Thom Archer asks how this well-known Thai fares in the journey from London to Leeds
A restaurant in a shopping centre is unlikely to be the kind of announcement that causes arguments in the Confidentials WhatsApp group, in the rush to baggsy the privilege of reviewing it.
Layers of complex, sophisticated fragrance, like an Aēsop gift set blended into a milkshake
Taking over the old Cielo Blanco spot on the top floor of Trinity Leeds, Rosa’s Thai has become neighbours with the kind of places you visit when you’ve won a gift voucher at work and can’t be bothered looking around Urban Outfitters for something to spend it on.
However, when I saw a Facebook sponsored post fortelling Rosa’s arrival, I flew into the group chat head first to claim the privilege, beating off stiff competition from er, nobody; recreating the glory of getting off a train and getting through the ticket barriers before any of your fellow passengers, triumphant in a footrace none of them realised they were participating in.
Me and Rosa have got priors. Or rather, we haven’t. I’m familiar with the original outpost at the top of the Spitalfields Market end of London’s Brick Lane. I’ve walked past it and admired its self-assuredly minimal, pillar box red frontage. Just never enough to actually tempt me away from my big London plans, such as drinking a can of Tyskie in the alley outside Cafe 1001, or gurning an uncomfortable grin in the photo booth in Rough Trade East. Being underwhelmed by the latest hyped-up restaurant opening in Soho. What a city.
While the new gang of Thai restaurants are pushing boundaries and taking the cuisine to exciting new places (ie. taking already-exciting cuisine and putting it in front of us.) By wrapping betel leaves around sambal and serving bitter gourd with natural wines, Rosa’s menu deals in the familiar. Curries thick and rich with coconut milk; tangled nests of noodles spun with chilli and fish sauce and peanuts; deep-fried this and thats which singe your fingertips as you swab them through dishes of sweet chilli sauce.
Dishes you’ve ordered so many times over the years in small-town green curry-houses that you’ve evolved from pointing at them on the menu, to asking for them in English, and eventually ordering them in their native tongue; torturing every syllable while your inscrutable server waits patiently.
It’s a potential double-edged sword; the mass appeal of the dishes puts bums on seats, but it also means punters have endless points of reference to compare them to, from places like Thai A Roi Dee, Momma Thai, and My Thai, which will always have the upper hand by virtue of being the underdog.
In a procession of plates and bowls that represent almost every category the menu has to offer, Rosa’s comes off pretty favourable across the board. We start with small plates of meat on bone and skewers that might be picked up from a roadside stall in Bangkok. There are chicken wings (£6.25) - fried until the skin is toffee-apple crisp, flung in earthy, lip-smacking tamarind sauce - and skewers threaded with honey and soy-crusted pork (£7.25). A perfect ratio of flesh, fat, and skin - “all the parts of pork that make pork so good to eat.” as a chef friend put it, which is the best food description you’ll read in this whole review.
Bobbly, blistered corn patties (£6.25) contain enough kernels of sweetcorn that they could open up a stall selling it outside Zara on Briggate, light and audibly crispy and clinging together by, as far as I can tell, magic.
Red curry is velvety and echoes layers of complex, sophisticated fragrance, like an Aēsop gift set blended into a milkshake. It’s deservedly heralded as their signature dish, and available in a few varieties; the salmon (£12.95) is well cooked but jarring. You’d be better off with the butternut or chicken version.
A couple of dishes remind us that we’re eating from a menu thoroughly specced for maximum appeal; chicken 'larb' (£8.45) is just a saucy mince that lacks both the pungency and the perfume of a proper version, and a haystack of shredded green papaya Som Tum (£9.50) is reassuringly fresh, but missing the usual prickly heat from lime juice and dried chilli that makes all the fluid in my body evacuate out of my eyes and nose. Still, if I wanted to make myself cry in Trinity, I’d go and try to squeeze into an XL in Urban Outfitters.
Other niggles: It’s expensive. All of this and a few iced teas came to £80 once service was automatically factored in, and 'I don’t know' isn’t a satisfying response when asked what variety of mango I’m about to pay £5 for half of (Neelam, I think. An alphonso sorbet is well worth the extra quid). Overall though, as a shopping centre restaurant it punches well above its weight, and as a Thai, it’s up there with the underdogs.
Rosa’s Thai, Trinity Leeds, 27 Albion St, Leeds LS1 5AT
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Chicken Wings 7, Pork 8, Sweetcorn Patties 9, Red Curry 7.5, Som Tum 7, Chicken Larb 6.5, Mango 8
Speedy, responsive, and helpful, but lacking depth of product knowledge
The terrace on a sunny day is one of the best spots in Leeds.