A couple of decades ago a Thai restaurant was rare. It’s the advent of cheaper long-haul flights and more adventurous eating habits that has allowed this exciting and vibrant cuisine a foothold in London. Its flavours combine the whole available spectrum from sweet to spicy and everything in between.
There are good Thai restaurants all over the capital and these days most high streets have an example. One of the best, however, is neatly tucked away inside the anonymous confines of the Lancaster London hotel at Lancaster Gate. The 1960 facade offers not a hint of the exotic opulence awaiting the diner on the first floor.
It might seem a bit cheeky to walk through those revolving doors into one of the smartest 5-star hotels in London. It is, however, a public restaurant open to passing trade as well as hotel guests. Just march past reception, turn to the left, up the stairs to the right and across the hall. You won’t miss Nipa. It has the most striking and elegant frontage of any restaurant. A vision of intricately carved teak which sets the scene for more of the same inside.
Nipa is the twin of the Nipa in Bangkok’s Landmark Hotel. Nipa is one of a small group of Thai restaurants in the UK to have received the “Thai Select” award from the Thai Government for restaurants achieving the highest standards of quality and cuisine. There are only 15 such award-holders in the UK. It’s the equivalent of a Thai Michelin star so we were assured of something special.
The charming manager of the London incarnation of Nipa, Mr. Kaseam Jongpitikrat, told us that Nipa was named after the owner’s wife and it means ‘pretty lady’. The restaurant takes on that characteristic, being one of the most attractive restaurants you will ever find. It gives the sense of an authentic wooden bungalow. It’s ornate with nooks displaying Thai crafts. It seats 60 or so and this creates an intimate ambiance. The floor-to-ceiling windows have one of the most enviable views in London. The Italian Gardens and the trees of Hyde Park will be the backdrop to your meal. The waiting staff are dressed in white costumes with gold sashes to add still further to the atmosphere.
Head chef Ms. Nongyao Thoopchoi was one of the staff, along with Mr. Kaseam Jongpitikrat, who came from Bangkok to open London’s Nipa in 1995. She and the other lady chefs of the Nipa kitchen are responsible for the preparation of this vibrant food from traditional recipes, each platter superbly garnished with carved fruit and vegetables. A touch of royal elegance.
Thai prawn crackers with real peppery bite were our nibbles as we perused the menu. You don’t need to be an expert on Thai cuisine. The staff are all Thai and are happy to advise you about the dishes that will best suit your taste. If in doubt then consider one of the set menus. Some dishes are fiery hot but others are more subtle.
The mixed starter platter gave us a selection of different small bites. Por Pia Tod – deep-fried spring rolls with glass noodles and crab meat, prawn-filled Beggars Purses, Tod Man Pla -Thai fish cakes with dipping sauce, and Chicken Satay with cucumber relish and one of the best peanut sauces I have had in ages. Rich and thick and I could eat a bowlful with a spoon. A must-try at Nipa.
The first of our main courses arrived. The crab was a delight: Yum Ma Muang Poo Nim, crispy soft-shell crab with spicy mango salad. The batter was crunchy and more evident than that for, say, tempura but it was light and marvellously seasoned by the green mango, which gave freshness to the dish.
The stir-fried scallops with green asparagus – Nor Mai Fa Rang Phad Hoy Shell was a delicate dish. The texture of the bright vegetables was contrasted with the superbly cooked shellfish. A flavourful sauce bathed both components and was a garnish for the fluffy rice.
Thai Green Chicken Curry – Kaeng Kiew Warn Kai – was both spicy and aromatic. Full of white chicken with a creamy sauce. A typical Thai menu item but done well here. Yes, it’s a standard dish but it’s popular because this authentic Thai Green curry is remarkable, with depth of flavour and unctuous texture. The Nipa curry is doubtless a favourite with its many regular visitors.
Lychees were my dessert of choice as I love that distinctive perfumed taste – cool and a good digestive. My guest ordered the slightly more adventurous, delicious and strikingly red Tab Tim Krob – water-chestnuts coated with tapioca flour in coconut milk and syrup, served in a Martini glass. That has to be the perfect dessert to end a romantic Thai meal.
Nipa is award-winning and it’s easy to see why. There is casual elegance, charm and grace. We might not all be able to afford a trip to Thailand but an evening at the Royal Lancaster offers a few hours of tranquillity and lovely food.
Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat:
Lunch: 12:00pm – 2:00pm,
Dinner: 6:30pm – 10:30pm
Sun: 6:30pm – 10:30pm
Asian restaurant review: Nipa Thai Restaurant
1st Floor, Lancaster London Hotel, Lancaster Terrace, London W2 2TY
Phone: 020 7551 6039
Visit Nipa Thai Restaurant here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018