David Adamson finds time for a quick Thai meal in the city centre
What: Spice Thai
Where: Castle Street
Food/drink type: Thai street food
When: Sun-Thurs 11am - 10pm // Fri and Sat 11am - 10.30pm
Independent or chain: Independent
Despite being found inside the long run of monolithic buildings on Castle Street, Spice Thai is in fact about the size of a broom cupboard. One of those broom cupboards that are unnervingly well-organised and everything has its place.
The downstairs is tidily made up of about ten tables and the serving bar, where takeaways also whizz out alongside the restaurant plates. Meanwhile upstairs makes effective use of the space to provide enough covers for a nice buzz but not so many that you're sat on the knee of the diner the next table over.
It's an unpretentious layout designed for economical serving, with many of the loud bells and whistles of themed decor and haughtily-assembled dishes removed to make for a frill-free Thai meal.
The Main Event
With less time than usual on my hands I was after a speedy, spicy meal and ordered accordingly. I also, as I've mentioned before, like with new places to see if they do the classics well. If so, the rest usually follows.
First was the prawn tom yum soup, which following an afternoon of battling the waterfront and windtunnel streets of the city is the sort of thing you crave for hours beforehand. It arrived piping hot and with the tell tale flotsam of oil sitting on top, forming enticing colours and smells. A deep and dangerous shade of red suggested to me that it was going to blow my head off. Unfortunately it didn't.
While still hitting almost all of the right notes, it was the crucial whack between the eyes I was slightly missing. This can be easily remedied, of course, with a touch more chilli, and what you'd then have would be a tom yum of a high standard to go with the plump prawns and fresh, invigorating broth.
I know pad thai is now standard fare almost on par with cheeseburgers and pizzas, but much like those staples you know that if they're well executed you can branch out across the menu another time. Everyone knows how they like their pad thai after a while, and not every place does it the same way. Some make it citrusy with lots of lime, some add an avalanche of peanuts, and some sit the tamarind front and centre of the flavours. Spice Thai did the latter, lending the dish that sweetness that borders on making this savoury staple the dessertiest of noodle dishes. Spice Thai brought it right to the brink but crucially didn't tip it over the edge. Also, I have to say I love the tofu in pad thai but here they seemed to be hiding.
In the arena of straightforward Thai restaurants that could do what many other popular places have done and become a brand, Spice Thai is on to something. For example, Giggling Squid has seemingly, in the South at least, captured the market in pricier Thai food in rather fancy surroundings.
Spice Thai could do the opposite in the North; that same food but in a more modest, unfussy setting where food is the focus. You know, like in Thailand, rather than Tunbridge Wells.
It just shouldn't be afraid to pile on the chilli, along with every other ingredient this beautiful cuisine makes use of. We can take it.
Spice Thai, 40 Castle St, Liverpool L2 7LA
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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?
Prawn tom yum soup 8, chicken pad thai 8
Speedy and no nonsense
Unpretentious surroundings, if a little basic for some, make for a pleasant change