Thai Fine Dining at Chaophraya Leeds

November 11, 2016

More often than not, when I am invited to blogger events, I can't make them. They're often held during the week, when I'm working - it always frustrates me! Having received an email inviting me to the VIP new menu launch at Chaophraya a few weeks ago, it was yet another email I had to reply with my regretful decline to. However, this case was different - I was emailed back asking if I'd like to come along and try another time! This cheered me up no end, and I of course accepted their very kind offer. As such, I was able to review on a weekend, when both me and Martin could go and enjoy an evening of new and exciting food and experiences. I've never really eaten Thai food before - only dabbled in a couple of dishes here and there, and nothing truly authentic - so I was very excited to be dining at one of the most well known Thai restaurants in Leeds.

Review of Chaophraya Leeds' new menuInterior decor of Chaophraya LeedsTable decoration at Chaophraya Leeds

Tucked away on Swinegate in Leeds city centre, if I'm honest I'd never really paid it much attention before. It's in an area of Leeds that I don't tend to visit very often, and when I have, I've been on the way to somewhere else. However, the exterior is really quite eye-catching, with large bay windows showing customers eating Thai food in the traditional manner (seated on the floor as opposed to sitting at a table). Once you venture inside, the decor is overwhelmingly beautiful and unique - or at least it was to my eyes. Fish tanks on the walls, statues on every corner, stunning artwork everywhere you looked. Amongst all this however, it was very clean and elegant; the tables themselves were simple, with fresh flowers adorning each one. When we arrived we were taken straight upstairs, and given time to peruse the menu and order ourselves some drinks. Beer drinkers we are, so beer is what we chose; a Lowlander IPA for me, brewed with coriander and white tea, and a Little Creatures Pale Ale for Martin. I was impressed that Chaophraya offered something other than the usual suspects and was quite happy with the selection, but Martin thought that they could offer more. More choice is always good, but these two beers we chose I thought went very well with our food, so no complaints from me!

Prawn crackers at Chaophraya LeedsSoft shell crab and squid tempura at Chaophraya LeedsSteamed dumplings at Chaophraya Leeds

We were taking some time to decide what to eat (I was more indecisive than usual because it all sounded good!), so to keep us going we were brought some crackers. I want to say that they were prawn crackers, but they were unlike any that I'd ever had before. They were complimented with a subtly spicy dip, and were soon demolished before we'd even finished choosing what we wanted to eat from the menu! The menus themselves are unlike any I have seen before, with wooden covers and opening out into one large sheet. The menu guides you through a journey - explaining how the restaurant takes its name from the main waterway in Thailand - and begins with small plates, or what we more commonly know as starters. Chaophraya recommend choosing a dish each and sharing amongst your company, so that's what we did! I chose the soft shell crab and squid tempura, with wing bean and asparagus tempura and chilli and lime avocado dip. When this arrived, I thought that it was a rather large portion of food. However, once I started to work my way through I realised that it was very light, thanks to the crispy batter, and full of unusual and interesting flavours. Surprisingly, my favourite part of the dish was the asparagus tempura; I think it's because I've never had it that way before, and it made me see asparagus in a whole new light! The dip was also something special, adding a sharp bite that really brought the dish to life. Martin ordered the steamed prawn and pork dumplings, topped with fried garlic and a sweet soy sauce. Now, if anything has garlic on it, Martin is all over it - and this dish was right up his street. These were very rich in flavour, but like the tempura were surprisingly light in texture. Steamed dumplings are a favourite of ours, and these were among the best that I've ever had. The garlic came through but not too strongly, and was balanced well with the sweetness of the sauce. The meat inside was perfectly cooked; so well in fact, that it was like they were part of the dumplings themselves. The dumplings soaked up the soy sauce and the garlic, so that every bite was succulent and intense; not a dry patch was in sight, which to me was a very good thing.

Chicken Pad Thai at Chaophraya LeedsStir fried crispy pork belly at Chaophraya LeedsSide dish of steamed noodles at Chaophraya Leeds

Next on our journey through Thai cuisine was the main course. I really didn't know what to choose; to be honest, I found the mains selection a bit overwhelming, in the sense that there were a lot of dishes featured. In the end, I decided to go for a Thai classic and chose the Chicken Pad Thai - stir-fried rice noodles in tamarind sauce, with chicken, spring onions, carrots, egg, tofu, sweet turnip and bean sprouts, topped with pickled vegetables. As you can see, there were a lot of ingredients in this dish, and I was curious to see how they would all work together. I was expecting an abundance of complex flavours, but in actual fact it was a very simple and elegant dish. No one flavour overpowered another, but instead all worked together to create the classic that it is known to be. I did particularly enjoy the chicken, which was tender and juicy; quite impressive I thought, as the cuts of meat were quite large for such a dish. The pickled vegetables were an appreciated bonus, and worked well with the dish as a whole. Martin chose the crispy pork belly with Thai basil, served with a side of steamed noodles. Created with sugar snap peas, peppers, fresh chillies, garlic and hot basil leaves, it surprised us both when it arrived on a bed of - what I guessed to be - pak choi! However, this didn't put him off and he soon got stuck in. The pork belly was, in his opinion, absolutely perfect. Like with the chicken in my dish, the meat was tender on the inside, but suitably crisp on the outer and delicately enhanced by the chilli and garlic sauce. Pork belly is one of Martin's favourite dishes, so when he finds a good one, I soon know about it! I had a try, and even though I'm not usually a fan of pork belly, it got a big thumbs-up from me. The steamed noodles, with fried garlic and soy sauce, accompanied this dish perfectly, and made for an extremely satisfying meal.

Mockingbird cocktail at Chaophraya LeedsMexican Pudding cocktail at Chaophraya LeedsThai Dessert Sampler at Chaophraya LeedsWhite Chocolate Box at Chaophraya Leeds

To finish, we were tempted with the dessert menu - not that I needed much persuasion! I decided to go for something that I'd never have before, which was the Thai dessert sampler; Thai pancakes, with pandan leaf custard and mango sticky rice. Along with all of the other dishes, this was so beautifully presented, that it almost looked too good to eat. The pancakes had an unusual texture, but in a good way; the taste as well as this reminded me of a sweet that I've had before, but can't place. The custard inside was smooth and creamy, as you would expect, but not as sweet as I had anticipated. This paired beautifully with the fresh mango, and again with the sticky rice. This reminded me a lot of rice pudding, but much lighter and with a beautiful, delicate flavour. If you ever visit Chaophraya, you simply must try this dessert - it was sublime. With my final course I decided to try out one of their cocktails, and one in particular had caught my eye; the Mockingbird (In a Cage), made with Jinzu gin, Maraschino, pink grapefruit juice, cherry and soda. The cocktail itself sounded delicious, but I was really curious about how it was going to be presented! When it arrived, it really made me laugh - it was indeed in a cage, just like the menu said. It was a bit of a gimmick and actually a little inconvenient to drink out of, but it was good fun and it would certainly draw attention at a party table! For Martin's dessert, he ordered the White Chocolate Box; white chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis, on butter shortbread and served with a mini macaroon and passion fruit syrup. The mousse was firm, so it held its ground very well, but soft and melted easily in the mouth. The raspberry coulis, which I was expecting to be drizzled on the top, was actually inside the mousse itself, adding a sweet tang to the dish - the same could be said for the passion fruit syrup. The shortbread was crumbly but added some much-needed crunch, and the mini macaroon I thought complimented the mousse quite well. Martin's cocktail was far less showy than mine, but was equally as delectable. Featuring in the list of after-dinner cocktails, the Mexican Pudding was created with Ron Zacapa, Frangelico, cream, agave, espresso and chocolate. It was definitely more of a man's cocktail if there ever was one, and even though I declined to taste it, I was assured that it packed a lot of punch - both in flavour and in alcoholic content!

Review of the new menu at Chaophraya Leeds

My first visit to Chaophraya (Martin had dined there before, but it was a very long time ago) - and my first true foray into Thai cuisine - was certainly an eye-opening experience for me. The atmosphere of the restaurant was quite unlike any other that I had been in, and made you feel like you weren't in Leeds at all, but on a completely different continent. I imagine this is amplified when you seated and dine in a traditional Thai fashion, and it's something I would love to do one day. The food, as mentioned previous was all beautifully presented; it is clear to see that Chaophraya really do believe in taking you on their journey throughout the menu, exploring the dishes in all their complexity, and the presentation definitely lived up to my expectations. The quality of the food was excellent, and the ingredients used were fresh - always a good thing in a restaurant of this standing. I would say that the prices are a little higher than what I would expect to pay, but for your money you are getting a unique experience, and it would be the perfect treat for that special occasion. We had a lovely evening at Chaophraya Leeds, sampling the finest in Thai cuisine, and I can't wait to visit again in the future.

Disclaimer: Our meal was complimentary, but this does not affect my opinion in any way.

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