David Adamson is spoilt for choice on Smithdown

Southeast Asian restaurants in my opinion tend to turn up just where they're needed. Whether that's a Vietnamese restaurant in a Cheshire town that's become an unofficial outpost of Italy or a punt of a takeaway that transforms the Friday nights of a sleepy village.  Although Smithdown Road does already have two Thai kitchens in Lemongrass and Mayuree, it's a long road and there's more than enough students to go around. 

What Smithdown didn't have was somewhere with more of the 'all under one roof' approach common in the hawker markets of Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. Call it Pad Thais 'R' Us.

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Exterior
Tiger Rock on Smithdown Road Image: Confidentials

Tiger Rock clearly found a theme and stuck with it. There's a dominant shade of teal, and frescos of fierce tigers bearing a passing resemblance to Rousseau's one caught in a tropical storm. All this makes for a handsome interior and has made the restaurant's multiplying into two other sites in the city an easier prospect. 

There were tables to be sat on, but I decided a seat at the bar would more than suffice. If anything I preferred it. Not all cuisines lend themselves to a more informal seating arrangement, teetering high atop a bar stool or - alternatively - hunched two feet from the floor. But I came with the mindset that I wasn't going to be ordering an enormous curry or tearing through seventy spring rolls. I'd arrived with a succession of small plates in mind.

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Interior
Inside Tiger Rock Image: Confidentials

Comfortably tucked away at the bar with a pint of Cobra for perusing, I looked through the menu, a neat and simple offering split into four sections; small plates, small bowls, salads and greens, and sides. More than enough to make up a smorgasbord of Southeast Asian dishes. 

I decided against ordering everything at once, preferring to work my way through an ascending scale of sorts, starting with something my appetite is drawn to without fail should I find it on a menu; soft shell crab. 

This was crispy chilli soft shell crab (£9.80), liberally sprinkled with well-dressed lettuce, plenty of coriander and some particularly angry looking chillies complete with seeds. If you shy away from spice then you're in the wrong place. The crispy chilli coating was dark and warming, well-seasoned and, as is the way with anything with a decent whack of spice, more than a bit habit-forming. The crab was fresh, crunchy and carried the accompanying spice wonderfully. A brilliant start to any carousel of small plates, and if anything it just made me more ravenous.

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Soft Shell Crab
Crispy chilli soft shell crab Image: Confidentials

I just couldn't have left without trying the Tom Yam Gai (£6.50), a hot and sour chicken soup that I would happily have for breakfast and lunch every single day. Such is the restorative sucker punch of spice with this dish that you feel like a new person after eating it, so I thought it perfect to be next in line; somehow both a palette cleanser and rightly one of the centrepieces of any Thai or Southeast Asian meal. The right size of portion, it didn't overface me but left me feeling thoroughly satisfied. Besides, you can always order another.

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Prawn Tom Tum
Tom Yam Gai Image: Confidentials

Continuing along the road less travelled, I again opted against the likes of Nasi Goreng, Thai Green Curry or even the mightily tempting Laksa Mee, a Singaporean Chicken coconut noodle soup with plenty of fish sauce (although I will definitely have to return for that.) Instead I went for comfortably one of my favourite dishes from this side of the globe, Som Tam - thai papaya and carrot salad with chilli, peanut and plenty of fish sauce (£7.50). 

This was exactly as I hoped it would be; incredibly fresh and crunchy papaya and carrot that have slightly pickled in the fish sauce, with the plentiful chilli sailing along the straits of the tart fish sauce, all combining to pleasantly beat the shit out of your taste buds. How on earth something that's 99% fruit and vegetable could create this is one of those mysteries I'm quite happy to leave unsolved.

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Papaya Salad
Papaya and carrot salad Image: Confidentials

I paired the salad with something substantial enough but not overfacing, so chose the  barbecued chicken satay skewers (£7.80 for four). They were charred to the right degree, made up of succulent and not over-cooked thigh meat, which is always better than the bouncy, scallop-like chicken breast pieces you can sometimes end up with in other spots. I personally would have liked a touch more seasoning on them, but nonetheless they were certainly well made. The satay could have been braver, and I know that peanut is something of a one note flavour, but beneath that dominant nutty tone there's space for spicy notes to be weaved in. It did pair well with the salad, but in retrospect I would have perhaps gone for one of the more interesting-looking fish dishes like the grilled seabass with tamarind chilli sauce.

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Chicken Satay
Barbecued chicken satay skewers with the papaya salad Image: Confidentials

Tiger Rock is a smart, succinct exercise in giving the people what they want, which is a varied but not overfacing menu that allows travels beyond just the likes of Bangkok. If you only travel as far as Smithdown Road, you'll go far. 

Tiger Rock, 607 Smithdown Road, L15 5AG

2024 04 10 Tiger Rock Review Interior 2
​Tiger Rock​, Smithdown Road Image: @tigerrockhawker / Instagram

Tiger Rock Smithdown Road is on Confidential Guides

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The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 8/10

    crispy chilli soft shell crab 8.5, Tom Yam Gai 8.5, Papaya 8, Chicken satay skewers 7.5

  • Service 4/5

    Swift and straightforward, with a smile

  • Ambience 3.5/5

    Inviting and relaxed, but let's be honest you're here more for the food.