EATING OUT / A Thai of the best school

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The Independent Culture
Supan Thai Restaurant

4 Fernhead Road, London W9 3ET. Tel: 081-969 9387

Open daily except Sundays, evenings only, from 6pm; last orders 11pm. Average pounds 10- pounds 12 per head. Licensed. Visa, Access and Mastercard accepted

IT MIGHT be tactful this week, what with all the excesses of the last few, to dwell on the delicious dinner I ate recently in as little detail as possible.

I've over-extended every one of my pleasure senses these past many days. The idea of rehashing too carefully all the fancy delicacies I managed to squeeze down my throat that night, exclusively for your delight, is not a pleasant one. I feel sick, and I want to go to bed. So have pity and first, at least, let me describe the room.

is small and messy, but on winter evenings it is gently enough lit for the effect to be one of great warmth and cosiness. Tables are close together and the place is normally quite crowded. Last time I was there I eavesdropped on Ruby Wax, who sat complaining about someone (the way one does) at the table behind me. This time I eavesdropped on a first cousin once removed, whom I hadn't seen since my sister's wedding six years ago. We spent most of the evening half catching each other's eye, not quite remembering who the other was and generally (I think I speak for both of us) feeling slightly ill at ease about the whole arrangement.

Supan is intimate enough for there to be scope for plenty of similarly embarrassing situations. My advice is, if you do find yourself nearly not knowing the person at the table next door to you, say hello immediately. The place is too small to hope to get away with the quiet-voiced anonymous option. You'll be spotted at some point, whatever happens.

Anyway, that's the ambience. And a very high score it gets, too. Location - not quite so good. It's just off the junction, in a quiet enough street, where the depressing Harrow and the Great West roads meet. So all but the most talented of A-Z manipulators will have to go through an ugly patch of west London to get there.

But, believe me, the food is excellent: it's not too expensive (the bill for two came to pounds 33), the service is friendly and unintrusive (though it is a little slow) and the restaurant is genuinely so cosy that you forget the nasty junction within moments of being welcomed through the door. Or you could take the tube to Westbourne Park; it's only a five-minute walk away.

OK, the food. We ordered far too much of everything - all of which, bar one dish, was delicious, so it was a shame. But the Tom Kha Gung - a hot creamy soup with coconut milk, lime juice, lemon grass, citrus leaf, chilli and prawns - was one of the best soups I've ever tasted. I wouldn't mind ordering soups more often in Thai restaurants. On the whole, though, it's quite an antisocial and I'm-a-diet- watching-girlie thing to do. Because in restaurants where nobody understands the menu, we're all supposed to share our orders to cover up for each other's mistakes. But tradition has it - though now I come to consider it, I don't know why - that soup portions are not to be shared. Whatever. If anyone out there ever takes my advice and pays a visit to Supan, then be bold. Order the Tom Kha Gung. For a soup as good as this, it's worth making everyone dislike you.

Next, perhaps because we were feeling a little lazy about menu reading - or perhaps because, like everybody else out there, neither of us understood the menu well enough to go for anything else - we ordered a 'mixed starter': chicken satay, spring rolls, crispy pastry with cream cheese, minced chicken.

It was at this point - after we'd ordered, after we'd failed even to finish the delicious first course - that my eating companion announced she was suffering so badly from the flu that she couldn't taste anything. I should have known something was amiss. She'd kept her woolly hat on all the way through supper, and she was always sneezing. So, I was on my own. From this moment, all advice and opinions offered by the Sickie were ignored.

Bring on the main courses . . . and the rice. And the noodles . . . and put them all in front of me because Sickie here has announced that not only is she unable to taste, she's not even hungry. The Gang Penang Gung, a thick red prawn curry with creamed coconut and fresh herbs, was excellent even if it was a little similar to the soup. Also excellent were the Paht Thai noodles - stir-fried rice noodles with prawns, dried shrimp, ground peanuts, egg, beansprouts and salted turnip.

I didn't, however, get too excited by the beef teriyake (it was Sick's choice anyway). The thinly sliced beef was good and tender, but the sauce, made from honey, ginger, soya sauce and sesame seeds, tasted too much of honey. And I don't like honey.

At the end of the meal the waitress looked at the pathetic hole the two of us had made in our greedy order, and asked if we wouldn't like to take a doggie-bag away. It was the first time I have ever dared to say no. There is something decadent enough about over-ordering in the first place. So when they ask if I want a doggie-bag, it always sounds like a test. A) Did we really like the food, or were we lying? B) Are we genuinely ashamed of having failed to finish it. Or are we lying? C) Are we so rich and wasteful that we can't even be bothered to carry the food we liked and paid for away with us to eat on another day?

I'm afraid the answer to question C is a definite 'Yes'. Eating yesterday's restaurant food is like waking up beside someone you never realised you'd fancied - both were great at the time. They had their moments. But the day after the evening before will never be one of them. -