The special menu is the real deal at Leeds' latest Thai restaurant
Raw prawns aren’t for everybody. In fact, they weren’t for me, according to the waitress at Mommy Thai, who went from patiently smiling when I butchered the pronunciation of goong shae nam pla turned into a hearty chortle when she realised that I was actually attempting to order goong shae nam pla. The derisive kind of laugh you normally reserve for squashing children's sense of wonderment.
“It’s raw” she says. “That’s fine” I say. “And very spicy” she says...
It’s the kind of laugh that only makes you more determined to polish off an entire portion of goong shae nam pla, rub your tummy, and lament the fact you don’t have room to squeeze in another one. “It’s raw” she says. “That’s fine” I say. “And very spicy” she says. “That's fine" I say. “Ok” she says.
They arrive, and she wasn’t lying. They’re raw. Shell-off except for the tail, then butterflied and topped with red chilli, shallot, and slices of garlic. In the middle there’s a pool of chilli-vinegar dip.
It’s similar to Peruvian ceviche, where a mildly acidic citrus juice “cooks” raw fish; this stuff is so potent it’s like the difference between a scarf and a blow-torch. The prawns that arrived steely-blue turn milky almost on contact, like a litmus test. It’s a far cry from the comforting embrace of a creamy massaman with pillowy boiled potatoes. You can still get all of that here, it’s on the other menu, but it’s much more fun to order from the “Mommy’s Special” menu, the one that comes with a side of derisive laughs…
There’s stir-fried rice dishes laced-through with green mango, and painfully-hot tangles of som tam served with raw blue crab; guay jab is an offal soup where the murkiest broth stinking of deep organic notes hides a nest of noodles, crispy pork belly, pigs liver and maw - the stomach itself - perch just on top, next to a boiled egg.
Again, it’s not for everybody. Put this in front of some people and the contents of their stomach will be reunited in the bowl with the pig’s. If you want the thing you’re eating to taste the most like the the thing you’re eating though, this one’s for you.
Reeling it in a little while still making the most of the pig is tom sab gra dook moo, pork rib-tips with meat clinging to contour of cartilage, in a moody pork and roasted-rice broth so unwaveringly rich it drives a Range Rover Vogue to the polling station to vote Conservative. All this robustness is punctuated by the occasional crunch of lemongrass or fresh mint.
They do brilliant things with whole seabass as well; steaming the things whole and embellishing it with zingy-hot lime and garlic, or slick with soy, ginger, and spring onion. I fondly remember visiting Thai A Roi Dee in its old location back in the day; I was young, naive, and eager to appear worldly to the woman I was on a first date with. I went for the Pla Looy Suan, and spent the entire date knuckle-deep in a whole, deep-fried seabass, trying to distinguish the edible bits of flesh from the spine. Not wanting to admit I had no idea what I was doing, but also not wanting to choke on a bone (grow up) on a first date.
Five years later - almost to the day - I’m sat doing exactly the same thing, across the table from me is my partner - we’re coming up to our five year anniversary.
It’s not the same woman as from the first date, by the way. Oh no, we never really stayed in touch after that evening. Maybe stripping a fish down to its skeleton with your bare hands, gagging on a bone and then using it to dislodge scales from between your teeth doesn’t scream “boyfriend material”.
It’s a fine dish but not really worth the hassle (talking about the deep-fried seabass again now, keep up) - the real star is mieng pla pao, where the seabass is grilled whole so the bitter, charred skin foils brilliant white flesh. This is all wrapped in a banana leaf, singed on the edges to garnish it with sweet bonfirey whiffs, flake off some of the flesh (the cheeks and eyes are the tastiest bits) wrap it in a crunchy iceberg leaf with some rice noodles and the egg yolk-flecked satay sauce and you’re onto a winner. All for under fifteen quid.
For all it’s flash and niche appeal, this place is definitely on the budget end of the Thai restaurant spectrum: in fact, it’s like a composite of all the other Thai cheap eats places into one Duncan Street mezzanined bunker that seats no more than 20.
It borrows the abrupt but practical service from A Roi Dee, the illuminations and East-meets-West decor of Zaap (the whole place seems to be lit solely by fairy lights, hence the regrettable photos), the main menu from MyThai. Literally word-for-word in places, surely it can’t just be a coincidence that both have a “Foodies Menu” where the T6 is ka na moo krob and the T10 is sukiyaki, served dry or with soup?
Not that I pay too much attention to the main menu other than perfectly fine garlic and pepper spare ribs and tod mun fish cakes as a contingency plan in case those raw prawns really weren’t for me. They were though. This place is the real deal.
Mommy Thai Factfile
Tod mun (Fish cakes) £3
Spare ribs £3
Goong shae nam pla (Raw prawn) £9.95
Pla looy suan (Deep-fried seabass) £12.95
Tom sab gra dook moo (Pork rib tip soup) £8.95
2 Coconut drink £4
2 Lychee drink £4
Address: 7 Duncan Street, Leeds LS1 6DQ
Fish cakes 7, Ribs 7, Deep fried seabass 7, Grilled whole seabass 8, goong shae nam pla 8, som tum 7.5, hainanese chicken 8, pork rib tip soup 8.5
Fast and to the point
Cosy and thriving without being overbearing