Eating out: Bangkok without the bang

THAI SQUARE is the biggest and best Thai restaurant in central London. At least that's what it claims on its leaflets. And, though I've no quibble with the "biggest" part - it seats 500 people which, when you think about it, is pretty terrifying and off-putting - I do have my doubts about the "best" part. I've eaten loads of Thai food superior to the stuff they serve at Thai Square.

But I suppose if you were to argue that central London begins and ends within a 200m radius of Trafalgar Square, you'd have to concede their point, because by that token Thai Square is the only Thai restaurant in central London. Which must also make it indisputably the most soul-less, mediocre and tourist-infested Thai restaurant in central London. Not that they're ever going to tell you that on their leaflets.

Which is a shame because I was really looking forward to my evening there. I love Thai food - it's like having an Indian and a Chinese all in one go - but I hardly ever get to eat it because most of the decent restaurants seem to be on the other side of town from me in west London and, relative to other "ethnic" food, it's a bit too expensive. And though Thai Square's pounds 8.95 three-course set lunch (plus free glass of wine) might well represent a considerable bargain, it's pounds 25-a-head upwards evening menu most certainly doesn't.

The restaurant's biggest drawback is its location (in the former Norwegian Embassy) just off Trafalgar Square. While this makes it highly convenient for pigeon-fanciers and new lottery winners (Camelot's offices are right next door), it also inevitably means that the place is infested with tourists, out-of-towners and other flotsam and jetsam.

The result is a totally atmosphere-free zone. Unless, perhaps, you count the ersatz atmosphere provided by the lavish Thai decor (gold pillars, stone idols, mini-fountains, elaborately carved wooden thingumajigs, etc) and the occasional outbreaks of traditional Thai music and traditional Thai dancing. But all this serves to do is make you feel as if you're sitting, jetlagged and bewildered, in the lobby of the Bangkok Hilton. And even when the place is busy and noisy - as it was on the Tuesday night I visited - there's a depressing lack of buzz.

All this might yet be forgiveable if they knew how to make a proper Singapore Sling (they don't); if the service was first-rate (it's well-intentioned but haphazard and often slow); or if the food was remotely memorable (which it ain't). As a benchmark, we ordered a classic - Thai green curry with chicken - and, though it stood up reasonably well against all the zillion and one other green curries we'd eaten over the years, it didn't exactly sing with culinary genius. It also happened to be the best of all the dishes we ate - which doesn't say much for the rest.

For some reason, I find ordering from Thai menus deeply traumatic and I always wish that the waiter would decide for me. Maybe, if we'd let him, he would have chosen something less boring than the promising-sounding Payakpoopee - aka "Weeping Tiger". Though it was perfectly OK - strips of good, well marinated if slightly overdone steak, served on a metal platter - it didn't compete with the sizzling Szechuan steak I get at my local Chinese or the Sha King beef at my local Vietnamese. And at pounds 10.95, it should have done.

Anyway, the one dish we did let the waiter choose turned out to be the feeblest of the bunch. This was the Talay Tong - fried mixed seafood flavoured with lemongrass, chillies, garlic and basil leaves - and though it looked pretty regal and sumptuous, the constituent fishy bits (tired prawns and squid, flaccid crab claws, mussels which we dared not eat) were pretty manky.

As for the rest, the coconut rice was fine, the sticky rice congealed almost to the consistency of gnocchi (the result of hanging around too long in the kitchens, I'd guess), the prawn spring rolls crisp and OK- tasting, and the Kai Ho Bai Teoy (chicken in spinach leaves) like a slightly upmarket version of chicken nuggets. Or, according to Robert the royalty correspondent, "just like fish 'n' chip shop chips".

Robert, incidentally, has just started doing restaurant reviews for The Spectator and was eager to discuss technique. Once he's eaten, he actually takes the trouble to interview the chef and he also makes copious notes throughout dinner, disguising the fact that he's a critic by pretending to be interviewing his dining companion. "And tell me about your next TV series," he says loudly, whenever a suspicious waiter draws near. He was surprised to hear of my own lack of note-taking, but then my theory is that it's a critic's job to have exactly the same experience as an ordinary punter. Also, I'm lazy.

"So you'll be giving this place the thumbs down, then?" he said, at the end of dinner. "Yep," I said. "Pretty much." Thai Square isn't good and it isn't bad. It's just OK. Exactly what most of its tourist clientele would expect of London cuisine, I imagine.

Thai Square

Norway House, 21/24 Cockspur Street, London SW1, 0171 839 4000. Open Mon-Sat noon-1am, Sun noon-11.30pm. Three-course dinner about pounds 25. Credit cards accepted, except Diners

WHAT'S ON THE WINE LIST

Richard Ehrlich's selection

Matching Thai food with wine is, roughly speaking, impossible and a waste of time. The Thai Square beverage manager seems to acknowledge this by making just a nominal attempt at building a wine list. But you can drink well with these three choices, or with a beer. Don't laugh at item two; it's the best of all.

Bellefontaine Terret-Sauvignon 1998, pounds 9.95

This is a property of no great distinction but the grape, with its exotic tang, could stand up well to the strong contrasts of flavour in Thai cooking

Makhong, pounds 3.25

A Thai spirit distilled from rice. People in restaurants in Thailand drink a bottle, heavily diluted, throughout the meal. Believe me, they know what they're doing

Alsace Gewurztraminer, Domaines Schlumberger 1997, pounds 26.25

Best grape for Asian food; good producer; price that won't frighten the bank manager. What more do you need?

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue