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Restaturant review: The Thais have it

Angie Sammons goes to Sabai twice, and discovers an astonishingly good green chicken curry

Written by . Published on September 22nd 2010.


Restaturant review: The Thais have it

“WE are going to get battered.”

This is loaded statement. A loaded statement with a whole gamut of meanings.

At its best (if you happen to be a party animal) it is the prospect of an evening filled with Bacchanalian delight; perhaps even delivered as an invitation in SMS form.

Perhaps it was
the first slug of Gewürztraminer,
but we forgot we were reviewing the place and ordered badly

For lovers of Miss Whiplash and bondage, a different intention again; perhaps delivered as an invitation in S&M form.

At its worst, it is the accurate prediction of the outcome of this week's Champions League semi final, delivered grimly by a Kop-loving seven year-old as his mother (me) flounced out of the door, Sabai bound this last Wednesday night.

At Sabai, almost everything is battered – at least on the appetisers menu.

Colourful morsels of vegetables, bean sprouts, tiger prawns, squid, chicken and frogs legs jump up and down excitedly next to the deep fat fryer. “We are going to get battered!” they chorus as they await their blistering fate, just one degree of separation away from 180 degrees of searing heat.

I kid you not.

Once you get past that, however, Sabai is encrusted with a great deal more. The word means “relax” in Thai, and you will do. Big smiles and efficient service from Jet, Macy and Kim ensure it: the fist two from Malaysia and living in Kenny, the latter a Chinese scouser whose opinions about other Liverpool restaurants are spot-on.

This modern and smartly furnished establishment is not the only new kid on the North John Street block, sitting, as it does, opposite the Hard Day's Night Hotel. Sabai's owners, Paula Smith and Will Vongsanga, who does the cooking, were partly responsible for Liverpool's first and, for a long time, only Thai restaurant, the Orchid Spring, on Paradise Street. But that Paradise has been lost to the bulldozers; hence the new name and location where its owners are hoping for a slice of paradise found.

We first went a week ago. Perhaps it was the first slug of Gewürztraminer (an Alsace and a respectable partner to oriental cuisines and, yet, still a rarity in the city's eastern restaurants). Perhaps it was the first slug of Gewürztraminer, but we forgot we were reviewing the place and ordered badly.

Like I say, there is not much on the appetisers menu that doesn't come in batter or filo pastry, even if it doesn't say so, so we ordered a Sabai Platter of it. An array of Toey Gai (chicken wrapped in pandan leaves and a sweet dipping sauce, deep fried); spring rolls (deep fried) Gong Bikini (a good name for a band but in this instance king prawns and chicken in filo pastry, deep fried), Katong Tong (minced chicken, bamboo shoots and tofu served in pastry cups (not deep fried) and Pak Tempura (mixed veggies in a light batter, deep fried).

This is £8.50 a head and we would have ordered one of them and something else, but there is a minimum order of two, so for £17 we ended up with a golden wonder of riches which I can only describe as the thinking gastronome's KFC family bucket, if only in terms of quantity. And tonight, we were not thinking.

This sort of thing does not sit around for long and needs to be flayed alive after it hits the boiling oil to rid it of any trace of greasiness.

It hadn't been, but I will stop going on about it now, because the main courses were exemplary.

My Geng Keow Waan ( a classic Thai green curry @ £9) was everything the dish should be. Full of fire – they ask you how hot you want to go when you order – and yet perfectly counterbalanced by coconut milk and lemongrass. Served in a deep bowl, with courgette and aubergine swirling around in the mix too, it was plentiful, deeply flavoursome and soothing. Brown rice too (£4), another rarely encountered sight on a menu hereabouts. I may well be be back for more.

My friend's Pad Bai Krapraow (£10.30) certainly bore no comparison to the latter word. Usually a bit of a wuss when it comes to hot food, he gave this dish - king prawns, stir fried in a chilli paste with garlic and various Thai herbs and spices – a go. It met with similar approval to my own, with its tasty and quietly fiery sauce, prawns cooked right on time, and he scoffed the lot, and an amount of coconut rice, without breaking a bead of sweat. Good stuff.

I went back on Wednesday this week to to try to do the job properly by attempting another starter and a pudding. Skipping the Tom Yam soup, I wanted to see what they could do with Prik Kra Theim, described as squid, quick fried with fresh chilli, garlic and rice wine (£6.50). The squid was plentiful without a trace of rubberiness. Guess what? It was battered. And I was beaten.

Have the sticky rice with mango (£3.50) when you go. It is a treat. The thinking gastronome's Bounty Bar (but without the choc) after they went in search of paradise.

And you should go to Sabai. Despite “progress” there are still only a handful of Thai restaurants in Liverpool, and this is perfectly placed to lead the way.

But when you do go, choose wisely from its extensive and imaginative menu. Opportunities like this shouldn't be frittered away.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
3/5 Atmosphere
Address: Sabai Thai Restaurant and Bar
26 North John Street Liverpool
L2 9RU
0151 236 7655

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Long FukMay 2nd 2008.

I thought the Lib Dems would get battered too - sadly not to be after last night's cynical stitch-up to keep them in power. And that Bradley fella is a right prawn. Shall i emigrate to Thailand? The food sounds great and those girls look rather nice, too.

Do the doMay 2nd 2008.

I will try this on your recommendation Miss Sammons. Didn't I see you in Delifonseca today?

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Curious

Ah, sorry Carlos. There is also the excellent Kimo's, every bit Arabic

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Carlos

Warrior Crusader suggested this a few comments up, Curious.

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Curious

Where did it mention that it was the only Arab eating place in the city Carlos?

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Carlos

Only Arab eating place in the city? Have those two places on London Road closed down also?

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