I have fond memories of eating at Thai House in the mid-90s when I lived just off Hull’s Princes Ave, where the restaurant has stood since before the renaissance that saw the street become the culinary centre of East Yorkshire. Oddly, on my return this week, I’m told that Thai House only opened in 2001. I think this speaks volumes about the state in which I spent much of the 90s.
However, despite my addled memory, this misconception is vaguely indicative of the general view that Thai House is a stalwart of Prinny Ave, albeit one that is often dismissed as just another chug-along curry house.
While it is certainly a firmly permanent fixture, it’s much more than just another uncomplicated, complacent curry house. In fact, since its recent change of ownership and refurbishment, it’s now a solid, vital, imaginative place to part with your monthly food pound.
Thai House was bought in the autumn of last year by first-time restaurateur Gabrielle Rowland, who was looking for a fresh challenge and saw the restaurant as a solid investment with the potential to excel. She bought a popular, profitable restaurant and my big concern when I learned of the purchase and subsequent refurbishment was that one of my favourite Far East food options in the East Riding would be ruined by some new, over-eager, misguided management. Don’t ruin a perfectly good restaurant, was my concerned cry.
I needn’t have fretted. The refurb amounted to some very canny titivating, a lick of paint, some newfound light and space and less of the clutter that may have given Thai House atmosphere but also left it feeling somewhat tired. Gabrielle also did the right thing and kept all the existing staff – most of whom are actually from Thailand – and (best of all) left the menu pretty much alone. She just added some new, really excellent dishes to bolster the roster. So, on a rainy Monday night, me and a mate ordered a couple bottles of Chang, selected a window seat and stuck our heads in the menu to see what was what.
This is very much a traditional Thai restaurant so there are plenty of the curry, noodle and stir-fry dishes you would expect. This isn’t to dismiss them, though, as they are always never less than very good. Trying to be a bit more adventurous, however, we opted for starters of Plah Meak Tod – very tasty lightly battered squid with chilli and coriander – and Tort Man Plah, which were delicious little fishcakes with green beans, lemongrass and lime leaves, served with sweet, spicy sauce.
Because I had once had it elsewhere and loved it, we also shared Laab – gorgeous crispy little nuggets of minced chicken, stir-fried with chilli, spring onion, coriander, mint and lime.
You stack these onto a lettuce leaf and shovel them into your face as quickly as possible so that whoever you’re sharing it with doesn’t get more than you. It immediately became a straight-out race to see who could gorge themselves on the lion’s share of the loveliness before us. I won.
Mains consisted of Pat Kratiem Prik Thai, a garlic and white pepper stir-fry served with a choice of meat – in this case, chicken. It was a fairly standard noodly affair but well balanced and cooked so that the veg (carrot, bean sprout, Chinese leaves etc) still had plenty of bite. I had Pet Yhang, which was crispy duck with spinach, tomato and cucumber and a tamarind sauce that was a little too sweet for my taste. But the duck was beautifully juicy and the noodles I ordered with it managed to divert my attention from the sauce, so I’ll let it off.
Most people wouldn’t order desserts in a Thai restaurant but I would encourage you to do so here. Not so much for the chilli chocolate brownie (which was so hot it had my pal gulping his beer in a frantic attempt to get his eyes to uncross) but for the Khao Neeo Mamuang, which I had and adored.
It’s half a mango, cubed and served with sticky coconut rice pudding and drizzled with yogurt. It’s perfectly sweet and chewy and utterly fab. I could have eaten it three times over, at least.
As it’s always been, Thai House is reasonable value for money. We spent just shy of £78, which is fair and certainly doesn’t seem to put off the loyal regulars. I had noticed that the restaurant was surprisingly busy for a Monday night and was packed when I passed again a few nights later.
Surely a sign that the change of ownership has done nothing to diminish this old warhorse’s popularity?
In a time when there has never been more culinary competition on Hull’s flourishing Avenues area, Thai House remains one of the best and most reliable pre-boom eateries. There are whispers of another Thai restaurant opening soon just up the way on Newland Ave, but as long as Gabrielle and her team keep on coming up with the goods, it’ll take something very special indeed to steal custom away from here.
• Thai House, 51 Princes Ave, Hull HU5 3QY. 01482 473473. Open: Sunday to Thursday, 5.30–10pm; Friday and Saturday, 5.30–11pm. Open for lunch, 12-4pm at weekends.