“They do reasonably good food.” Said Matthew. “Thai. It’s not the Mango Tree, but it’s alright.”
The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling)
The Mango Tree, located in well-heeled Belgravia, has long been a spot for sophisticated and authentic Thai dining, so much so that JK Rowling paid homage to it in one of her crime novels. Mirroring it’s original branch in Bangkok, the restaurant prides itself on presenting exquisite and authentic Thai cuisine in a modern, stylish venue, which now has an offshoot in Harrods too. Last Thursday Thailand celebrated the start of their New Year and Mango Tree ensured that Londoner’s didn’t miss out on the festivities by hosting their own Songkran Festival, complete with a thoughtful and elaborate tasting menu.
It can be very difficult to find good Thai food in London that doesn’t come with the stereotypical kitschy or somewhat ‘rustic’ decor associated with authentic Asian restaurants. Equally, it can be all the more tricky to find somewhere that offers a polished and contemporary dining experience and doesn’t compromise on the authenticity of the menu. We enter the Mango Tree and are greeted by the salty sweet smell of incense, a large Buddha statue – the restaurant received a full Buddhist blessing when it first opened – and a welcoming bow from the hostess. The novelties, however, end there; the restaurant is a vast space clad in sleek wood panelling with modern pendant lights and fresh floral arrangements. A long line of brown leather bench seating dominates the middle of the space whilst large round tables line the edge of the room – we comment on what a fabulous set up it would be for a big group meal or a party.
We’re shown to our table with an impeccable air of politeness which does not fade throughout the entirety of our visit and are promptly handed the extensive cocktail list. It’s hard to choose, they do all genuinely sound rather special, but I opt for a Thai Martini which is laced with chilli liqueur and presented in a stemless glass nestled in a bowl of crushed ice. Just as I’m wondering whether it would be a terrible idea to stick to cocktails all evening – it is a Monday after all – our waiter comes back with the equally as impressive wine list and suggests a bottle of Pouilly Fumé from the Loire Valley; a crisp, dry sauvignon blanc with a gooseberry and raspberry infused pallet, perfect for complimenting curry dishes.
Four starters arrive beautifully presented on a trendy black slate and whilst they look vibrant and tasty, they are not what I would usually opt for. That is the beauty of a set or tasting menu; the whole evening is a foodie experience mapped out with new flavours and I surprise myself with how much I truly enjoy dishes I would never think to chose myself. The geaw kai tod – deep fried quails eggs wrapped in wonton pastry with thai sweet chilli sauce – have a gentle, salty sweet flavour with a crisp texture that contrasts well with the meat and fish offering, of which the pla mouk yang is star of the show. For me, the most important thing when it comes to seafood is the texture and thankfully the flame grilled fresh squid served with spicy lime sauce, presented in delicate curls, is cooked to perfection. Bad squid tastes rubbery and chewy, squid at the Mango Tree melts in your mouth.
When the main courses arrive my eyes immediately turn to the gai baan tod katiem and I’ve been waxing lyrical about this stir-fried chicken dish with crushed garlic, black pepper, oyster sauce and coriander ever since. It’s everything I want from Asian cooking – sticky, salty sweet, tender, garlicky and incredibly more-ish; I practically beg our waiter for the recipe. I’m slightly less enthralled by the kanom jeen nam ya, a red Thai fish curry. Whilst the blend of spices, coconut milk and lime leaves make for a flavoursome and authentic curry sauce, the fish is constructed into balls and I find the compressed structure a little cloying. Pad Thai noodles with a generous offering of crushed peanuts, bean curd and bean sprouts are a perfect accompaniment alongside jasmine rice and vermicelli noodles; the thick, flat rice noodles coated in tamarind sauce are a go-to in many a Thai menu and the Mango Tree were right to include such a staple dish in theirs.
I don’t ever think to order pudding in Thai, or really any Asian, restaurants for that matter so am pleasantly surprised when i-tim boran is presented. An ancient Thai dessert of black sticky rice pudding is encased in a white chocolate bowl and served with fresh coconut ice cream; the flavours are subtle and are delightfully cleansing after a large meal, plus any dessert where you can actually eat the bowl is a winner with me.
Very full and very, very content, we finish with a pot of flowering jasmine tea. It’s easy to see why this restaurant is so popular; it’s sophisticated and sexy without compromising on flavour or authenticity and the service is second to none – white linen napkins are laid upon our laps when we take our seats which, for me, is the ultimate tell-tale of a spotless restaurant experience.
I think I’ll find it difficult to visit other Thai establishments in London now; it’s alright, but “It’s not the Mango Tree”.
The Mango Tree: 46 Grosvenor Place, Belgravia, SW1X 7EQ.
I dined with compliments from the Mango Tree. All views are my own.