I didn't think it would last as long as it has and was convinced the people of Sunderland weren't ready for Thai food! Thankfully I've been proved wrong - the place has been going a few years now and has lasted through the recession so it must have done something right.
The restaurant has a website, www.thaimanor.co.uk, which has lots of useful information including useful facts about Thai food. Thai cuisine is influenced by Chinese stir fries and Indian curries, and tends to use fresh rather than dried herbs. Delicately scented jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand, while many dishes contain noodles, such as soups or Pad Thai. Curries are commonly made with lime, lemongrass and chilli. Basil, coconut milk, galangal and turmeric are also usual ingredients.
Of course, you couldn't have a Thai restaurant without red or green curries and one of these is usually my main meal of choice when I come here. The curries are named after the kinds of chillies (red or green) that are used in them. There is also Massaman curry, an Indian-influenced curry containing dried spices that are rarely found in other Thai dishes. Beef, pork, chicken, prawns, tofu and different kinds of vegetables are all commonly found in Thai food.
Although many dishes do not contain meat, a lot of Thai food is cooked in fish sauce. This doesn't bother me as I do eat fish anyway, but if you are a 'proper' vegetarian it does say on the website that you can ask for them to cook your meal in a suitable way.
You can ask for your curries to be hot, mild or medium if you so prefer, and there are plenty of non-spicy foods available.
I've visited Thai Manor on several occasions. I first came here a few years ago when I worked at Sunderland and we went out to celebrate a colleague's birthday. Since I've been home I've been back a couple of times, too.
I've never seen the restaurant packed (hence my worry that it wouldn't last) and have never had a problem getting a table. Having said that, I've never been on a Friday or Saturday night, when it is likely to be busiest. I normally go before 7 on a weekday to take advantage of the 3 courses for a tenner offer!
The picture Dooyoo have chosen for Thai Manor accurately reflects the décor and atmosphere inside the restaurant. It's modern and uncluttered with cream walls and wooden furniture. If you go in very early, it can sometimes be slightly lacking in atmosphere if there are only a handful of other diners, but others do turn up during the course of the evening!
As you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by friendly staff and shown to a table. Spicy, crunchy crackers are provided (for free) to nibble on as you await your drinks and food. Service is friendly and quick, but not rushed, which is good as when there are only a few people in the restaurant it's easy to imagine the staff rushing at you for want of anything else to do. They have the balance just right in my opinion. Sometimes I have a soft drink and sometimes I share a bottle of wine, depending on how we are feeling. I'm no wine expert but I've always enjoyed the wine I have here.
If we're having starters, it's normally because we're choosing from the early evening menu and there is a special selection here. I've had the spring rolls and the marinated mushrooms, which were both delicious. There is a good range of starters, both meat and non-meat. For my main course, I once tried vegetables in oyster sauce which was very tasty, but I normally go for a green or red curry, either with prawns or vegetables. Curries, and several of the other dishes, are served with sticky aromatic rice which is served in a separate shaped bowl and is just the right size portion. The curry comes in a bowl and you spoon it onto your plate along with some rice. The curries are always very tasty and delicious, flavoured with herbs and spices including lime, lemongrass and chilli. Just after Christmas, I went in with a friend and was quite excited as I hadn't had any spicy food for ages. My friend asked for her curry to be extra hot and I did too - this was a bit of a mistake, as it was a bit too hot for me! I managed to eat most of it but it was difficult! This was entirely my own fault though. I was impressed, however, that I could still taste the curry - often very hot curries don't have much taste as the heat overpowers the flavour, but my curry still had a lot of flavour and depth which was pleasantly surprising!
Dessert, when I have it as part of the three course deal, consists of ice cream (I never choose coffee - I want something to cool me down!). This is one scoop of chocolate ice cream as well as lots of squirty cream on the bottom. It's not a sophisticated dessert, and I would prefer more ice cream and less cream, which I don't like - but it rounds off the meal nicely and overall £9.95 is a very good price for what you get.
In case you haven't noticed, I completely recommend Thai Manor. I'd go as far as to say it's my favourite Thai restaurant - okay, so I haven't been to many, but the food is delicious and the service efficient and friendly, and the whole experience is excellent value for money. If you're ever in the area, it's certainly worth making a visit.
The website, www.thaimanor.co.uk, has lots of useful information including menus, location and an attractive picture of the restaurant's exterior.