Naamyaa Café, Angel Building, 407 St John Street, London

Alan Yau's latest transports our reviewer back to a magical memory of Thailand

When, about a decade ago, my mate and I found ourselves in Bangkok goodness knows how, a funny thing happened on the first night. It was 6pm and we went in search of oxygen in a local park, trying to get away from the smog and stink of the main roads, and eventually alighting on a park bench. There, my friend extricated some tobacco and crumpled Rizla from a pocket, and started to roll a cigarette.

Hardly had he applied the sealant lick when – Gong! – a giant bell was struck, and the loudest sound I've ever heard reverberated through the whole city. Everything stopped. Joggers jogged no more; cars halted and switched engines off; even mad dogs obeyed the prevailing peace; and then, rather beautifully, the national anthem played.

It was like that moment in The Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins' character plays "Duettino Sull'aria" from The Marriage of Figaro to a courtyard full of prisoners: elevation and epiphany amid the chaos and crackle. And it was possibly the most transcendent and memorable moment of my life – so much so, in fact, that I feel teleported back to it while sitting in Alan Yau's latest venture.

What a beautifully designed restaurant this is. It has a very high ceiling, populated by gently whirring fans, and to the back is a vast wall, covered in shining-white tiles with blood-red-and-gold depictions of scenes from an ancestral, Oriental life. The kitchen – managed by the excellent David Thompson, founder of Nahm – is visible and the bar is attended to by glistening crimson bamboo chairs. Charming staff hovercraft between tables; there's a gentle hum to the conversation; and the streets of north London are within sight but out of mind. You could almost be in a park in Bangkok.

Born in Hong Kong, Yau is established as one of London's leading restaurateurs, founding Wagamama in 1992, Cha Cha Moon in 1997, and Busaba Eathai in 1999. He's responsible for the success, too, of Hakkasan and Yauatcha. That's some CV. This time, he's going for middle-class punters, rather than the corporate raiders who can afford lunch in the latter. And he's basically pulled it off.

The menu is elegantly designed with helpful pictures. More menus should have pictures. It's split into 10 sections, ranging between one and nine options in each of Naamyaa set (noodles with soup and boiled egg – better than it sounds), snack, small plate, rice set, soup set, noodle and pasta, burger and sandwich (now obligatory in London), salad, suki, and grilled. The most you'll pay for anything is £24 for the suki – and that's for two. Some of this is positively a bargain. The banana chips (£3) snap deliciously and have reasonable flavour, and the baby cucumber wedges (£3) come with a tangy and fresh coriander, basil and chilli soup, as well as separate sprigs of coriander, mint and basil.

The stir-fried soft-shell crab with curry powder and coconut is a bit, well, meh: the crab lacks punch, is overly soaked in sauce, and too limited in size, given the large bowl of rice that accompanies it. The Naamyaa goon (£9.50) is better: a spicy coconut prawn curry with rice noodles, that boiled egg, and Thai herbs, which have a kind of all-spice zing about them.

Much of the trade done here will, I imagine, come from people sharing small plates, which are generally worth the money – dishes such as chicken satay (£5.50), jasmine-tea-smoked baby-back pork ribs (£8.50), Thai calamari (£6.50) and mussels with chilli jam and basil (£7.50). The cocktail list, meanwhile, is flamboyant: a wan puff (£8.50) is vodka, sake, kalamansi (Chinese orange) and a hunk of dragon fruit which, if you had to spend a night with a single fruit, would be the one to go for. Desserts include strawberries and Thai basil with mascarpone ice-cream, caramelised pineapple with the same, which I had and didn't really work, and cakes including pistachio, almond, and chocolate.

This place is not startling or revolutionary, and won't disrupt the London food scene. But it shows that Yau has a sharp eye for what your average punter considers good value, and in bringing some of the snatched calm of a Bangkok evening to Islington, he's done residents far beyond there a service.

7/10

SCORES: 1-3 STAY AT HOME AND COOK, 4 NEEDS HELP, 5 DOES THE JOB, 6 FLASHES OF PROMISE, 7 GOOD, 8 CAN'T WAIT TO GO BACK, 9-10 AS GOOD AS IT GETS

Naamyaa Café, Angel Building, 407 St John Street, London EC1, tel: 020 3122 0988 Lunch and dinner daily. About £60 for two, including drinks

More Thai treats

Bangkok Brasserie 33 Jewry Street, Winchester, tel: 01962 869 966

Popular, for good reason; thoroughly enjoyable Thai food (including some unusual dishes) and bright service inspire many upbeat reports on this very busy destination

Chaophraya

19 Chapel Walks, off Cross Street, Manchester, tel: 0161 832 8342

A cracking city-centre Thai, occupying a recently glammed-up setting, is praised to the skies by locals and visitors alike for its brilliant cooking and lovely buzz

Sukhothai

17-19 Cheltenham Parade, Harrogate, tel: 01423 500 869

Easily the best of the local Thais, the fare at this slightly glitzy place is said to be awesome by hardcore fans

Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2013' www.hardens.com

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
An iceberg in Ilulissat, Greenland; researchers have been studying the phenomena of the melting glaciers and their long-term ramifications for the rest of the world (Getty)
news
Environment
environment
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Jackman bears his claws and loses the plot in X-Men movie 'The Wolverine'
film
Arts and Entertainment
'Knowledge is power': Angelina Jolie has written about her preventive surgery
film
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing