Searching for a vege-friendly Asian eatery for a large family dinner, I chose Rosa’s Thai. From a humble street stall on Brick Lane in 2008, Rosa’s Thai has grown into a much-loved chain of London restaurants in Spitafields, Soho, Westfields, Carnaby, Chelsea, Angel and now Victoria. Hoping to enjoy authentic Thai fare as much as I’d done whilst travelling in Thailand, Rosa’s appealed as they claim to “celebrate [their] homeland and home by serving punchy Thai food with ingredients sourced as locally as possible”. Yet Rosa’s Thai is also unique as they mix authentic Thai cuisine with a few original dishes.
Ideal for a relaxing Friday-night, Rosa’s Thai combines fresh, tempting foods with a laid-back café atmosphere and the Soho branch gets the balance of relaxed comfort and buzzy fun just right. The décor is not typical of a Thai restaurant but is more Soho-esque. I found the exterior modern and stylish – with an attractive yet minimalist black and white colour-scheme. The scarlet frontage is echoed inside by red stools and low-level lampshades; otherwise it’s all light wood furniture, corrugated-effect paneling and bamboo – an industrial chic look. It’s more retro cool than traditional Thai. We were lucky enough to be given the large bench at the back of the restaurant, which was large enough to fit us and plenty of bowls and plates, and offered a prime viewing spot of the rest of the restaurant. And the ambience did feel really welcoming and warm, despite its location in the heart of Oxford Circus.
The menu is extensive, tempting diners with both traditional dishes as well as non-clichés. Indeed, although Rosa’s Thai was “Born in the East”, it was “raised in the East End” and like much of East London, is on the alternative bandwagon. For starters, we shared Fresh Summer Rolls (£6.25) which were similar to Vietnamese rice paper rolls. Served with a peanut sauce and sweet chilli suace, these were light, moreish, fragrant and guilt-free. The jewel of the starters, however, was the Stir-Fried Aubergine (£.50). Cooked to a traditional village recipe that Saiphan brought with her from Thailand, this was labelled as a “Rosa’s favourite”, flavoured with yellow bean, chilli, garlic, soya sauce and sweet basil. The rest of my companions, meanwhile, enjoyed the Vegetable Fried Spring Rolls (£6.25), crispy rolls with glass noodles served with sweet chilli sauce, and eventually the Papaya Salad (£9) which sounded like the classic Thai combination of chilli, long beans, cherry tomatoes and cashew nuts, but which was mistakenly initially served with shrimps.
For mains, the standout for me was the Pumpkin Red Curry (£10.00) with brown rice, which had depth and delicacy, as well as fire. Sweet-roasted pumpkin was well balanced with an aromatic red curry, coconut and sweet basil sauce. The rest of my family shared an assortment of dishes. My mum couldn’t resist the Thai classic – Rosa’s Green Vegetable Curry (£9), which included Thai aubergines, bamboo shoots and big chunks of tofu, all served in a sweet basil and spice coconut broth. The sauce had depth and a zinginess, and was strongly flavoured by the Thai staple spice galangal. It arrived in an enamel bowl – very simple, reflecting how this café is geared towards casual and budget dining.
My brother-in-law, meanwhile, as a lover of spicy food, opted for the Jungle Curry (£9.00) – vegetables in a fresh, sharp and very spicy red chilly curry. My sister, meanwhile, chose the Paid Thai (£8.00), made from rice noodles with egg, crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, spring onionsm vegetables and tofu – a perfect hearty meal after a busy day. All in all, the food tasted really home-made, hearty and embracing yet has a contemporary twist. Indeed, Rosa’s Thai is run by an English husband and Thai wife team, and the portions were really generous – perfect for sharing.
For afters, my family couldn’t resist trying the Coconut ice-cream and the classic Thai desert of Sticky rice and mango, which, on this occasion, wasn’t as good as the real deal my sister and I had enjoyed in Thailand. Serving homemade food, Rosa’s is the perfect venue for family bonding.
Rosa’s Thai, 48 Dean St, London W1D 5BF