Monday, 31 July 2017

Thai Aroy Dee

For me, good Thai food should be vibrant with heat and smoke, punchy with the sourness of lime and gently humming with shrimp paste and fish sauce. Which is why it's often so disappointing out of its natural habitat - relegated to bland pub curries; sugary supermarket stir fries; or, possibly worst of all, served in micro portions, in overwrought surroundings, adorned by carved vegetables.

The good people of West Yorkshire, however, seem to have lucked out, with several notable places to get good South East Asian food in Leeds, including the funky Zaap Thai - with it's mix of crowd pleasers and unusual street snacks that made the Ewing cry - and the stylish stalwart Sukothai - with it's slowly burgeoning mini empire.

Thai Aroy Dee - looking more like a mattress salerooms than a restaurant, despite the fairy lights strung out in the windows - might not have either the excitement or charm of the previous picks, but it was always rated highly and was always somewhere I had hoped to squeeze in a visit, at least until their lease ran out on their original spot on Vicar Lane, and they were forced to close unexpectedly.

Fortuitously, another spot became available just down the street, which is, even more fortuitously just adjacent to the car park the Ewing and I park in on our customary last trip into town (to stock up on fish, meat and veg from the Kirkgate Market) after visiting my Aunt and Uncle.

Unusually, the place is licenced but also offers free BYO - Tall Boys Beer Market is just over the road in Thorntons Arcade if you fancy a beer - but, being early on a Tuesday lunchtime and with the long slog back down the M1 awaiting us, we stuck to the soft drinks.

Not a hardship here, where you can pick from exotic sounding beverages such as 'pink cold milk' and 'iced milk green tea' or drinks flavoured with pandan or longdan. I chose the rather more prosaic roasted coconut water, with a extra thick straw to suck up the chunks of the fruit; while the Ewing went for an eye-opening Thai iced coffee with condensed milk and tamarind seeds.

I find it hard to not to order som tum if it's on the menu - the famous green Papaya salad mixed with dried shrimps, carrots, fine beans, fresh chillies, garlic, lime juice, tomatoes, fish sauce and ground peanuts. Here it's served alongside gai yang - crisp and smoky grilled chicken with a hefty punch of spice - improving it even further.

Pad Kee Mao, or 'drunken' rice noodles, with pork, turned out to be flatter than the noodles - the only misstep of the whole meal. While it was generously portioned and packed with a pleasing squeak from the green beans and white cabbage, it missed the advertised punch of the chilli and holy basil. In fact, it seemed to be missing any seasoning at all, something an extra splash of Squid fish sauce some what ameliorated.

In contrast the duck curry with pineapple, cherry tomatoes, pea aubergine and squash, was exemplary. The duck was sweet and tender and the sauce redolent with coconut and fragrant spice, punctuated with bursts of tangy tropical fruit. Alongside was a basket of steamed sticky rice, my favourite kind of rice (or at least on par with Ambrosia, straight from the tin).

The Ewing has a deep and endearing love of prawn crackers and is always insistent we order some; not really a hardship. Despite them forgetting to bring them out until we'd almost finished eating, these were fine examples although, curiously, there were also a few of the more familiar chinese-style interlopers amongst the darker, crisper thai crackers. 

While it might not have the tuk-tuks of Zaap or the ornate carvings of Sukhotai, Aroy Dee (delicious, in Thai) does exactly what it says on the tin. And only thirty quid all in for more food than even we could manage - they also do a two course lunch menu for £6.95 - it also meant we had a bonus bag of prawn crackers to sustain us on the drive back down the M1.

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