Oxford Street is one of London’s retail arteries. It’s a ribbon of fashion outlets from the celebrated and well-established Selfridges to a flourishing number of stalls selling trashy T-shirts and even more dubious souvenirs. The world of both good and bad taste can be your oyster.
So you have perhaps enjoyed splashing the cash on that great colourful shopping street and you are looking for food. Or you might be a desk-bound local office worker who has been yearning for the end of the day and a delicious meal. Where to go? You are spoilt for choice but many restaurants here are to be avoided. They rely on passing trade and they know that that trade will likely only be passing once. They don’t have to try – they know you won’t be back whatever the quality of the meal.
But walk up the side road called Berners Street past the sandwich emporium and have a very fine dinner from the Thai culinary palette. This is Patara, and they are trying, and cultivating a loyal following. It’s part of a small chain of Thai restaurants with branches internationally and, interestingly, that includes Thailand.
I am no stranger to Patara. It’s my restaurant of choice when I want Thai food in Knightsbridge, but it was my first time at the Berners Street branch, and they had a hard act to follow. Granted, the décor is totally different, but they both have the same intimate ambiance. Berners Street is cool and contemporary with only a slight nod to Asia by way of the carved wall treatment. But the food and presentation is distinctly Thai.
The menu is extensive and they evidently take advantage not only of traditional Thai spicing but also of local produce. We chose for both taste and beauty, and it was a feast over which to linger. Starters were traditional Fishcakes with agreeable heat supplied from the sweet chilli dipping sauce. These patties are laced with red curry and perfumed with kaffir lime leaves, crushed roasted peanut, and coriander. Chor Muang are handcrafted lilac dumplings and are memorable for their delicacy and colour. They are filled with caramelised chicken and peanuts and garnished with coconut cream. Would love to see how these are made.
Chestnut Duck and Prawn – duck breast and king prawn sautéed with chestnut, cashews, bell pepper, and goji berries – was my guest’s choice of main dish. It was a vision of vegetables, meat and seafood, and seasoned to perfection. Almost too beautiful to eat …almost.
Lamb Shank Massaman – Coconut milk-braised lamb in a mild homemade curry of warm spices and garnished with almond and pickled onion – was my choice. This must surely be one of two signature dishes here, the first being the aforementioned prawn and duck dish. I can honestly say that this lamb shank is the best I have had in years. No, not just the best Thai lamb (I think it’s the first Thai lamb dish I have ever had, actually) but the best lamb shank of any culinary hue. The meat was falling off the bone, moist, flavourful and addictive. If you love lamb then this is the dish for you. Outstanding.
But even the side dishes are worth a mention here. We ordered aubergine with red chilli and pickled soya and this is interesting enough to have as a vegetarian main dish. And then there was the coconut shell filled with roasted Riceberry Rice with sweet coconut water. This is a new variety of rice that has been produced in Thailand. It’s nutty, hearty and quite unique.
Patara Berners Street has a great location and it’s well worth taking those few steps away from the throngs on Oxford Street. Could they improve anything? Well, yes. I would have a sign outside that’s is at least twice as big. Be proud, Patara, be very proud.
5 Berners Street
Phone: 020 7580 9923
Monday – Sunday: noon – 15.00
Sunday – Tuesday: 17.30 – 22.30
Wednesday – Saturday: 17.30 – 23.00
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018