Storm Doris was rolling into town. Rather than enduring the trek to the shop in gale force winds, risking being blown into the Liffey, holing up in a cosy restaurant for some warming food seemed like a far safer bet. Add to this a latent cold and my body was crying out for over the top flavour, medicinal ginger and spice that could reignite my fatigued taste buds.
My sister and I are keen spice devils, so having heard that Baan Thai, a handy ten minutes from my house, serves authentic Thai dishes our Storm Doris Supper venue was a cinch. Admittedly, the closest I have been to tasting authentic Thai cuisine was in numerous London eateries, likely more genuine examples of how locals eat than in other food scenes, close but no cigar nevertheless. Aisling on the other hand, a worldy wander luster to the core, has traveled Thailand extensively, so was glad to act as my gauge of authenticity.
With a sister restaurant in Leopardstown, Baan Thai Ballsbridge itself is located above a bookies, but what really struck me was how fortunate it was that I had booked a table earlier in the day. Ascending the stairs to a packed restaurant, a mix of Ballsbridge locals and Asian families, first impressions certainly suggested Baan Thai has carved out a name for itself in this neighbourhood. To satisfy both the palates of locals of the area and locals of the cuisine is no mean feat.
On the decor front, the dining room is quite cosy and warm, a haven from the storm brewing outside. Baan Thai is your typical traditionally appointed Asian restaurant – think Golden Buddhas, throne like chairs and wood panelling – and offers no surprises on this front, but we were keen to see if the menu would set it apart from its many competitors. The menu is, as always in such establishments, flooded with variety, but whether or not this translates into waves of flavour is always hard to tell on reading.
Fried dishes are prevalent in Thai cuisine due to the Portugese influence, so don’t be put off by the appearance of dishes like Salt and Pepper Tofu and of course the ubiquitous spring roll. Needing something a little more fiery than a deep fat fryer can offer, I gravitated towards one of my favourite Thai appetizers – Yam Nua – or Spicy Beef Salad(€11.25).
Succulent beef fillet doused in lip-smackingly zesty lime, basil, coriander and chilli dressing and studded with lemongrass stalks was the perfect choice to get my taste buds fired with some serious kick, just what the doctor ordered. When Baan Thai puts spicy in the title of the dish, I’m pleased to find they actually mean it. Crisp iceberg lettuce provided some cooling contrast in this simple but super tasty starter – palm sugar, spice and everything nice.
A fantastic gauge of any Thai restaurant is classic Tom Yum Soup(€6.50), a staple which encapsulates everything that is wonderful about Thai cuisine – sourness, spice and heady fragrance. My sister tells me a good example can transport you back to the floating markets of Bangkok and in this case, Baan Thai’s Tom Yum with tender and juicy prawns warmed the cockles and was bursting with punchy flavour and plenty of heat. I may have requested my own spoon…
Having both opted for exceedingly sharp and zingy, light Thai dishes, mains had to feature the creme de la creme of the Thai pantry, luscious creamed coconut. There are few things in life quite as comforting as a rich Thai curry, a Friday feeling in a bowl, and we were hell bent on getting our fix.
Krachai or galangal is hugely prevalent in traditional Thai cuisine, known as lesser ginger. When first I tried this, I remember thinking it tasted how a hospital smells, almost disinfectant-like – I wasn’t a fan, which often puts me off Thai Green Curry(€15). In this instance galangal was balanced well with lemongrass in a pleasantly light coconut sauce, achieving what Aisling felt was a genuine example of the classic dish. She opted for the tofu version, which included lightly fried cubes of melting bean curd which acted as an absorbant flavour sponge. Topped with plenty of Thai basil, this curry got the thumbs up from across the table.
I knew the second I spotted Chu Chee on the menu that my main course mind had been made up. As Chu Chee is a red curry infusion with ample heat, a more subtle spice blend than the original and plenty of kaffir lime leaf, it makes a better pairing for the delicate flavour of various types of fish than robust red meat. Both roasted duck and fillet of beef were on offer but with this in mind I chose Sea Bass Chu Chee (€22.95), which was served as a filleted whole fish in true Thai style.
I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer size of this dish, feeling like it would have been more than enough for two, a good complaint to have! I was delighted to find the sea bass perfectly cooked, having been lightly floured and pan-fried before swimming in an unctuous coconut scented liquor, easily cut with the mere suggestion of a spoon.
Surely getting my greens cancels out all that delicious creamy Chu Chee? I accompanied my indulgent feast-style dish with a saintly side of stir-fried Pak Choi in Oyster Sauce(€5.50). I was very pleased to see this as an alternative to rice and noodles on the menu, somewhat lightening the load of a rich dish that would satiate even the most ferocious of appetites.
We couldn’t even contemplate dessert and to be fair, you don’t really go to a Thai restaurant for their sweet offering. Besides being completely satiated, my palate had no interest in being cleansed after taking a little Thai trip – a real taste of the aromatic flavours of the region. Baan Thai is a family run restaurant, proudly serving home style Thai classics with integrity and loyalty to tradition. The owners are actively involved in the Thai Ireland Association, with the goal of creating an appreciation of truly authentic Thai cuisine and they certainly achieved this goal on the night. Our bill, excluding service, came to €63.50.
We left Baan Thai feeling like the reason for it’s enduring popularity was very obvious. As one of the early Thai restaurants to pop up in Dublin in 1998, Baan Thai has stuck to a successful formula – warm service and genuine Thai classics executed well, spicy enough to get anyone a little hot under the collar.
16 Merrion Rd,
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about creating and discovering delicious things. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.