I love Thai food. I love East London. And I love a ‘market-stall-to-restaurant’ story.
Given that it ticks all of the above boxes, I should love Rosa’s Thai Café on Hanbury street. And there is plenty to love about this place. Rosa’s is literally a marriage of two cultures: a British husband (Alex) and Thai wife (Saiphin), who have combined the traditional British ‘caff’ with a menu drawn from Saiphin’s family recipes.
You get dishes such as soft shell crab (Poo Nim Thai Herb); crispy crab topped with Thai herbs, shallots and spicy chilli sauce; soft summer rolls; and Pandan chicken (Gai Hor Bai Teay), which is marinated chicken grilled in Pandan leaves. There are a host of stir fries, curries, salads and noodle dishes. The wine list is more concise (read that as 'small') but decent enough. We chose the ‘red’, while trying to remember the last time we were offered wine by the colour. The service is typically Thai – warm, polite and efficient, and the other diners were a typical mix of East London hipsters and Time Out-touting tourists that have turned Shoreditch into a Disneyland with style. Here I have to mention that Rosa’s is as good looking and ‘on trend’ as the dining hipsters. On the first floor, warm oak panelling contrasts with scarlet red stools, white tiles and modern pendant lighting, whilst downstairs sees glossy black reclaimed teak, hot red tin lights and quirky pop art.
So it’s a shame that despite all of these very good things, the most important restaurant ingredient – the food – was disappointing. The Northerner’s Pandan chicken was very dry. The Thai calamari was good enough, and the sweet and spicy Pomelo salad with minced prawns, cashew nuts and deep-fried tofu was flavoursome, but had too much liquid going on rendering it mushy. And that’s a word that I’ve never used before in a review, much less about a salad. The grilled rack of lamb was well cooked and seasoned, but the sauce was too thick and lacking depth of flavour. With the price for the grills average around £12, and the curry prices not far off, this is not value-for-money dining.
I liked Rosa’s as a destination, and by the number of people dining there or ordering takeaway, so do a lot of other people. However while the ambiance, service, and style of the place is good enough, the food needs to take that final leap out of the market stall.