The women behind Tanyalak offer a little taste of Thailand in the middle of Hull and, writes Dave Lee, the force is definitely with them.
In 1977, when Star Wars was released in the UK, demand for tickets was so great they had to reopen the glorious Dorchester cinema on George Street in Hull.
It was a particularly handsome 1930s building which had closed the year before. It was dusted off and pressed back into service as soon as it became obvious that the space blockbuster was more than the few remaining screens in town could handle.
I know, because nine-year-old me went to the opening night. As well as being blown away by the film, I remember the occasion because the projector broke down during the scene where Ben Kenobi gives Luke his father’s lightsaber. This caused a gaggle of nuns to boo ferociously for 10 minutes at the projection booth until the film limped back to life.
I’d never seen religious people behave like that before. I mention this only because the place where this slightly-odd childhood memory took place is the same spot where now stands my favourite Thai restaurant in the city.
Tanyalak (the name, apparently, means nothing specific in Thai) opened late last summer in one of the bland shop units they knocked up after the run of Star Wars ended and the old picture house was demolished. Run by a fabulous team of infectiously-enthusiastic and friendly Thai women, the restaurant offers classics from across South-East Asia and the home-cooking favourites of their head chef, who is known by her nickname of Pone (the name, apparently, means nothing specific in Thai).
I’ve visited half-a-dozen times now and I’m working my way slowly but surely through the entire menu. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Thai food will recognise most of the starters. Spring rolls, fish balls and gal (chicken) satay are all mainstays of the cuisine and present and correct, along with a dozen or so other options. I particularly like Moo Yung, a couple of skewered and grilled pork chops coated in sesame seeds and served with sweet chilli sauce; as is Tod Man Pla, which are three chewy, spongy, tasty deep-fried fish cakes.
The rest of the menu is made up of various salads, soups, curries, stir-fry, noodle and fish dishes. Not too many options in each category but there’s still plenty of choice. All of them can be ordered with the desired amount of chilli, something that is vital to complete wimps like me. I know some people like a lot of chilli in their food but I find it counterintuitive to voluntarily eat things that hurt.
For a light lunch, I’d recommend Som Tam Thai – a salad of papaya, tomatoes, dried shrimp, peanuts and various other lovely bits. It’s refreshing and light and goes superbly with a cold bottle of Singha. As does Laab Moo – minced chicken (or pork) with chilli, shallots, mint coriander and lime. It’s a fond favourite of mine and particularly delicious wrapped in lettuce leaf. It’s the mint and coriander mix that makes it.
Gaeng Massaman is a curry with your choice of meat (beef, chicken, pork) and potatoes, onion and peanut in a fragrant curry broth which is perfect for soaking up with the accompanying sticky rice.
There is the classic Pad Thai, obviously, but I prefer Guay Thai – noodles in a meaty broth with pork or beef balls, bean sprouts, coriander, spring onion and fried garlic and flavoured with star anise. It’s one of the dishes that I can handle a bit more chilli in because it gives the broth a head-turning kick.
There are also some intriguing pudding options as well. Served on a banana leaf, sticky banana rice is gloriously unctuous. Not too sweet, not too heavy, just right. Even better is the mung bean thai custard cake, which looks like a slab of heavy sponge but is, in fact, one of the lightest, nicest things you’ll ever eat. The custard part of the name is a bit deceptive as it’s baked into the cake, rather than poured on top, English-style. The cake dissolves the second it hits your tongue. It’s quite the pleasant surprise.
Never having been to Thailand, I can’t comment on how authentic any of the dishes are but I can tell you they’re all excellent and great value. You can have three courses and a couple of drinks for around £25 or a quick lunch for well under a tenner. The only real negative to point out is that, because Tanyalak has been fitted out on a tight budget, the interior is more like a cafe than restaurant but please don’t let the lack of sumptuousness put you off. Tanyalak is a fantastic little place, serving great value food, made by delightful people. More of you should go as there are always spare seats when I visit. I keep going for the food, obviously, but I’m also hoping to one day see a table of nuns booing the kitchen when their food is late. Hasn’t happened yet.
35 George Street, Hull, HU1 3BA. Tel: 01482 322201; www.tanyalak.com; open 12-10pm, every day.
Drink selection 3/5