Vicky Andrews thinks the brand’s first venue outside London needs polishing up
IN the mid-noughties, when Instagram was just a twinkle in the eye and the food delivery industry hadn’t yet boomed - meaning that we had to put on pants and go out if we wanted to eat nice food - Thai cuisine was something of a rare and exotic treat.
2008 brought a global financial crisis, Kung Fu Panda and the Jonas Brothers. But it also gave us European Capital of Culture, Liverpool ONE and the mighty Chaophraya - a Thai restaurant chain which served tom yum, pad thai and massaman to the masses. It wasn’t long before we all wanted to get our hands on a hot wok and some green curry paste from Matta’s.
The London-centric menu told us that ice cream is made locally at Leigh-on-Sea, 240 miles away.
That same year in London, Saiphin Moore and her husband Alex launched their food business from a Brick Lane market stall that would soon become a stepping stone to bigger and brighter things. More than a decade on and Rosa’s Thai Cafe has gained a reputation for punchy, authentic flavours with fifteen branches dotted around the capital. Their newest restaurant, which opened at Royal Albert Dock in February, is the first one outside of London.
I love feeling like a tourist in my own city and our window seat was blessed with a view of the red-brick arches and museum across the water, a spectacular landscape that had me longing for warmer evenings. The Chang beer (£4) was chilled and the bottle of Encantador blanco (£18) had a long, juicy finish that would balance well with the spicy food.
Both starters were excellent. Four skewers of chicken satay (£6.75) with lemongrass and peanut dipping sauce were tender, succulent and enough for two to share - but I didn’t. I also went squids in to try some of my partner’s calamari (£7.25), a well seasoned and juicy catch with a light batter and a decent amount of Rosa’s sweet chilli sauce to dunk it in.
Chilli and basil stir fry (£9.75) came in a gratifying, aromatic sauce with long beans and fresh herbs, but was really let down by the meat. I don’t know if the kitchen had cooked the chicken with the infamous hand slap, but the chef definitely deserved one for serving it so dry.
The spicy seafood hot plate meal (£16.70 with sticky rice and spicy salad) was a sizzling stir-fry of prawns, squid and mussels. The dish looked ugly as a whole and the thick, dark sauce was a bit overpowering, but within were some interesting notes of citrusy galangal and hot green peppercorns.
On the sidelines, a sensational mint and chilli dressing managed to save the limp leaf salad from flatlining. Fluffy steamed jasmine rice (£2.75) did exactly what was expected, soaking up the best of the stock on our plates, but the block of sticky rice was all filler and no killer and not to my taste.
Staff didn’t offer dessert but we persevered to get their attention with an awkward grin and one of those coy British waves, scoring two sweet scoops of mango sorbet (£4.50) which was a refreshing and cooling treat.
I love Thai food and I wanted to love everything about Rosa’s, but there is definitely some polishing still to be done here. A tepid G&T tasting of neither gin or tonic was given a red card and sent back. It returned just as flat, at which point we gave up. The London-centric menu told us that ice cream is made locally at Leigh-on-Sea, 240 miles away. Despite an abundance of staff cluttering up front of house, service was quite underwhelming, so it seemed a bit cheeky to automatically add the tip onto the end of the bill.
It’s still early days for Rosa’s Liverpool though and these are tough times for the food and hospitality industry. Only this week, pan-Asian restaurant HOST announced its closure after ten years in business on Hope Street. In an era where casual dining is struggling and delivery companies have captured huge market shares, we need to support local restaurants as much as possible. But if that seems a lot to ask, you’ll be pleased to know you can also have Rosa’s food delivered to your door. You won’t get a room with a view but at least you can stay in your pants. Just be careful when you share the photos on Instagram.
Rosa's Thai Cafe, Britannia Pavilion, Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AD
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 satay 8, Calamari 7, Chilli and basil stir fry 7, Seafood hot plate 6, Mango sorbet 7
Our meal took two hours. Ain’t nobody got Thai for that.
Fantastic views; the eye of the Thai-ger