Sometimes, you mean to go to a restaurant for ages and yet somehow never get round to it - and for no discernible reason. Chaophraya has long been such a venue for me - great-looking menu, handy city centre location, never heard anything about it but good things...and yet never been there.
All of that has now been put right, and frankly I was a fool not to have done it earlier. The place was packed on a wet Monday evening - perhaps with people taking advantage of the excellent value Early Bird offer whilst seeking refuge against the weather in this plush haven - always a good sign I think, particularly when those customers range from large groups to couples on a romantic night out (and greedy bloggers). We wanted to try a number of dishes and therefore chose to eat from the set menu list - there are different options here at a range of price points, but we went for a middle ground option with the "Set Maenum Yom" at £35.50 per person. Being of a greedy persuasion, we started with some good prawn crackers and some excellent Prawn Tom Yum soup - a little pricey perhaps at £8.95, but with just the right level of chilli and generous amounts of mushrooms and king prawns. This particular Tom Yum was thickened with coconut milk, giving it a lovely creamy texture that our waitress explained was more typical of the Northern regions of Thailand and which we felt heightened the traditional hot and sour flavours of the soup.
On to the set menu then, which began with a sharing platter of pork spare ribs, chicken satay, steamed dumplings, prawn and chicken toasts and deep-fried pork marinated with honey and Thai herbs. This offered a nice combination of appetisers and was flawless in its execution - all the different flavours stood out despite the variety of tastes and textures on the plate; my favourite was the sweet, sticky pork strips, but I would happily eat any of this again.
Main courses were equally varied, offering full portions of four different dishes: Four Seasons Duck Curry, Crispy Pork Belly with Thai Basil, King Prawns with Ginger and Beef in Black Pepper Sauce, served with egg-frid rice. The only disappointment here was the beef dish: the sauce was satisfyingly fiery but the meat mysteriously tough and chewy - a real shame, as earlier we'd particularly admired the scent and sizzle of this dish as it made its way past us to another table. The others were lovely though, particularly the rich and comforting duck curry; we also loved the contrast between the fatty, sticky pork cubes and the fragrant Thai basil-infused sauce.
They sensibly recognise that most diners are likely to be pretty full after this lot but may still fancy something sweet to finish off their meal - the fresh fruit and chocolate fondue was perfectly judged in terms of size and content (and as I hadn't noticed it on the menu also came as a very welcome surprise). Another pleasant surprise at Chaophraya is the wine list - we had an excellent Gewürztraminer that we thought very well-priced at £24.95, the slight sweetness coping well with both the spiciness and delicacy of the dishes we tried.
So, a very good meal in a place with lovely staff and a great buzz. Obviously Chaophraya is part of a chain (albeit a small one), and with the lovely Siam Smiles in Chinatown attracting so much attention at the moment for its cheap and authentic Thai food, it would be easy to dismiss Chaophraya as rather expensive and comparatively Anglicised. This is unhelpful - the two places offer completely different dining experiences and I count myself lucky to live somewhere which offers the choice. I will definitely be back for the Early Bird evening menu - now I've finally made it to Chaophraya I'm very much looking forward to going again.
- Chaophraya is at 19 Chapel Walks, Manchester M2 1HN. We were invited to try the menu and were not asked to pay for our food or drinks, but both agreed we would be more than happy to go again as paying customers.