From Yasmin Khan’s noodles at a Thai beach hut to Ruby Tandoh’s ice-cream in Dublin, chefs, cooks and food writers share their favourite destinations
For the past eight years I’ve been going to Ko Pha Ngan, on the Gulf of Thailand. The dish that I always want when I arrive is pad see ew. It’s made with wide, flat rice noodles; the name means “fried in soy sauce”, because that’s its main flavouring. I always get it from the same place. I don’t really want to say the name of it, I don’t want the whole world to descend … It’s not a formal place, just a little beach hut on a bay. There are always fresh prawns and squid in the noodles, and it’s slightly sweet and you have a bit of chilli and bean sprouts, too. I always get a mint and lemon shake, which is whizzed together with ice so it’s a bit like a slushie. I always sit in the same spot on some rocks overlooking a bay and it feels like you’re in a James Bond movie, one of those picture-perfect shots at the end, and I sit there eating my spicy sweet noodles and drinking my mint shake. Even thinking about it makes me more relaxed.
My face was covered in soup, my lips and tongue were stinging, but my belly was full and my smile was wide
Aromatic and full of flavour, these sticky chicken thighs are sensational
These sticky, crispy chicken thighs are sensational with a nutty black rice salad. It is a lovely recipe for this time of year – sustaining, yet not too heavy; aromatic and jammed with flavour, yet simple to cook. You can make it fiery hot, faintly warm or with no chilli at all, so it’s a great recipe for developing younger palates. The spices and seasonings are all readily available in good grocers and supermarkets.
This slightly gauche attempt at modern Thai dining may not live too long in the memory
Some lunches are literally, not figuratively, forgettable. Before I could deliver this sparkling prose on Sabai Sabai, for example, I had to retrieve the crumpled receipt from the bottom of my handbag as an aide-memoire: “£95.35 total without service,” it read.
So I had, in fact, definitely been there, for about 90 minutes one recent Saturday lunchtime. The receipt also revealed that I had tried several appetisers and main courses, pandan-flavoured pancakes for pudding and a martini. Still, my memories of the place are muted. Sabai Sabai is the fourth, and most ambitious, opening in an apparently award-winning chain of Thai restaurants in the Birmingham environs: Harborne, Moseley and, about 40 miles away, Stratford-upon-Avon. This latest opening is slap-bang in Birmingham central, and a quick scoot around its website and local media plaudits position it as breathtakingly glamorous, as well as apparently being an authentic taste of Thailand.
A puzzling, underwhelming experience – this lauded Asian fusion restaurant-bar must have been having an off-day
Staring at my plate of sludge-like noodles on a Sunday lunchtime at Nonya in Finnieston, Glasgow, I permitted myself a moment of self-pity. These chilled sesame, cucumber and coriander noodles had sounded like balm to my noodle-enthusiast ears. Noodles in any form are my downfall, you see. Leftover takeaway ho fun noodles, for example, sat in my fridge overnight, will whisper to me at 3am: “Graaaace, Graaaace, don’t sleep. Come downstairs. I am your breakfast.” These noodles at Nonya, however, had me stumped. This was a tahini-flavoured mulch with a large, wasteful fistful of coriander flung on top – less of a garnish than a hedge.
Two other dishes I’d been recommended to order – the laab and the Chinese burger – were both unavailable that day, too. Self-pity is the only option as a restaurant critic, because be sure no one else will gaze at your gilded life and sympathise. There are no sad charity appeal ad breaks on daytime TV, in which David Tennant pleads for £5 a month to keep me in Gaviscon and Spanx. But if there were, he’d tell you of experiences such as Nonya, whose reputation had lured me 400 miles from my sofa, arriving optimistic and starving, only for the joy to ebb from my soul with each new dish.
Tofu is bascially a blank canvas, a vehicle for other ingredients, so you can throw all sorts of bold flavours at it
I’m aiming to go meat-free for at least half the week. I’ve given tofu a go, but it’s so bland – how do you make it actually taste of anything? Ruth, Bristol
Much like pasta and white rice, which are equally flavourless when served plain, tofu is more a vehicle for other flavours than a taste sensation in its own right. For those on a plant-based diet, though, it’s an invaluable source of protein, and rich in calcium and iron, among other minerals, so it’s worth adding to your repertoire. It’s also hugely versatile, especially in terms of texture: depending on how it’s prepared and cooked, tofu can be soft and silky or crisp and chewy.
A perfect midweek one-pot dinner that is versatile and great for introducing Thai flavours
This is a quick and easy recipe to follow and try at home. It’s perfect as a midweek one-pot wonder. What I love about this dish is its versatility: it works with either chicken, prawn, tofu or all of them together. It’s also a great dish for introducing Thai food to people who haven’t tried it before. It’s very child-friendly, too – my kids love it.