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The Thais that bind - Getting spicy in Hamburg
Sala Thai Restaurant (Hamburg, France)
Member Name: koshkha
Sala Thai Restaurant (Hamburg, France)
Advantages: Great food, fabulously decorated restaurant
Disadvantages: A little heavy handed with the chillies, would like a non-smoking area
~ The Look ~
On entering the restaurant we found the cloakroom and bookings desk right in front of the door. A small oriental lady came and took our coats, issued us with tag receipts and checked our booking before leading us to a table. The restaurant was stunningly decorated - just the walk to our table was enough to intrigue us and suggest this was something more than a 'flock wallpaper and corny music' restaurant. There were lots of plants (some real, some artificial including very convincing orchids and a bizarre banana tree), trickling fountains and lots of stone and wood carvings on the walls. There were also two sections separated off from the main room with little verandas and wooden roofs. It could so easily have been a bit cheesy but somehow they'd got the look just right without going totally over the top.
We were taken to a table which was semi-screened from neighbouring tables by a wall of plants. Despite being a large room and a busy restaurant, the positioning of plants and other features made sure each table had some sense of privacy. To one side of us was a raised platform with 'floor tables' - low tables where you could eat whilst sitting on the floor and leaning on those triangular cushions so popular with backpackers. In front of the steps leading up to the platform were rows of shoes removed by the diners sitting on the floor. I think all four of us were relieved to not be on the floor and I wasn't entirely sure that my socks were up to being shown off.
~ The Menu ~
The menus arrived and we ordered beers whilst we studied them. Of the four of us, nobody's much good at German so it was lucky that the menus were in several languages. The first section of the menu covered 'set meals' which ranged in price from €36 to €45 and included up to nine dishes. Each 'menu' included mixed Thai hors d'oeuvres, a soup, several dishes, rice and a dessert. There was also a laminated card tucked into the front of the menu with a few cheaper set meals - this card was in German and I suspect they may have been lunch time only menus but I'm really not sure. We all agreed that 9 different dishes were too many and more than we could manage so we turned to the normal menu.
I'm a creature of habit and I can never resist a really spicy Tom Yam Gung (prawn soup) so I ordered that as my starter as did the Italian lady. The guys went meaty with one ordering satay sticks (surely satay is Indonesian?) and the other the mixed hors d'oeuvres. We each ordered just the one main course - one going for a chicken dish, one for a duck dish, one for lamb and I went for squid with chilli and Thai basil - all to be served with boiled rice.
~ The Starters ~
Thai restaurants are often good for 'performance' food - things you need to play with a bit or dishes that are presented in unusual ways. The kitchens are set behind large glass windows and you can watch the cooks wok-ing and flambéing for all they are worth with flames shooting several feet in the air. To tease us while we waited, the waiter brought a small wooden pot filled with coloured jelly with a lid over it. It turned out that this was flammable jelly to warm the satay sticks. When the starters arrived we were really pleased with their presentation - this was clearly going to be a restaurant where you can't get a job in the kitchen without a diploma in carrot sculpture!
The soup was great - very hot and spicy with 4 giant prawns sitting in the bottom. Tom yam gung has a very thin soup base with lots of 'bits' that need to be picked out when you eat it - sticks of lemongrass, galangar (a sort of Thai ginger), basil, coriander and so on. Sometimes when my fingers are covered in spicy bits and my plate is full of odd bits of vegetation I wish they'd just passed it through a tea strainer before serving. This particular soup had enough bits to be tasty but not enough to cause annoyance.
The satay was pronounced delicious and the hors d'oeuvres were presented on a high footed bowl with 5 or 6 different items and a bowl of spicy dip in the middle. I snaffled a wrapped prawn and a little nest of fried noodles with some prawn in the middle.
~ The main courses ~
My local Thai in Northamptonshire does stunning food but the portions are always a bit on the mean side. I was therefore amazed at the size of the dishes at the Sala Thai - nearly double the size I'm used to. Thank goodness we didn't go with the set menus or we'd still be there now, forcing down the leftovers. Even when the carrot flowers were pushed to one side there was still a good plateful. Two of us had 'chilli and Thai basil' dishes - I had with squid and the Irish chap had the same sauce with lamb. Now I like hot. I like spicy. But even I was overwhelmed by this dish - 'Waiter! Another cold beer and make it quick Pleeeeeeease!' There was so much red and green chilli that I felt sure some of it must be red and green peppers - surely nobody would serve a dish with the equivalent of 8-10 whole chillies? Especially as there was also a sauce containing dried chills as well.
I was wrong - it really was all chilli. Maybe chillies are really cheap in Hamburg at this time of year and can be used like a vegetable rather than a spice. I had a couple of large pieces, one of each cover just to make sure, and I knew I'd regret it later. In contrast to the large amount of chilli, the Thai basil (which normally has a strong peppery and aniseed flavour) was quite muted - perhaps it just couldn't face the fight with the chilli or perhaps it was just normal basil. The squid was cooked to perfection - scored on the surface so it curled up into tubes on frying - slightly chewy without any rubbery texture.
Despite the large dishes, we all battled through and cleared our plates and the other three even managed to squeeze in desserts. As I didn't fancy any of them and was already stuffed to the gills I settled for coffee whilst I watched them eating the mouse brains (lychees) and ice-creams.
~ Any Complaints? ~
Not about the food, the service or the cost. My only gripe would be the absence of a non-smoking area and I don't think that's uncommon in German restaurants. In the UK now we take for granted that we don't have to eat with other people's smoke around us. The men at the table next to us were smoking cigars and the smell wafted through the potted plants several times during the meal. Other than that everything was great.
~ The Damage ~
I wasn't paying so I'm not absolutely sure but my guess would be it came to somewhere between £25 and £30 per head including beers. Not the cheapest meal but good value for Thai food and we were all too stuffed to walk when we'd finished.
~ Fancy a visit? ~
Tel (040) 335009
There are Sala Thai restaurants in Berlin, Potsdam, Kiel and Hamburg.
Summary: Hamburg doesn't only do Hamburgers
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