Thai Feast Triggers Trip Down Memory Lane

New operators take over the kitchens at The Old Pack Horse

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Back in the days that preceded marriage, mortgage and three children, my now husband and I used to frequent The Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street. It was for us then what Yupa’s Kitchen is for us now, a no brainer. On each visit we carefully considered the menu, contemplated trying something new but when it came to order without fail went for number one (Pad Thai with chicken). And we were so possessive of our favourite haunt as if we were the ones who discovered it regardless of the fact that the place was consistently packed with fellow Thai food fanatics and well-heeled drinkers (well we were in those days before the mortgage and three children although I seem to remember the term at the time was DINKYs).

Anyway we hadn’t had Thai food for quite some time for one reason or another until I discovered that the kitchens in The Old Pack Horse have recently been taken over by the same people who run the kitchen at The Churchill Arms. Surely this was fate, or a sign, a calling or maybe just a coincidence? Whatever it was it was good news. We decided to try it out in great style and went along to their special Thai Food and Wine Evening. For £25 per head, we were promised five courses of Thai food with five different wines to accompany each course (I have to admit at this point to being slightly concerned that they were going to be Thai wines. Thai beer yes but Thai wine?).

Upon arrival we were told that The Old Pack Horse had employed the services of Lewis Ragbourn, formerly chief wine buyer for Fuller’s, for the evening to speak about each of the wines – from France, South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia - which he did with great eloquence. Evidently a well travelled, Lewis was able to give us an insight into the wine regions as well as the climate, grape varieties and, at times, told tales about the châteaux that produced it. Fortunately for us the packed restaurant was too noisy for him to speak to the group as a whole so each table was treated to their own private audience and we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted.

The wine was an agreeable aside to the main event which, for us, was the food. And with it being a set menu there were no deliberations to be had. To start we shared a platter of chicken satay, Thai fish cakes and spring rolls each accompanied by their own dipping sauces. It was all good if a little basic, we wanted to be wowed. Which we were by the next course of Tom Yum Prawns in a hot and sour soup with lime leaves and lemon grass, a searingly spicy concoction so tasty we were almost replete by the end of the bowl.

The main course of Salmon Choo Chee (fried salmon in a red curry sauce) and Yum Neau (spicy beef salad) were both good but paled somewhat in comparison to the marvellous soup. The dessert of mango with sticky rice and coconut milk however, proved to be real comfort food not something we’d associated with Thai and it soothed our palates very nicely.

Service was faultless. Charming and courteous, the Thai staff were consistently eager to please to the point that, although we struggled to finish our desserts, we did so as to not offend them.

We will be returning if only to check out what The Old Pack Horse’s ‘number one’ is. And even though we do now have a new favourite in the Tom Yum Prawns, it takes nothing away from our memories of the perfect Pad Thai in a little place we know in Kensington.

Emma Brophy

July 3, 2008