I get peckish at about 11am and on a day where there is a dining outing on the cards I generally have a look at the restaurant's website to give myself a taste of what's to come. A mid morning foray onto Mango Tree's website was very telling. I made straight for the menu before exploring the rest of the site. As I may have mentioned (ad nauseum) before, I cannot stand the practice of putting a menu on a website but not including any prices. Its not helpful and it doesn't make you seem any more exclusive, just annoying (or suspected of being overpriced).
So, in my already irked state I ventured onto some of the more unusual pages of the site. Mango Tree seems to place a lot of emphasis on its celebrity links, a whole section of the website being dedicated to photos of the smiling owners with various 'slebs. Some of them are of the more legitimate nature (I'm thinking Will Smith and Jay Z here) some of them less so - Michael Barrymore, "model and actress" Emma Noble and various lesser characters on Eastenders springing to mind. Once at the restaurant this panoply of A-Z list is wallpapered on the walls down the stairs to the loos.
There are certain restaurants in London that so often populate the webpages of discount sites like Toptable that I wonder whether anyone other than gullible tourists ever pay full price. Culprits such as Cafe des Amis and Boulevard Brasserie in Covent Garden spring immediately to mind.
Mango Tree falls into this category too. This impression of heavy discounting being a permanent business model is reinforced by the fact that their menu has whole sections caveated by the statement "not available on promotional deals". Although on the higher side for a Thai restaurant, dishes on the standard menu aren't spectacularly expensive; around £5-£7 for a starter or £9-£15 for a main course. But once you know something is routinely discounted why pay full whack? More expensive are the dishes conceived by "our renowned chef Ian Pengelley". I'm assuming that he's just cashed in by putting his name to some dishes since, as he's chef at Gilgamesh he can't be cooking them. These can go up to £45 a dish and, depending on the deal you've booked on will either not be discounted at all or by 25% instead of 50.
|A "Fruit Kick" non alcoholic cocktail|
Moving through to our table you enter the main dining room. Laid out as one narrowish very long room, the majority of tables are lined up quite close together canteen style with larger tables at the side. Other people have described Mango Tree as very high end or classy. I think this is pushing it to be honest. The floor is industrial concrete and the layout is not high end but conversely there are plenty of moody lighting and fresh flowers. This leads to quite a nice relaxed feeling in reality but the wind tunnel and concrete effect result in a noise level that is anything but quiet. If you went in jeans you wouldn't feel out of place but equally if someone suggested it for a date you wouldn't feel shortchanged. You might, however, feel a little odd on a date if you were to turn up on "Mr & Ms Ladyboy Safari" night in September which is heavily advertised both in the restaurant and online. It is, indeed, an annual beauty pageant both for ladyboys and also for men (dressed as men) and has in the past been attended and compered by such luminaries as Cindy from East Enders.
Staff are extremely helpful and attentive (although minus a bonus point for the initial "Still or sparkling" question- another pet hate, that upselling assumption that you will, of course, want mineral water). The wine list isn't stupid and is longer than many Asian restaurants. Some sensible thought has also gone into wine matching as Thai friendly fragrant whites such as gewurz and riesling are on offer. We payed £32 for a bottle of NZ Sauvignon blanc which was fine for what it was and not crazy overpriced.
We started out with a satay selection, some prawns in blankets (or whatever their Thai name is) and some chicken wings. All the meats were extremely succulent and well seared with delicious dipping sauces. The satay sauce was beautifully balanced between nut and spice without the overly greasy feeling you sometimes get from satay. Chicken wings were properly crispy on the outside without being battered and gently seasoned. This was ideal for me but perhaps less so for a heat-fiend who might order them on the basis of their "spicy" menu billing.
Mains included chicken pad thai with an egg net (see photo it explains everything) which Im told was a pretty good pad thai. The egg is nothing more than a fancy trimming but it does look rather good and it is hard to make a pad thai exciting.
The prawn panang red curry was a thing of beauty, the sauce rich and creamy. Giant king prawns nestled amongst holy basil leaves and hard little thai snow aubergines that pop in your mouth releasing their distinctive flavour. Thai curries can be a little hit and miss spice wise. I have had some that blew my head off and cleared out the sinuses for weeks to come and others that are little better than coconut soup. This one struck a happy medium and really did reflect the subtle layers of flavour for which Thai food is renowned. The bitter notes and deep savoury umami of the nam pla fish sauce to the warmth of red chillies and the sweet thickness of the coconut. I would go back again just for this dish.
|prawn panang curry|
We asked for a recommendation and Talay Pad Cha was suggested. This is essentially spicy wok-fried mixed seafood selection of king prawns, scallops, mussels, fish and squid with fresh chilli, garlic, thai herbs, peppercorns and kachai root. We were warned that it is on the spicy side however S originates from Jamaica and is therefore used to a good dose of heat in her food. I am told that it was indeed delicious but also incredibly spicy.
|Talay Pad Cha|
I have no idea what the desserts are like. I was stuffed to the gills by the end of the main course and even had to leave one last king prawn behind in my curry. Epic fail.
I went to Mango tree expecting to hate it with my pen poised to write a cathartic drubbing but came away pleasantly surprised. The food was really quite good for Thai in London and as authentic as you are likely to find. In summary only go you're getting one of their 50% off offers and make sure you drink lots of cocktails.
46 Grosvenor Place, London. SW1X 7EQ