Hebden Bridge prides itself on being a fairly cosmopolitan spot in the culinary department. There's Greek, Italian (three of those) Turkish and at least two chippies. Chuck a brick and you'll hit an organic and/or vegetarian café and/or restaurant.
Rim Nam is tucked away at the back of the marina that houses the tourist information office and one of those paint-your-own-pottery places which I've never seen the point of. I've been to this friendly neighbourhood Thai several times, but never during daylight hours, when the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the canal affords an unparalleled view of Hebden's narrow boat community in all its glory. There's a certain incongruity in this clash of cultures, although there's a photograph in the front of the menu of an unnamed location in Thailand which doesn't look so removed from the bucolic scene spread before us here, minus the New Age Yummy Mummies pushing all-terrain three wheeler prams and hippies walking dogs on strings.
It's a bit of a warehouse, acoustics-wise. The floor is tiled and the ceiling high, so there's a fair amount of din, especially at seven on a Saturday night when it's buzzing; it's never less than full, such is the popularity of the place. The crowd tonight is, as ever, mixed; families are starting to leave, though it's been great watching young children tucking into plates of tempura vegetables – the Thai take on nuggets, but oh so much more healthy.
All ages are here; couples romancing, gaggles of girlies, older folk having fun – there's a hint of a party atmosphere fostered by the smiley staff – all the girls so beautiful – the boys too – in their rainbow silk clothes. Huge vases of exotic flowers are dotted around the place. Their florist's fees must rival the bill for lilies at the Hockney Gallery at Salts Mill in Saltaire.
The warmth of the welcome is a real signature here, everyone beams, it's infectious. So you're well disposed before you've looked at the menu, which is long, as is often the case in Asian restaurants, but explanations of the dishes are succinct and saliva-inducing.
"Eating in Thailand takes precedence over most events. The food is readily digested and dinner time comes around in short time", says the legend on the menu, and it's one which I endorse fully, having believed for many years that the space between meals is way too long. My Goong Tempura ("deep fried prawns in a light batter served with sweet sauce") brings four fat, succulent beauties to the table, the batter shattering on impact, the sauce fragrant with a tiny kick. Gai Haw Bai Toey ("marinated chicken wrapped in pandan leaves with sweet and sour sauce") looks marvellous, like an art work, the moist, juicy chicken hiding in dark green crispy edible leaves, with a single pink lotus flower to decorate.
"Most Thais have a fondness for liberal inclusion of very hot chilies; the food is normally toned down to suit Western tastes" continue the footnotes.
Certainly the Kaeng Phet ("red curry with bamboo shoots and red peppers in coconut milk, flavoured with sweet basil leaves") is suitably mild (denoted by the two chili shorthand by the side of it; ranging from one to four, it's a handy guide) and subtly fragrant. Each ingredient is identifiable, and with the lightest, fluffiest jasmine rice is scooped up in short time, as predicted.
Massaman ("South Thai slow-cooked curry with potato, capsicum and cashew nuts") has the same chili-factor but delivers more of a kick, warm tones melting into the salty soy ones.
Service is attentive without being irritating; Tiger beers are brought at regular intervals and as the narrowboat lights start to twinkle it's easy to imagine you're in a much more romantic location than the Rochdale Canal.
Rim Nam Thai Restaurant, Butlers Wharf, New Road, Hebden Bridge. 01422 846888. Dinner for two without drinks: 38. Open seven days a week from 6pm to 10pm, lunch times bookable for parties of 10 or more. Early bird menu for 9.95 Tuesday to Thursday, plus Sunday. Take-out menu.
YP MAG 18/12/10