A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure of trying a new restaurant - new to me, but something of an established hidden gem in Manchester I've since realised: Thai restaurant, Chaophraya*.
We found Chaophraya (on Chapel Walks) a little tricky to locate and even from the outside, the restaurant looks fairly unassuming and easy to bypass. On the inside however, things get interesting. The place is huge, tastefully yet grandly decorated and feels unmistakably Thai, with staff traditionally dressed and all manner of authentic adornments lining the walls.
Once inside and greeted by the friendly hostesses, we were quickly shown to our seats and within a blink of an eye, were brought a welcomed basket full of spicy Thai crackers and had our drinks orders taken. Chris opted for a tried-and-tested Chang (Thai) beer while I decided to try one of the restaurant's signature cocktails.
The purpose of the evening was to try out Chaophraya's relaunched menu. The menu itself helpfully explains how the restaurant name is pronounced; not so surprisingly, we got it wrong. Thankfully our uneducated selves were schooled by an extremely knowledgeable fellow (whose name I can't quite remember. I think he was the group's Marketing Director!) who walked us through the menu.
He explained that in relaunching Chaophraya's menu with new and refined dishes, some of the top chefs from Manchester had been taken on a trip to Thailand to research the cuisine (which in itself is a really lovely opportunity as many were reunited with family still living there) and that the development of the new menu had been carefully thought out and taken many months to create.
Armed with our new-found information, we perused the menu. We found that we were spoilt for choice with the Starters listed, though finally settled on the Steamed Dumplings and Thai Chicken Tacos with a view to share.
The starters were truly nothing short of excellent. The prawn and pork steamed dumplings were light and fragrant, while packing authentic favour in abundance.
The modestly named Chicken Tacos were equally great. They were so delicate (we loved the extra touch of the edible flowers) but had a beautiful and complex flavour. They were amazing!
We ordered some more drinks between courses. Our waiter explained that the 'Theatre' cocktails were the most impressive and a 'must-try'. On his recommendation, I went for the Mockingbird; a creation made with gin, Maraschino liquor, pink grapefruit juice, cherry and soda - oh, and served in a massive botanical birdcage!
Having found my first cocktail okay, I did worry that this would just be a more dressed up version of mediocre but I was pleasantly surprised to find this one to be genuinely pretty good, even if the cage was a little OTT!
We were waiting rather a long time for our mains and having seen the restaurant filled up considerably, it was easy to see why the service was slowing. We were kindly offered a tour including a behind the scenes look at the kitchen while we waited which we jumped at the chance at!
I was actually pleased about the long wait and resulting opportunity to go up to the kitchen, as we got to see much more of the restaurant and its interesting decor. Getting to see the food being prepared and cooked first-hand was also a great experience. It was easy to see that the chefs were highly skilled and passionate about creating authentic Thai cuisine.
No sooner had we sat back in our seats, our main courses arrived. We both had wanted the Massaman Lamb Curry, which I surrendered to Chris and he accompanied with Sticky Rice. I chose the Palm Sugar and Chilli Glazed Chicken which was teamed with Coconut Rice.
The mains were authentic and tasty but it has to said, not quite as spectacular as the starters. In all fairness to Chaophraya, the things that let them down here are easily attributed to having a much busier than usual restaurant, so I'll let them off the hook.
Chris' Massaman Curry was flavourful but it was clear it had been cooking too long as the lamb was a little tough, which is a real shame as the sauce was really tasty. His rice was actually very poor and stuck together in a big lump! Had we been here under usual circumstances, we would have sent the rice back.
Having read back over the menu, I'm not actually sure I received the correct main course. The chicken should have been spatchcock style so I think I may have got the Chicken with Plum Sauce. Nonetheless, it was delicious and really tender - which is no mean feat for a crumbed, fried chicken. In contrast to Chris' rice, mine was beautiful and I loved that it came wrapped in banana leaf.
Full to the brim but still unable to pass up the offer of dessert, we chose the Chocolate Bombe and Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Chaophraya certainly pulled things back with the puddings. It's not often that Asian restaurants put a great deal of emphasis on desserts but these were genuinely fantastic. Chris' 'Bombe' was quite the spectre; the waiter poured molten caramel sauce over it at the table, melting it's chocolate shell and revealing its centre of Thai whiskey ice cream, honey and toasted sesame popcorn. Though I'm not so keen on whiskey (Irish, as presumably this was, or otherwise!), I tried it and agreed it was brilliant!
My Thai take on a sticky toffee pudding was also pretty bloody good too. The pudding had a wicked dose of ginger which gave it a little heat - a fabulous twist on a British classic.
All in all, we had a wonderful evening in beautiful surroundings with absolutely fantastic staff. This busier than usual menu launch evening saw things go a bit south with the mains which unfortunately hit at quite obviously their busiest point in the evening. I would love to go back wholeheartedly another time on a typical day of service.
The dedication and creatively put into all aspects of the new menu is evident - well done, Chaophraya!
Have you visited Chaophraya before?