Wednesday, 13 January 2010
When The Peanut Gallery and I first moved to London, Busaba Eathai in Soho was our staple Friday night feed. We'd stumble our way through the Sohoian streets, TPG nudging me to hide my A to Z, as we placed bets on how long the queue would be (it's deceptively fast if there's only 2 of you). And I still love it. It's casual, fast, stylish and lively. But most importantly, the food is delicious.
Through years of intense meditation and mind control exercises, I have now trained myself not to crave Busaba every Friday night. However, I still need the occassional fix, and I cannot think Busaba without thinking robotically "must have Thai calamari". At £4.70, that with a bowl of coconut rice would happily be my rainy day meal for eons to come. But of course, who stops at ordering one dish? Or even 3 for that matter?
The menu has recently changed, but still has all my old, comforting favourites. We visited last weekend for a Sunday lunch. The Thai calamari with ginger and peppercorn and coconut rice was as sweet, tasty and moreish as ever. The chicken with butternut squash, cashews and dried chilli had nice flavours and bite, although the chicken to squash ratio could have done with some equalising - more chicken please. The squash became boring.
The prawn pomelo with peanut served on a betel leaf (top image) was so much lovelier than it looked - I compared it on sight to the gorgeous, huge juicy prawn pomelos we ate at Longrain in Melbourne the week before, which certainly left Busaba's equivalents in the shade. However, the peanutty taste and texture was good, even if they did overpower the prawns which were total midgets. Nothing would be lost if the prawns were left off the dish all together. Interestingly, a quick check on the Ayurvedic qualities of betel leaf indicate that it can be used to cure worms, bad breath, constipation, toothache and is somehow, after all that, also an aphrodisiac.
Everything at Busaba is bright and colourful - and looks good enough to ... eat. I also love the Pad Thai, the som tam (green papaya salad) and the char-grilled rib-eye. Not sure about one new addition to the menu - Thai anchovy spaghetti. What the...?
I always think beer goes best with Thai (there are Singhas on the menu) but the juices and teas at Busaba are also lovely - there's ginger and honey tea with a cashew and coconut cookie, homemade lemonade, various exotic juices and smoothies and, of course, the mango lassi - with rosewater, honey and cardamom. Although why is it that everyone here drinks rose (that's rose-ay - just where is the accent on blogger)? I tried the most popular rose to see what the big deal was, but the mystery remains.
My only gripe is that they still have not brought back the duck salad (circa 2007) and there are still no desserts. Fortunately, Princi's cannoncini are but a few steps across the road. (The Princi doorman now smiles at us sympathetically - yes, we are pathetic.)
Sure it's a chain, which I normally avoid at all costs, but Busaba has more heart and soul than equivalents at that price. Sometimes they churn you out, but only if you let them. There's slick dark wooden floors and furniture, communal seating, and lemongrass scented incense burning in the doorway. Busaba is another Alan Yau creation - but it's less cold and canteen-like than Wagamama, and not as traumatic for your wallet as Yautcha and Hakkasan.
I also love the kick I get every time when, as a party of 2, we whizz past hundreds of larger groups in the queue. Evil, I know. I generally try not to high five TPG until we are at least 2 metres inside the doorway. Also a good choice if eating solo - they'll sit you up at the bar facing the street (where you can wave at the queue while rubbing your belly).
For a hassle free, cheap and cheerful Thai fix, Busaba remains one of my local favs.
Busaba Eathai, 106-110 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 0TR (Other branches exist in Bird Street and Store Street).