In these challenging times it’s ambitious enough to open just one restaurant, let alone two. But this hasn’t deterred the restaurateurs behind Wild Rice and Mamasan. Located right in the heart of busy, insalubrious Soho, these two Thai eateries occupy different floors of the same narrow building – but they are more like co-habiting flatmates sharing the same bog roll and Netflix subscription rather than a gestalt entity. Indeed, they each have their own personality, with the slightly more formal Wild Rice on the ground floor, and the casual Mamasan hidden away in the basement. On our visit though only Wild Rice was open for service so Mamasan will have to wait for another time.
On Brewer Street certain things go with the territory: you expect bright lights and loud music. In Wild Rice, the thumping backdrop of dance music may not be to my personal taste, but at least you can (just about) talk over it. One wall is adorned with painted blocks in different colours like massive Duplo breeze blocks. This decor doesn’t exactly scream Thailand to you, but there’s no real room for subtlety anymore if you want to survive. Indeed, with Kiln doing a brisk trade just a few metres away, one has to ask if Brewer Street needs another Thai restaurant. The casual dining market is distressed as it is but it’s clear that Wild Rice is on a mission to be bold and differentiate itself from its nearest competitor. And I daresay, it’s a ruddy good alternative to hangrily queuing for a seat at Kiln.
When it comes to Thai cuisine, authenticity is crucial. So many times have I been disappointed by an insipid green curry that’s so over-loaded with sugar and coconut milk it might as well be a dessert. Ambience aside, the food at Wild Rice is certainly the star of the show. Indeed, for a restaurant so young they already have the hubris to claim that it is “reinvented” Thai cuisine. Whether that’s true I can’t be sure, but what they do serve is well-balanced and not sweetened too much for the British palate.
The menu centres around small (and not-so-small) plates to encourage sharing, as is de rigeur. First to be plonked on our table were the Hat Yai fried chicken wings, which were delicious and gently spiced – the chicken flesh succulent and moist, torn off the bone with ease. Along with this we sampled the “Goi Pla” ceviche which was oddly smaller than the so-called ‘bites’. Taking inspiration from the Peruvian classic dish but with Thai spices and that all-important lime juice to ‘cook’ the sea bass, this packed a punch, especially with a ‘Wild Child’ G&T to wash it down with.
The Thai calamari came in a tempura batter so light you’d hardly know it was there. Whilst these rings of squid may have looked anaemic in their ghostly coating, they tasted delightful. Clearly the kitchen can turn its hands to many things and do so with an original twist: the sweet chilli sauce did not have any of that cloying gloopiness you can get, and their take on special fried rice was a veritable protein and carb hit, packed full of chicken and prawns with a pickled yolk on top.
The lamb massaman curry may have appeared unappealing but it tasted better than it looked, the peanuts adding crunch and, well, nuttiness.
You can’t really expect a new restaurant to be wobble-free. My dining companion’s chicken kao soup tasted a little soapy, perhaps due to an uneven hand with the Sichuan pepper. The service was a little muddled too, with other tables’ orders being delivered to ours instead, or little things being forgotten, such as water glasses and side plates. The crucial thing is they were fully cognisant of this and accepted constructive criticism (a far more positive attitude than the defensive maitre d’ we encountered at St Leonards last year… but that’s a whole other story).
After that little feast I was as full as an egg – and for around £40 a head it’s fair value too. Yes there are improvements to be made – of course there are – but we had a perfectly fab meal and I would return.
28 Brewer Street
by J A Smith