Deanna Thomas suspects the food might not be the priority
Why is good Thai food like a boy band? Because it’s all about the harmony. Every dish, from light intensely flavoured soup, to slow cooked curry or shredded salad comes with a tick box to make sure it hits all the right notes; sweet, salty, savoury, sour and hot. Each such an integral part of balancing the whole, that if one goes missing, they may as well pack it in and go back to stacking shelves.
There's a touch of ‘mum’s gone to Iceland’ Christmas special buffet selection about the food
Thai cooks understand the importance of attention to detail, from the look, flavour and aroma of a dish, even down to the medicinal benefits of the ground roots, leaves and aromatic spices. Because of this, Thai food has unique intensity and subtlety; perhaps from an undercurrent of woody cinnamon bark, a whisper of piquant fresh lime, or a welcome crunch from a garnish of crushed peanuts.
Unlike any of Thaikhun’s other outlets, from Aberdeen to Southampton, the food at the only so-called ‘TKBar’ is not the focus. If you want a sumptuous Siamese sit down spread, head next door to their parent brand Chaophraya – they even make it easy with interconnecting glass doors.
The clue is in the name. This is primarily and unapologetically a bar first and a restaurant second – a bar review from a 10pm Saturday night visit would be a very different piece.
The menu of ‘bar snacks’ and ‘bowl food’ comes attached to an A5 clipboard and is smaller than the drinks menu which is laid out in the style of a Thai newspaper, boasting blaring headlines of nitro cocktails, boozy slushies, frozen ice cream cocktails, short drinks, long drinks, wine and beer. You get the picture.
Time for Thailand (£7.20) came in a handled Kilner jar full of ice, Ketel One Citroen, Malibu, pineapple, lemongrasss, coriander and ginger, garnished with a dehydrated pineapple slice which looked a bit like it had been lost and then found a few weeks later behind the freezer. In fact, all the food and drink garnishes looked a bit pre-loved and tatty round the edges. It was sweet with soothing warmth from the ginger, but didn’t seem very boozy. I suspect it would take another four £7.20s to give me the same buzz I’d get from one good Martini.
Food is more of a filler, something to graze on in between drinks and most can be eaten with one hand without having to let go of your glass. Our server described them as ‘tapas style dishes’ which left us no clue as to whether we’d over or under-ordered. So we got one of almost everything, leaving out the obvious bar snacks of spicy pork scratchings, prawn crackers and fiery cashew nuts.
Sweetcorn cakes (£3.20) were four balls of batter that tasted of nothing in particular, and spicy calamari (£4) – supposed to be with Sriracha mayo, but turned up with more sweet chilli sauce – were battered, deep fried curled up squid sheets. Not much finesse, it’s a bit low budget.
There’s more than a touch of ‘mum’s gone to Iceland’ Christmas special buffet selection about the food and less of the authentic Thai street grazing experience. But that stuff has its fans, so manage your expectations and you’ll be fine. Thaikhun just seem to want to get it all out quickly and easily to line thirsty stomachs.
Moo Ping grilled pork skewers (£3.80) were a bit dry and chewy though had been through some heavy dark marination so could have been a moo, a baa or an oink. Could have come from any generic animal really, but it was like a juicy jerky and again, perfect to pick up and chew with a pint.
Chicken satay skewers (£4.80) were also a bit bog standard. Done properly, these are the perfect desert island snack – although the actual desert island and accompanying lapping waves infinitely help. Salt and pepper chicken wings (£3) were the best of the bar snacks but were a strange elongated shape – best not to ask any questions about those chickens.
Bowl food was cheap and cheerful. We ordered all three. Thai green chicken curry (£5.60) had a lot of courgette and green bean ‘filler’ in it and was more Vesta than Vespa. Tofu pad Thai (£5.20) was padded out with a lot of shredded carrot but a decent portion. The best one of the three was pineapple fried rice with prawn (£6.60). They can cook rice well here. Each separate grain perfectly chewy and on point – the ideal liner to prepare for a belly full of drinking.
Most dishes had a bit of something but lacked seasoning, subtlety or characteristic oomph. It’s only been open a couple of weeks, so still suffering from teething problems and a lack of organisation. Each time a server came through the doors with a tray laden with food, they had absolutely no idea where to take it, then we had to hunt for cutlery.
There’s more standing room at TKBar than there is in Thaikhun’s other restaurants among the characteristic brick-a-brack stage setting of street signs, graffiti, birdcages and bicycles but it’s comparatively stripped back. Upstairs there are ‘Thai street games’ available such as beer pong, giant Jenga and Connect 4 – because millennials rarely sit in a bar and talk to each other anymore.
So if it’s the genuine ‘touching all the senses’ Thai street food experience you’re after, you won’t find it at Thaikhun’s new Street Bar, but you know what? They seem OK with that. Just Phuket and have a drink.
Thaikhun Street Food Bar, Unit 5-6 Kenyon Steps, Liverpool One, L1 3DF
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.
Pineapple rice 7, green curry 6, tofu pad thai 6, chicken satay 6, sweetcorn cakes 5, calamari 6, mo ping 6, chicken wings 7
Slight lack of organisation in this new place
Needs crowds to do it justice