Busaba – Eathai. Yes it’s a chain of restaurants but it’s a small one. It carries none of the trappings of typical mid-range chain restaurants but rather each of its establishments has the air of a well-loved, well-designed, one-off traditional Thai restaurant.
I found the newest addition to the portfolio on Panton Street in London’s West End. It’s a stone’s throw from both Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, with their cinemas and theatres, but it’s hidden on a quiet side road. Its location is prime, if one only knew it was there. It’s only been open a few months and it’s already becoming the regular haunt of those who want great Thai food sans mortgage.
It’s stunning. A large restaurant with teak as its over-riding theme. The walls are covered. The pillars are covered. The tables are large, square 10-seaters in solid teak, paired with benches. There are deep-set windows punctuating the restaurant’s outside walls and these offer nooks for parties of two or three. The solid wood stools add to the subtle but evocative ambiance.
Busaba on Panton Street is unmistakably Thai but it isn’t over themed. There are no extraneous decorations. No pictures of Thai elephants adorn these walls. It’s the acceptable face of minimalist, but the materials, or in this case material, namely teak, speaks for itself. It’s warm chic-rustic and charming.
But a reviewer cannot live by wall treatments alone. Would the food realise what the décor had promised? Well, in a nutshell, yes it did. I was expecting a rather fast-foodie approach which is the result of my not always justified attitude to chain restaurants. A look at this particular restaurant had persuaded me that Busaba could offer a surprise or two. In fact it offered more than that. Chef Krit Sangsida, known as Jude, is the creator of the menu here.
It offers a good number of celebrated Thai dishes along with some innovations. We ordered the ubiquitous Pad Thai – rice noodle with prawn, dried shrimp, tofu, egg, peanut, beansprout and lime with a garnish of crushed peanuts. A good solid example of its genre.
Green chicken curry is another standard but this one packed a punch. The chilli-induced heat was appropriately evident but the aromatics still shone, giving a flavourful light sauce strewn with chunks of meat and the miniature Thai green pea aubergines which resemble capers.
Duck in tamarind sauce with Chinese broccoli was memorable and a must-try on those days when you don’t mind choosing one of the high-end dishes. The duck was cooked to pink and juicy perfection and the char-grilled flavour was unmistakable. The tamarind sauce could more reasonably be described as a delicate dressing, and complemented the meat.
Pandan chicken with garlic and coriander root wrapped in pandan leaf has a spectacular presentation. Pyramids of green and glossy leaf bundles stuffed with some of the best chicken I have tasted. Visually appealing and gastronomically moreish. Nothing bland and flabby here. A signature dish if ever there was one.
Thai calamari with ginger and peppercorn was a bowl of seafood that I would order time and time again. Yes, it is that good. Squid can so easily transform itself into rubber. It demands cooking at a high heat or it steams in its own juices. This example was expertly cooked by chef Sanjeev. A sweet and delicious coating with a slight crunch. It’s a dish to nibble on and linger over.
Coconut rice completed our meal and even this simple staple was served with style. Packed into a lidded bamboo tube it looked every bit like part of a picnic for a day in the Thai jungle. An ethnic and practical serving solution.
Ginger and honey tea, and Pandan leaf tea, served with cashew and coconut cookies concluded our visit. Delicately flavoured and piping hot, these drinks were refreshing palate-cleansers on a warm sticky day. If it had not been for the cityscape outside those windows we could have thought ourselves in a smart eatery in Thailand. Perhaps Busaba is the affordable alternative.
Monday–Thursday 12 noon–11.00pm
Friday–Saturday 12 noon–11.30pm
Sunday 12 noon–10.00pm
Asian restaurant review: Busaba – Eathai – Panton Street
35 Panton Street, Westminster, London SW1Y 4EA
Phone: 020 7930 0088
Visit Busaba here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018