Covent Garden has always been a popular spot for London foodies, and the recent development of St. Martin’s Courtyard has allowed even more restaurants to get in on the action. One of these is SUDA Thai which, with its broad ranging menu, casual café-style atmosphere, and entirely Thai waiting staff, is a great option for authentic Thai food in a relaxed setting. The décor is on the Spartan side – dark grey walls punctuated with abstract yet attractive white cut outs and rather industrial style lighting – but our table, on the upper floor next to a full length window overlooking the courtyard, was both comfortable and inviting.
To begin, our party of four decided on three starters between us, all of which were very well received. The chicken satay skewers were fabulously succulent, with a smooth peanut sauce that had just a hint of heat behind it. The vegetarian equivalent, tofu and mushroom satay, was much appreciated by the non-meat-eaters in our party. And Thai style calamari was perfectly executed, the squid was tender and not at all chewy, enveloped in a feather-light, crispy batter and accompanied by a delicate sweet-chilli sauce. I say “to begin” but, at our waiter’s suggestion, we actually decided to have all our food brought out together, so that our starters were effectively side dishes. And it’s perhaps because all the food came out at once that I was so astonished by the speed of it – a mere 10 to 15 minutes after we ordered, our table was groaning under the weight of our very generous meals.
SUDA Thai’s menu offers an impressive range of main dishes, from the familiar Pad Thai and Massaman Curry, to some far more exotic choices, several of which we had never heard of. We decided to take advantage of this and sample some of the more unusual items – and we were thoroughly impressed. My dining partner’s bowl of Gaeng Pa Gai or “jungle” curry, essentially a traditional Thai curry without the coconut milk, was billed as the hottest dish on the menu, and on that front it certainly didn’t disappoint – the one spoonful I sampled left my lips tingling for minutes afterwards. The non-meat-eaters thoroughly enjoyed their fish dishes: Choo-Chee Pla was a wonderfully cooked fillet of sea bass, brought to the table still sizzling in a kaffir lime leaf red curry sauce, while Kao Pad Namprik Salmon Yang, was simple but effective – a grilled salmon fillet accompanied by a generous mound of rice that had been tossed through with hot chilli paste as it was fried. I went for the Krapao Ped – stir fried duck in chilli and Thai basil sauce. In fact, what I got was Krapao Nua – the same sauce, but with beef rather than duck. I realised the mistake on my first bite, but was so taken by the taste of the dish that I decided not to raise the issue. The beef was thinly sliced and cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the sauce was fabulously fragrant with the heat from the chilli perfectly balanced by the slightly sweet but curiously anise-y Thai basil leaves that came delicately crisped atop the mound of meat. The three of us whose meals didn’t already come with rice added it as an extra – steamed Jasmine rice with the sea bass, coconut rice with the jungle curry, and sticky rice with my beef – and all were delicious, if a little pricey at £2.50 a portion.
The dessert menu is rather narrower than the main menu, but that certainly didn’t deter us. The two men at the table enjoyed Gluay Hom Tod – intensely sweet banana encased in a crisp batter, drizzled with honey, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and accompanied by a small ball of creamy vanilla ice cream, while the two women chose Kao Niew Mamuang – warm sticky rice topped with delicate coconut cream, with a side of fresh, imported Thai mango. This was, perhaps, the sweetest, most delightful mango I had ever tasted, and a perfect foil to the decadent creaminess of the rice pudding.
With a food menu as broad as SUDA Thai’s, it helps to have a drink whilst you browse, so we were pleased that our waiter brought our wine over as promptly as he did. has long bee The wine list is actually relatively narrow, and the lowest priced bottle is a fairly hefty £20 – but it turned out to be rather pleasant – a Chilean viognier whose aromatic notes of apricot and peaches and hint of citrusy acidity complemented the spicy dishes perfectly. When we drained our glasses towards the end of our main courses, we decided that rather than get another bottle, we would treat ourselves to a cocktail with dessert. SUDA Thai’s cocktail list is reasonably priced (£7.50 a pop) and includes both classics and house creations. A Caipirinha was strong and limey, while a Pandan Mojito made for an intriguingly grassy take on one of London’s most popular cocktails. A Butterfly Kiss (vodka and rum shaken with lychee, fresh lemongrass, lemon juice, sugar and a drop of blue curacao) was at once sweet and sharp, and a delight to look at, and a Mango & Papaya Drop (vodka shaken with mango puree and fresh papaya, hint of coriander and fresh lime leaf finished with sugar rim) was a beautiful balance between sweet fruit and fragrant herbs.
Service throughout our meal was swift and un-intrusive, and apart from the duck / beef mix-up with my main, pretty much flawless. When it came to pay, I confess to feeling a little shocked – I hadn’t been adding things up as we went along, and the casual café ambience had led me to expect a fairly inexpensive meal, but the total bill came to around £42 per head including service. Thinking about it, that’s by no means outrageous for 3 courses, a glass of wine and a cocktail, but it’s certainly not cheap. If you go with that in mind, however, SUDA Thai’s fantastic food and pleasantly relaxed atmosphere combine to offer an excellent option for Covent Garden dining, well worthy of an impressive four and a half Forks-Up.SUDA Thai Cafe Restaurant St Martin’s Courtyard off Upper St. Martin’s Lane Covent Garden London WC2E 9AB T: 020 7240 8010