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Tuesday 24 June 2014

Thai Cocktails and Nosh in Über-Trendy Hoxton

Where: 319 Old Street, London EC1V 9LE, http://www.busaba.com

Cost: Dishes are for sharing, and vary in cost from £3.90 to £12.50.  The average food spend is around £20-£30 per head.

About: Situated on a busy corner of Old Street in the heart of Hoxton, this is one of 10 restaurants in the group opened by restaurateur Alan Yau around 15 years ago. I used to love visiting their first branch in Wardour Street when it opened in the late 90s, it was one of the most innovative and forward-thinking London restaurants at the time.

There are plans to expand the Busaba Eathai group to 20 restaurants over the next year, including new branches in Manchester, Leeds, Cambridge and possibly Scotland, among others.

With Thai Executive Head Chef Jude Sangsida overseeing the whole group, there is a reasonable degree of consistency of cooking across different branches. The restaurant aims to serve popular Thai dishes for the UK market and palate. Like the other restaurants in the group, all the dining tables in Old Street are shared, with benches rather than chairs, making for a relaxed, informal experience.  There is a separate bar area with high stools and tables for those who just want to enjoy a cocktail or share a bottle of wine.

What We Ate: Like in Thailand, the dishes were served all at once at Busaba Eathai. Rather than starters and main courses, the dishes are divided into salad, soup noodle, wok noodle, stir-fry, grilled curry, rice and side dishes, which together make up a Thai meal. The flavours and textures of these different dishes, complement each other – a refreshing salad is ideal to go alongside a more fiery curry, while rice and vegetable sides should be eaten with the remaining dishes.

We started with a well made and deliciously tender Thai calamari served with ginger and peppercorns (£6.50).

Som Tam salad is one of the national dishes of Thailand and can be found both on the streets as in restaurants and homes across the country – made from green papaya, dried shrimps, cherry tomato and peanut (£6.90), Busaba’s som tam was authentic with some very fresh Thai flavours.

For noodles, we opted for a very flavoursome Pad Kwetio served with Sen Yai noodles, smoked chicken, prawn and shiitake mushroom (£8.60). This was delicious and one of the highlights of our meal.

I loved the rich aniseed aromas and flavours from the sweet basil and chilli and the chunky but tender prawns in the Chilli Prawn Stir-fry (£8.90).

The Red Beef Curry (£10.50) had perfectly tender slivers of beef, both Thai and pea aubergines, as well as kaffir lime leaf and chilli all in an intensely flavoured curry sauce – excellent.

To accompany our dishes, we shared a portion of coconut rice (£3.30), and a lovely vegetable dish of morning glory, with yellow bean sauce, Thai garlic and chilli (£5.90).

What we Drank: Wines range from £19.50 to £24.50, and all are available either by the 175ml glass, or in 500ml flasks, or as a full bottle. There are just 3 white and 3 red options, along with one rosé and 5 beers.  For sparkling wines, there is the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene at £29.50, or a Lallier 1er Cru Rose Champagne at £52.50.

Besides wine and beer, there is a choice of mocktails (non-alcoholic cocktails) priced from £2.70 to £3.30, while cocktails at the Old Street branch are priced at £7.50. There are plans to make these cocktails available across the whole group by the end of 2014.

We sampled 4 cocktails with our meal.  The Nam Thang Mo (rum blended with watermelon, kaffir lime, guava and chilli) was delicious and very tropical. Personally though I preferred the Lao Kong, made from green tea infused with whisky, with pineapple, honey and cinnamon syrup. Unsurprisingly, I’m a sucker for anything that features green tea.

The Citrus Negroni was sensational - made from the usual trio of gin, Martini and Campari, it was spiced up with a slug of tamarind syrup, and served over a whopping sphere of solid ice the size of an orange. It had a real kick and was as strong as I expected it to be.

Last but far from least, and actually in my opinion the best of all, the Thai Martini was made from gin infused with lemongrass, Thai basil and birdseye chilli tincture. This was a magnificent, fragrant and stimulating cocktail, and I can’t wait to try it again.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the cocktails we tried – they were well made and cleverly thought out and at £7.50 are also excellent value at trendy Shoreditch/Hoxton areas.

Likes: The superb cocktail menu at this Old Street branch is a big draw. The food is both reasonably authentic and affordable, and the restaurant is in a very happening part of Hoxton. Service is fast and friendly, and the wine selection is small but good value and well chosen.

Dislikes: Shared tables work in a supper club setting but I am not sure they do at a restaurant. I don’t mind sharing, but it can be awkward if others do!

Verdict: Busaba Eathai in Old Street is a great place for some cocktails with an Asian twist in über-trendy Hoxton, and a fix of fast Thai food in a relaxed, friendly setting. Recommended.

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