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Restaurant review: Chaophraya

AA Grill gets excited in the toilets but does he think the food is much more than bog-standard at the city's swishiest Thai?

Published on January 14th 2010.


A CHAP I know was once the victim of an unfortunate misunderstanding in a ladies' toilet (no, really) with the result that he was branded a peeping tom and suspended from work for several months.

So really I ought to know better. But I do have a habit, a compulsion some might call it, of pulling my digi out in public loos. My digital camera, that is. Cue jokes about flashes and long exposures.

The last time had been at Sandbach services where a sign taped to a cubicle in the gents read: “Toilet out of order – sorry for the inconvenience”. Well, I thought it was funny.

So I hung around and waited until there was nobody in sight, just to avoid anyone getting the wrong impression. The moment I pointed my camera at the cubicle, a bloke walked in and immediately got the wrong impression. Figuring that any attempt at explanation would only dig me in deeper, I scarpered.

And now here I was, in the washroom of the gents at Chaophraya in Liverpool One, eyeing up one heck of a tropical fish tank which ran the length of the room. Alone, I seized my chance. It was as the camera flashed that I noticed not all of the exotica staring back at me were fish. These had pins where their fins ought to be. Wimmin. And they weren't swimmin. What I had not realised until now was that through the other side of the fish tank was the female washroom and while their faces were clean they could still manage dirty looks. I scarpered.

Chaophraya is a restaurant that demands to be noticed, flattered, photographed. From the soft glow of the lights, to the ultra modern lines, to ornamental adornments like the beautiful wooden horse that would grace any Christmas morning, it is dressed to impress. Most of it works – like the wokery amongst the crockery in the exposed kitchen. Some of it doesn't: individual hand towels in the loos might have seemed a nice detail 20 years ago but now only serve to hasten the planet's demise.

The promised “personal assistant” service was attentive all right. We appeared to have about four personal assistants to ourselves with the result that we were asked four times if we were ready to order – but that's still better than being ignored all night. One of our assistants poured our beer to within half an inch of the glass top, then asked if we'd like another. Steady on, I know we like a drink in Liverpool, but one at a time is fine while it's not last orders.

We began with special mixed appetizers (their spelling, £6 each), a selection of “gorgeous starters” if they did say so themselves. On a scale of gorgon to gorgeous, spring rolls, chicken satay, prawn toast, tempura prawn and grilled pork scored about six-and-a-half, which

is more of a Jennifer Saunders than a Jennifer Lopez.

Gung yang bbq (£6.50) was barbecued king prawn – succulent and substantial – on skewers with chunks of red and green pepper, courgette, cherry tomato, pineapple and shallot coated in black bean sauce. This is a favourite among Thais which, itemised by its constituent parts, might not sound much but together played like an orchestra on virtuoso form.

Braised lamb leg (£13) was actually lamb shank, which is not necessarily the same thing at all, Despite exercising my lungs to their full capacity “the distinctive scent of Thai herbs,” eluded me. A pool of spiced sauce was pleasant, if not memorable; the soft, sweet flesh of cooked papaya a lot more appealing, not to mention authentic, than clumps of broccoli and cauliflower cooked just long enough to ensure they gave up none of their vitamin content, and none of their flavour.

The meat, a gargantuan portion, was good, but nothing you couldn't try at home and there was no evidence of marinating. I felt like a witness to a forced marriage – the brassicas and papaya keeping their distance; the shank sitting with the sauce but barely on speaking terms.

A fair number of main courses are prefaced by “your choice of”chicken/beef/pork/prawn/squid” which gives an impression of cooking by numbers. Chicken stir-fried with ginger, Spanish onion, spring onion, mushroom and red chilli (£8) was very good but arguably fell short of Chaophraya's commitment to a “true gourmet experience”.

“Thai food is of course based on the foundations of healthy living” I was reading shortly before ordering probably the most unhealthy dessert on a restaurant menu anywhere – deep fried ice cream, which sounds impossible and is not easy, its success entirely dependent on the time spent in boiling oil with the limited protection of a crumb coating. Ideally it will be hot and crispy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside. This one had a cold exterior and a rock hard interior.

The output of the kitchen is described as royal Thai cuisine. Mostly it exceeds the average, and I suspect our experience may have improved with alternative choices. But the menu would require more in the way of individuality and innovation before I could consider it fit for a king.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-18 very good to exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 The Thais have it.

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15 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

DigNovember 16th 2009.

Palm Sugar next door certainly has style over substance. Lovely place but lacking character and atmosphere.

AnonymousNovember 16th 2009.

Don't see much difference between this and the Yee Rah over the way which they also own. But it's good for a party or a works do or something and reckon Thai food, like Chinese food, is what it is.

EditorialNovember 16th 2009.

Thanks Siamese Twin, but we've never reviewed it before. We took some snaps at the opening do but, as is usual, held back on reviewing the food because it hadn't had long enough to get itself sorted.

Red or deadNovember 16th 2009.

I think the reviewer would agree. The clue is in the words "mostly exceeds the average", Mike.

WirralNovember 16th 2009.

Well I have been a couple of times now I thought the service was very good even though it was packed out both times as for the food I thought the Red Curry Chicken was one of the best I have ever tasted and I also shared a "fried ice cream" wasn't sure what this was thinking a bit like the jocks with the fried mars bars etc but I have to say it worked out very well soft enough in the middle but definitely too much for one person I reckon unless your the the fat Gordo of course the human hoover!I think they have a winner here and looking at the crowded restaurant I think the public do as well.

EditorialNovember 16th 2009.

Leon, someone has got to do it. Now pass the pies, there's a good lad.

Siamese TwinNovember 16th 2009.

LC is rather better written than the Rough Guides, though I'm sure it's only a couple of months since they last reviewed this Thai place. Are there no more restaurants left to review?

Dean WeaverNovember 16th 2009.

I think Mike was responding to the comment by anonymous about the place being "downright average", Red or Dead. I've been to this place a couple of times and haven't yet been disappointed and I think it does have quite a bit of substance to go with the style.

Write OnNovember 16th 2009.

Oh do behave leon kay. LC is a bit like Rough Guide, going unannounced, buying and eating food as an everyday customer and reporting on the experience. It is a useful guide for people planning a night out or a meal. Yes it's not rocket science, but indicative of what might be expected. Rely on other restaurant reviews at your peril.

Other Siamese TwinNovember 16th 2009.

I prefer Thai Rack myself...

Mike HomfrayNovember 16th 2009.

Well, I like this place - and think the food is above average. Suppose it does depend on what you order but I've not been disappointed, and its not expensive either

Man at BookerNovember 16th 2009.

Is that Leon Kay the brother of David Knopov, I used to know. I've been recommended the Thai for lunch reported to be good.

leon kayNovember 16th 2009.

Is that you lot do at L'pool Confidential scoff your way around the region sitting at computers getting lardy arsed instead of of reporting on whats important?? burp!

plastermanNovember 16th 2009.

Went for my girlfriends brithday back in june. Wasn't dissapointed. All 10 of us ate very well with drinks for about £20 each. And because it was her birthday, we were treated to that cheesey singing thing staff do in restaurants, but also got a small cake on a stupidly big plate for her, and an amazingly carved melon and plate of fruit. The strawberries were very very good.I found the service to be the best I've had in the city, and I've been to a few places. Yes, we were asked if we wanted more drink a few times, but thats n big deal, its better than not getting asked at all.All in all, This over styled restaurant hits all the right marks for food, drink and service. Shame theres a soulless, pompous bar next door. Oh and the food and drinks are very, very reasonable.Any one fancy a Thai?

AnonymousNovember 16th 2009.

This place epitomises the "style over substance" label. Pretentious, pompous, and above all else... downright average!!!

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