Restaurant Review: Malagor, Ossett

Panang Ka Gae - Slowly cooked lamb shank in a creamy coconut panang sauce served with steamed vegetables and roasted pumpkin.
Panang Ka Gae - Slowly cooked lamb shank in a creamy coconut panang sauce served with steamed vegetables and roasted pumpkin.
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Cussons Imperial 
Leather soap was founded in Ossett. Not many people know that outside Ossett, but it must have been helpful in removing the grit and grime after a hard day working for the boss in the mines and mills.

In the 1960s Stan Barstow, a talented product of Ossett grammar school, raised its profile with his eloquent A Kind of Loving. Coronation Street’s Helen Worth is an Ossett girl.

Stan Barstow died last August, before the transition of a Bass pub he’d have known, the Two Brewers, into a Thai restaurant called Malagor – named after a papaya. Sadly (perhaps) it does not serve beers produced by the two local breweries 
but the good news is Amstel and Heineken (can you tell them apart)? are on tap. Its location is residential on a junction, with a terrace at the front and a large car park at the back, a relic from its time as a pub.

Malagor’s exterior is a conjoined 
jumble of red brick cubes, oblongs and even a stumpy tower – as if 
several architects had created separate parts in isolation. If it’s not listed it 
ought to be considered – unique, I’d 
say.

Inside it works rather well as a restaurant. The exterior shapes become open plan on four floors and levels. There is a long bar. Seven tables line the walls of the tower – once a pool table space. Pots of fresh pinks brighten the bare-topped tables (regularly wiped clean) and linen serviettes raise the tone.

Thai food is now so mainstream as to be unremarkable. You may have been to Phuket. I haven’t but I’ve been to Chang Mai and lots of places on and off the trail of tourists. The last meal I had was in Bangkok, at an open-fronted locals’ café bar watching the extraordinary night life teem past in a confusion of genders and garb. The scratch meal of a soupy stew cooked on a stove on the veranda was memorable for the whack of spices and flavours.

Thai menus really need a glossary to explain words such as pad and gang and raum and farang and jae. True, you can assemble a rough explanation by examining the menu’s translation.

Gai ho bai teuy was a first course – marinated chicken breast in unspecified herbs wrapped in pandan leaf and served with a sweet sesame sauce. It costs £4.50 and you get four triangular wraps. The pandan leaf quickly proved to be inedible. I don’t think too many saw my efforts to chomp through it.

No, the idea is to unwrap – and this takes some time because there is a foot or so of leave round each chunk of chicken. The plate begins to look like a florist’s out-tray. The chicken is greasy and so too, become your fingers and it’s more like thigh than breast, but I could be wrong and it doesn’t matter. It was tasty but messy. A finger bowl or hand-wipe would have been useful.

There is a happy mood in our tower and on other tables. There is background music – a mix of traditional Siamese tunes and Thai pop and for reasons I can only guess at, a rendition of Auld Lang Syne. The floor staff is mostly Thai and endear with their graceful manners. The service is sound and attentive and not slow in delivering the food on a moderately busy night. Tipping is invited on the card payment screen. This remains a curious hang-over from the past. We are not expected to tip, say, assistants in a department store – who do just as much plodding as a waiter. So when I was reminded about the tip on the keypad – which I had deleted – I had then to say no. Here’s a tip: don’t ask the customer for a tip.

Pad kra prow was mentioned as a popular recipe, indicative of the Malagor’s skill. It is stir fried meat with chilli, garlic and “holy basil” – a Thai species of European basil. The beef was mostly too tough to cut with the fork and spoon (traditional Thai eating utensils) and too tough to chew, too. The majority was left but elicited no inquiry from the waitress. At £8.95 it was a disappointment – and not “cheap” by the time you’d added rice or another side dish. It was, after all, only a meat stew with spices.

Good to find brown rice (khao glong) on the menu but at £3.25 a bowl its price is verging on being a mistake – and it was claggy-crunchy, too. A hot-spiced salmon fish soup was tried. OK rather than wow unless you crave for the invasive taste 
of salmon. Price: lofty at £6.50 for a bowl of soup. A typical gastro pub is better value.

We tried three main courses and all had the same garnish of sliced cabbage and decorative carrot – a vitamin boost on the side of the plate but boring once you’d had one serving. The stir-fried fish included Scottish mussels, which can be had in a Thai version of moules. Careless kitchen prep left a broken shard of shell in the sauce – which snagged my guest’s gum.

Puddings were represented by the selection in the £12.95 dessert platter. From this I deduced I did not care for any of them very much. A jumbled chocolate brownie was the best. The kitchen’s own lime panacotta was almost tasteless, for example, and the pasty of its pandan flavoured dough with pandan custard inside was stodgy and bland, green and interesting. You may like it. I did not.

Once upon a time, enjoying wine with spicy food seemed as wrong as, say, beer with ice cream. Habits change. We were drinking the hearty 2011 Nieto Malbec (Argentinean) which was delicious and at £19.95 not an unreasonable mark-up on its shop price of about £9. Bottles of white, pink or red start under £15 and the list is concise and good.

Verdict: One way or another Malagor it is trying hard. It needs a bit more consistent attention to detail and reminds us that eating Thai food can be more expensive than we notice.

Malagor, Queens Drive, Ossett, West Yorkshire, WF5 ONH. Tel: 01924 416990, www.malagor.co.uk. Open every day 
for lunch and dinner. Disabled access and free off-street parking. 
Booking recommended at weekends.