Our Shekha signs up for a sumptuous evening at Nipa Thai, London.
In a word:
People on date nights, families and special occasions, apparently the Thai government, people that enjoy Thai flavours but gentler spice
Nipa Thai is set along the upper floors of the The Lancaster Hotel, which is perched on the leafy western side of Hyde Park. Though the hotel stands conveniently above Lancaster Gate tube station, this is one of the most serene restaurants in London – its floor to ceiling windows inviting in the kind of verdant light that wouldn’t be out of place in a greenhouse. Views across the park make for an exceptional backdrop for diners.
The 55-seat restaurant boasts a teak paneled space with traditional Thai furnishings as well as carved decorations which are crafted in Thailand. Together with the snowy linen the overall effect is one of gentle elegance and calm.
The all-female kitchen crew at Nipa Thai is led by new head Chef Sanguan Parr. She was born in Thailand and moved to the UK in 1984. She has been working at Nipa for 16 years first as an administrative chef, then she spent six years as a sous chef. Food here promises to deliver having been awarded a prestigious “Thai Select” accolade by the Thai government, a sign of authenticity and quality. I had previously heard Nipa was the restaurant of choice for some staff at the Thai Embassy from a friend, so I had come with high hopes.
This was nice enough – essentially a head of broccoli tempura, a little heavy handed on the batter which could have benefited from being less oily, but decently flavoured and complimented the complementary Thai prawn crackers.
Som Tam – £11
Having enjoyed a version of this the week before which was basically faultless, Nipa’s som tam had a tough act to follow. It didn’t disappoint, the salad burst with a wonderful freshness and the perfect balance of salty, fishy and sweet. There was a nice level of heat coming from the chilli, brilliantly rounded with sparks of peanut and dried prawn. The zingy refreshing texture of the long beans and green papaya made for a perfect palate cleanser throughout the rest of the meal.
Por Pia Tod – £11
Spring Rolls with crab – A nice light and crisp pastry was the standout of these little parcels. Cabbage which stuffed the rolls was fine, offering a good crunch that showed no sign of being overcooked. While the menu promised crab, there was little evidence of the soft nutty sweetness from the meat. Not being able to detect any sign of crab, even when dissected with a spoon, was a slight let down and was hopefully a one-off but if not, this needs to be worked on to avoid disappointing diners who order the popular snack.
Tom Yum Koong – £12
An absolute MUST on a chilly evening, this version of the classic dish could pep people up in no time. The soup was delicious – slightly too spicy for my companion – not spicy enough for me – but nevertheless really enjoyable. The light broth went from 0 to 100 mph from the moment my lips touched the spoon, redolent with peppery goodness. A current of lemongrass coursed through the dish like a breath of fresh air, while mushrooms bobbed enthusiastically around coral veined prawns, giving meatiness and bite.
Panan Nuea Rue Moo – £16
This was a red coconut curry with pork. While the curry itself was obviously well executed, with a pleasant creamy finish and subtle hints of lemongrass, kaffir lime leave and spices, it was a bit heavy handed on the salt. It also lacked any kind of heat, which made the two chilli icons on the menu a bit pointless. That, coupled with tough cuts of pork, which could have benefited from several hours of cooking down, made this a difficult dish to finish. For vote of confidence from the Thai government, I expected a lot more.
Nor Mai Fa Rang Phad Tao Hoo – £10
This was a dish of pan-fried beancurd with asparagus, simple but delicious with a lovely sesame flavour. Each component stood out well and the big crunchy pieces of asparagus were a great textural contrast with the papery, slightly chewy (in a good way) beancurd.
Pla Nueng Ma Nao – £22
A perfectly cooked seabass was the highlight of the meal – the tender fish flaked away at the lightest touch, ever so slightly imbued with the fragrance of lemongrass, chilli and kaffir lime leaves. Simply but masterfully executed to showcase the fish’s delicate flavour, it was just a shame there was not more of it.
The setting of the restaurant is really beautiful, a hidden gem amid the 60s concrete of The Lancaster’s exterior. The warm and efficient service is overseen by Nipa Thai’s restaurant manager, Kaseam Jongpitakrat who has done a fantastic job at making people feel at home. Food, for the price, could be punchier – if claiming to be authentic Thai, spice levels should not be toned down for less adventurous palates, and some dishes were hit and miss. I wanted food to be pushed a little further, to feel hum and fire and tongue-blistering heat.
But strong dishes were very good, and perhaps with the influx of Thai restaurants hitting London over the past months injecting some competition into a formerly complacent market, Nipa will be prepared to start testing some boundaries.
Lancaster London Hotel
Tel: 0207 551 6039