Friday, 1 October 2010

Life's a beach at Rosa's

London Restaurant Festival gets underway on Monday 4th October. During its two-week stint, there's some 250 restaurants throughout the UK capital offering Festival Menus for as little as £10. To book a festival menu, just visit the LRF website. This week I went along to one of the participating restaurants in Soho to continue my series of Street Level blogs and report on a Thai evening at Rosa's.

Street Level: Life's a beach at Rosa's
The best nights out are often those that produce the unexpected. Catching up with an old friend over Thai food in the heart of Soho was always going to result in stories of surprising and often salacious gossip. What I really didn’t expect however, was to discover some of the best Thai cuisine in London from a restaurant I must have walked past a thousand times and never acknowledged was there.

What’s even more surprising is that Rosa’s doesn’t exactly blend into the Dean Street brickwork. Its bright red frontage is hard to miss when you’re actually looking for it. Even on this cold and rainy evening, in-the-know diners sat outside under the awning, no doubt drinking green teas whilst watching the Old Compton Street characters and chaos unfold.

On opening the bright red door, you half expect a bell overhead to ring akin to an old curiosity shop but instead, you enter a modern Thai family eatery, designed to resemble a Phuket beach hut. Wooden benches upstairs are made for sharing and the wooden wall paneling has interspersed coat hooks or rather, hooks to hang your towel on if this really was a beach hut on a Thai island.

After ushering my guest onto the bench and taking my seat on the wooden stool opposite, we order a bottle of red before I head downstairs to dry myself off after getting caught in the torrential downpour outside. The basement is a darker, more mood-driven bar dining area and the toilets are communal, adding to the rustic ambience Rosa’s sets out to create.

Back upstairs, and I discover we’d been moved to a more intimate wooden booth towards the back of the restaurant. These booths should be requested when booking in order to keep confidences private and to allow greater room to spread out the Thai delicacies as they arrive.

For starters, we shared a mouthwatering deep fried soft shell crab topped with thai herbs, shallots and spicy fresh chilli sauce and a Som Tam papaya salad with prawns. It may have been the beach hut surroundings, but we both opted for more seafood with coconut rice as our main course.

I went for grilled squid, pan fried tiger prawns and scallops stir fried with mixed spices and yellow chilli. My guest ordered a thai chilli seafood mousse, baked in half a butternut squash which, when served, looked more like a tropical cocktail than a main course but tasted divine.

Thailand is known as the ‘Land of Smiles’ and our waiting staff didn’t disappoint, maintaining friendly fast service without interrupting the flow of our conversation.

When we left, the rain outside no longer mattered. We could have been in a tropical monsoon as we’d just dined on Thai seafood which I was more than happy to believe had been line-caught fresh from the pier at the front of our Phuket beach hut.

Rosa’s is running a Festival Menu as part of this year’s London Restaurant Festival.