When you think of Thailand, what comes to mind? I'm guessing stunning beaches, lush vegetation, delicious food, LadyBoys, tuk tuks, temples...you'd be forgiven for thinking this was a piece of travel writing exploring the experiences of a backpacker arriving in this popular tourist destination. But some of this is what you get when you're lucky enough to be invited to the official launch of Thaikhun in Spinningfields.
As a fan of Thai food, I was thrilled to be asked to pop along and celebrate the opening of Thaikhun - translated as 'Your Thailand', and the newest addition to the Chaophraya family. As soon as we arrived it was apparent this is no ordinary Thai restaurant - the front space accommodates rusty bicycles and an ACTUAL tuk-tuk. Anyone who's ever travelled to South East Asia, or indeed watched any intrepid travel show, would be able to associate both modes of transport as something expected during your stay. This is a restaurant that does nothing by halves.
We entered and were greeted by a beautiful lady in traditional Thai dress - we greeted her in return and she was most obliging when later in the evening, in typical tourist style and buoyed by a cocktail or two, we asked for a photograph. As soon as you step inside you are struck by the interior - a stylish mash-up of exposed industrial fittings and beach-shack chic. The more you look, the more there is to see, from vintage portraits, number plates and signs, to fishing paraphernalia and shrines. I'm reliably informed that everything comprising the unique decor was sourced from Thailand, including a bookseller's entire market stall, and the co-founder's straw hat, a nod to the restaurant's traditional roots, something Thaikhun clearly want to preserve.
The drinks were flowing and our server explained that the delicious cocktails were unique, created especially for the event. I enjoyed a surprisingly sweet and herbaceous combination of Havana rum, lime juice and pandanus leaf - the Thai name of which escapes me (perhaps testament to the generous measures *ahem*), while Mr Nicole had a beer in his clutches quicker than you can say 'Singha'. The other cocktail on offer, standing innocuously in vast glass jugs, was Mango Lassi. Usually consumed to soothe the post-spice palate, this lassi was the perfect blend of mango juice, lime juice and Vodka, and I can assure you, was so moreish I found myself needing to 'soothe' my palate on several occasions.
The canapes, well-paced, were served by lovely, friendly staff - all young and harem-pant clad, as if they were off to a Full Moon party. Beautifully presented in cocktail glasses, we both enjoyed the crispy fried pork belly with papaya salad - the well-balanced fish sauce-based dressing undressed on the tongue to reveal a fiery, birdseye chili underlayer that left a sharp tingle on the lips. We also sampled the cute, pop-straight-in-your-mouth corn cakes and chicken and prawn wontons, both accompanied by a not-too-sweet chilli dipping sauce. And I think this is what will set Thaikhun apart from any other Thai chains (plans are in place to extend the brand, in time) - the flavours are definitely, punchily Thai, but definitely not so transformed for European tastes that they become overly sweet, or indeed, weakened versions of traditional dishes.
As if all this wasn't enough, halfway through the evening we were treated to some 'entertainment' that turned out to be a special performance by three lovely Ladyboys. The dances were just as you'd expect from that now-famous export - fun, flirty and with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek glitz. As I am due to experience the new Ladyboys of Bangkok show in a couple of weeks' time, I giddily enjoyed the performance as an appetiser. Mr Nicole, on the other hand, wasn't as impressed, claiming, "I could put on a costume and dance like that". Hmmm. I'll leave my reply to your imagination...
I suspect that Thaikhun will be a roaring success. The design manages to be both rustic and chic, and the food, judging by the standard of the canapes, will be authentic, but also fresh and inspired. For an establishment named 'Your Thailand', Thaikhun succeeds in fondly reminding its customers of their travelling experiences, or inspiring them to visit. As I am soon to become one of these very backpackers, Thaikhun's offical launch party considerably raised my excitement levels as I anticipate eating and drinking in places very similar, if not slightly more rustic. After all, as an addition to Manchester's Thai cuisine scene, you can hardly beat a glowing endorsement by the acting Ambassador for Thailand, can you?