The West Vegas tag may be a step too far, but Amanda Wragg finds things are changing very much for the better in one corner of Calderdale.
As a young person might opine: “Man, West Vale is BUZZIN.” I think I’ve just given my age away. Young people don’t talk like that these days. They’d probably say something like “Dude, check out the bad vibe” (bad meaning good, apparently; I know, me neither) but you get my drift.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that all you’d find in this corner of Calderdale was Andy Thornton’s Emporium, a chippy and a Chinese takeout. Today, there’s Catch, a decent seafood restaurant (reviewed here last year), Cinnamon at the Mill (good Indian food) and Vine Bar, an extraordinarily chic cocktail lounge in the historic Victoria mills; in the evening Vine transforms into a “hip” lounge offering a mix of sultry beats by local DJs. Early for my date, I called in for a cheeky mojito, and chatting to the mixologist discovered that they’ve bought the building opposite and are opening a restaurant later this year. “Wow,” I said, “the hood is transformed.” “Yep,” he said, “they’re calling it West Vegas.” Let’s not get too giddy – but it’s certainly smarter than it was.
Cafe Thai occupies a rather splendid building, though when Paul Nichols and Scott Carroll picked up the keys it had been empty for a couple of years. I think it might have originally been a Co-op; it’s all monumental pillars and fabulous windows. The handsome restaurant on the ground floor serves classic Thai dishes, but we climbed the stairs to find the tapas offer on the first floor.
On a warm, sunny evening the tall windows are thrown open, there’s a joyous buzz of happy eaters and cool background tunes. It’s a bright, high-ceilinged room, filled with light and with an Andy Thornton fit-out it’s super-stylish, with buttoned-back leather banquette seating, lots of antique carved wood and eye-catching copper drop lights. At one side, an open kitchen with four soon-to-be-very-busy chefs darting about, and a bar behind which a splendidly suave, hirsute barman chats to us while we have a Singha beer.
Cafe Thai is the brainchild of cousins Paul and Scott, who realised their dreams of opening a restaurant after falling in love with the cuisine enjoyed on their travels through Thailand 10 years ago. They both married Thai women – Paul to Jiraporn who is the chef, and Scott to Nuye (front of house) – so they know a bit about the food culture.
“There’s no such thing as a starter,” says Paul. “Each dish comes out as it’s ready; they’re all shared, especially in the evening with a few drinks. So we thought we’d bring the tapas concept back to the UK.” And a terrific idea it is too.
You’ll find seafood, meat and vegetarian sections on the menu; we roam across it and choose some classic options – Satay Gung, fabulously juicy marinated prawns on skewers (served spiked into a chunk of pineapple – very Abigail’s Party) with peanut sauce; delicious. Kanom Jeeb are steamed dumplings packed with pork, prawns and water chestnut, and not only are they faultless (feather-light and packed with flavour) the presentation equals anything you’ll see in a fine dining restaurant, with fine spirals of pink beets and a tumble of piquant micro herbs.
Everything arrives fairly randomly so you can end up with four plates on your table at the same time, as we did, and it’s piping hot and fresh as you like. My dining chum Madeleine isn’t a fan of super-spicy and there’s plenty for her to go at, including Num Mun Hoy which is essentially stir-fried broccoli in oyster sauce – another perfect plate, the broccoli with the right amount of bite and a deep, rich sauce scattered with spring onion. Esarn sausages are the cutest little critters – a north-eastern speciality, they’re basically street food. Bursting with pork, garlic, coriander and rice (and the right size for popping straight in your mouth), they’ve got a slightly sour edge caused by fermentation of the rice – a really interesting taste and bang on trend; many Scandi chefs are busy putting cabbage in jars and leaving it to bubble away for a fortnight.
Tofu is dusted with flour and tamarind and lightly fried, and served here on asparagus spears – the tamarind lends a zesty lemon note and it’s the ideal dish on a hot night. You might think that we’ve ordered enough, but as our lovely waitress observes “just keep going until you’re full”. We take her at her word and I’m glad we did. Pla Lui Suan arrives in seconds and it’s the dish of the day. Sea bass is lightly floured and fried with punchy herbs and scattered with roast peanuts. It’s a show-stopper, with outbursts of shallot, ginger, lemon balm, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, peppermint leaves and who knows what else.
We shudder to a halt. There are another dozen dishes calling (papaya with king prawns, salmon sashimi, corn cake with crab to name but three) but I’m beat.
These are “Yorkshire/Thai” tapas, that is, generous. The price is right too; most dishes come in at under six quid (the sea bass is £8.90 and worth every cent) and we scored what felt like a feast for under £50 with four Singhas. There’s a friendly, cheery atmosphere and the food is faultless – and not all one note either – there are some huge, in-yer-face flavours but much of it is aromatic and softly spicy. On a sultry summer’s night it’s easy to think yourself in another part of the world entirely. Very West Vegas.
Cafe Thai Tapas, 35 Stainland Road, Greetland, Halifax, HX4 8AD. 01422 310804, cafethaiwest.co.uk
Open: Monday to Saturday, 5-11pm; Sunday, 4-10pm.