Thai food: I have to admit, it's not something I grew up with. My hometown was not big on ethnic cuisine (other than Italian and Chinese restaurants) until well into the 1990s. Sure we had a couple of curry houses, but these were Indian curry - definitaly not Thai. It was only in the late 1990s that the first Thai restaurant in port Elizabeth (Natti's Thai Kitchen) crossed my radar, and within a couple of years I had departed for London. So to me, Thai food (like dim sum) is something that I associate largely with London. Not really surprising as there are loads of Thai restaurants in London, from the cheap and cheerful to the really quite pricey. Ora restaurant lies somewhere in the middle.
The night I visited, I arrived in my usual sweary stress-ball state, having walked all over town looking for a particular bottle of wine in shoes clearly not designed for, umm, walking. But stepping inside, I have to say that the stress almost immediately dissipated. The restaurant opened late in 2010 and has been decked out in a low-lit, rather sleek and sexy style. The super-smiley staff pad around in uniforms designed by design house Max Mara and you feel miles away from the bustle of the street outside. We (myself, Michelle from Greedy Gourmet, Solange from Pebble Soup and a fourth friend) started with cocktails – a selection of good champagne-based fruity ones and a rather spectacular non-alcoholic one. There are also a number of signature cocktails featuring ingredients like lemon grass, ginger and mango.
The menu is fairly extensive and features all the standard traditional Thai dishes you would expect. For starters, we went with the server's recommendation and ordered Mieng Kaum (roasted coconut mixed with pomelo, peanut, lime, dried shrimps, ginger and chillies, served on betel leaves with a tamarind sauce – £6.50) as well as the Silk Trader platter of mixed starters including chicken satay, prawn tempura, crab cakes, vegetable spring rolls and calamari strips (£8.50). I LOVED the Mieng Kaum – it was such a riot of flavours and textures and reminded me of a Thai version of the excellent chaat I had at Woodlands restaurant in Marylebone. And I am a sucker for anything served on an edibile leaf! The platter was less successful. Although the tempura prawns and chicken satay were tasty; good and the spring rolls present and correct, the crab cakes were strangely soggy and the calamari strips underseasoned and underwhelming.
Mains proved to be far more consistent and successful. My three companions had the Kaeng Ped Phed Yang red duck curry with lychee, cherry tomatoes, chillies and sweet basil (£14.50); the Pla Paow – grilled sea bream served with braised fennel, chili and lime sauce (£16.25); and the Hoy Shell Pad Nam Prik Paow – fresh scallops with Thai spicy sauce and sweet basil (£17.50); while I had the recommended Ped Yang Nam Makam – grilled duck breast with sweet & spicy tamarind sauce (£16.50). I have to say that my duck ws a superb example – crispy skin, perfectly pink flesh and beutifully matched with the sweet braised red cabbage that it was served on. The scallops were perfectly pillowy and plump; while the red duck curry was a revelation – who knew lychees worked so well with duck? But the surprise of the evening was the sea bream – it sounded so unassuming but the taste delighted us all – so infused with fresh, bright flavour yet not overwhelmed.
Desserts were OK, if not stellar. A fruit pavlova was piled high with all manner of fruit (melon, pineapple, kiwi fruit, berries) and carefully plated but unexciting, and used what tasted like supermarket meringue nests. The chocolate cheesecake was dense and gooey but not particularly chocolatey and its rather-too-runny berry coulis made the plate look a little like a CSI crime scene. Solange pushed the boat out and ordered Sarm Sa-Hai which is a selection of Thai desserts (I recall there being a shot of ginger tea, a sweet rice parcel, little sweet fried pastry balls and peciuliar wedges of alternating white and green jelly (lime and pandan??). Although not particularly challenging, I would not bother ordering this again unless you have a particular hankering to re-live a long-forgotten Thai holiday. My pie supparod (pineapple pie served with warm crème anglais) was definitely my favourite. I guess I was expecting something more like a tarte tatin or open tart – but it certainly was a double crust pie, filled with diced pineapple. A not-too-sweet end to the meal.
As I said previously, staff were unfailingly smiley and helpful throughout the evening, and most of their menu recommendations hit the spot. Although starters and desserts were patchy, the main courses were all excellent and I loved the cocktails. The vibe is sleek and a litle sexy, making this a great place for a dinner a deux or an evening out with the girls after a hard day's shopping in the West End.
6 Little Portland Street
Tel. +44 (0)20 7637 0125