Dining plans at Thai restaurants fill me with hope and dread. My meticulous scanning of the menus beforehand leaves me to hope that this time, this will be the one which converts me into a fan. The dread creeps in after the first few bites when I am inevitably disappointed, and I have no idea why. I should love everything about Thai food – the dishes, the flavours, the spice… but for some reason, we never completely see eye to eye.
I wasn’t as wowed as I should’ve been at what is supposedly one of America’s best Thai restaurants, but was it something I ordered? Nor was I joining the masses in falling head over heels for what’s often described as one of London’s best Thai restaurants, but was it something I didn’t order? I should just give up on them but ever the optimist (or greedy sucker for punishment) I keep turning up at Thai restaurants…
The menu at Mango Tree looked lush, the restaurant is rather chic, and the recent reviews have been glowing, to put it mildly. This optimist was hopeful and hungry; would Mango Tree be the one to convert me? The short answer is no, the long answer?! Still no, but is it a case of it’s not you, it’s me? Let’s start with the seafood platter; a collection of their seafood greatest hits including king prawns, scallops, soft shell crab and prawn satay – what could go wrong? A few things, actually.
Neither of the prawn elements impressed, more rubbery and bland, than juicy and full of the satay or tom yum flavours we were promised. But at least they were better than the pale and pathetic scallops in garlic butter sauce – I wanted to see some sear, in my humble opinion, the caramelisation is what makes a scallop something quite wonderful. They did get some things right though. The soft shell crab was satisfyingly crisp, the salad was refreshing, and the extra portion of deep fried tofu with toasted chilli and spring onions was absolutely splendid. Once you cut through the thin crunchy outer, you were rewarded with smooth, luscious tofu – it was my favourite dish of the night!
We decided it was going to be a night of curry, so ignored the huge range of stir fried dishes and ordered two Thai classics – a chicken green curry and a red duck curry with a side of rice and noodles. My optimism clearly knows no bounds as once again, I was hopeful. I was hoping for an authentic, make my eyes water, warm me from the inside out, green curry because they’re supposed to be spicy, right? Here’s a top tip: only if you ask for it Thai style at Mango Tree, otherwise it’s the PG version. A perfectly pleasant, creamy coconut broth with a generous amount of chicken, but not much heat at all.
I think we fared better with the duck curry which had the perfect ratio of duck to everything else. By that I mean they were heavy handed with the thick slices of gamey duck breast (who can complain with that) while the smattering of pineapple and cherry tomatoes brought just enough sweetness and lightness to the dish. I’m sure the pineapple bowl would divide the masses, but it neither helps nor hinders the actual dish so I just considered it good instagram fodder!
Dessert saw us revert back to the platter; thinking back, I’m as surprised as you are given the state of affairs with the starter but hindsight is a wonderful thing. This one did have a better strike rate, if we take the unnervingly lukewarm mango rice pudding out of the picture. The chocolate slice was decadent but delicious, the banana and coconut pudding wasn’t half bad either, but the shining light was the garishly bright green vanilla pandan ice cream! As I’ve grown up eating pandan flavoured Malaysian cakes and desserts, this was heavenly. They were also all stupidly sweet so definitely one for sharing!
I think it’s obvious that we weren’t enamoured with our meal at Mango Tree, however given all the positive noises it’s been getting of late, I keep wondering if I have missed something here. Perhaps we should have ordered the dim sum platter to start – people seemed to love that, but it’s not really Thai, is it? Did we not look like people who can handle the heat when we asked if the green curry was properly spicy? Or maybe I just should give up hope and accept that Thai restaurants and I are just not meant to be; and it’s not you, it’s me.
Thanks to Mango Tree for treating me to Thai food, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone. I may not have loved this experience but was a huge fan of their sister restaurants Chi Kitchen and Pan Chai – both I would recommend in a heartbeat!
Are you a fan of Thai food? Have you been the Mango Tree?