One Friday night not that long ago, I dined with friends on the top floor of A9 Mitsukoshi in Xinyi. It was a lovely meal (which I will review another time) but to get to that restaurant I had to forcefully navigate through hordes waiting for another venue – Thai Town Cuisine. I couldn’t help wondering what all the fuss was about. Was there a movie star inside? A party? Or was the food exceptionally good? I made a mental note to come back and try THAT restaurant next time.
Having now eaten at Thai Town I can appreciate why it does such good business. I went to a different venue – there are twenty to choose from – but my experience at the Ren’ai Road branch was a happy one. Business was perhaps not as brisk as downtown Xinyi on a Friday night, but there was still a happening vibe even on a dreary afternoon when few people were about.
Thai Town is reasonably priced, reasonably authentic and reasonably mild – if you want it to be – with spicier options available. (Thai Town’s staff happily assisted in choosing dishes to suit those with milder palates among us, and thoughtfully provided chillies for those after a bit more kick.) While aimed at the middle-of-the-road market, Thai Town is far from mediocre: the food is fresh, the service attentive, and the overall ‘vibe’ hip yet relaxed and welcoming.
The Thai Town restaurant chain prides itself on its ‘authentic’ Thai cuisine. Staple Thai classics are done well, although there are definitely strong Taiwanese influences. Steamed sea bass with lemon was fresh and the flavour mimicked Thai-style sourness without being too sharp. Green curry chicken with green beans was simple, flavoursome and mild without being bland (NT $280). Although I would have preferred something more daring it was a nice, safe choice. However, spicy chicken stir fry more than compensated in terms of zing (NT $280). Served innovatively in a foil ‘bowl’ over a burner, there were overtones of Thai-inspired gongbao chicken. Not to be missed is Thai Town’s signature fried moon shrimp pancakes: crispy discs encasing a soft, prawn mixture (NT $320). We tried the original version, but the pancakes are also available in spicy, lemon grass and whole wheat versions. Although I only nibbled a corner (I am trying to be healthy) it took willpower to refuse a second bite.
But the standout dish was the grilled pork with Thai Dip (NT $380). The pork was lean yet succulent, strangely similar to leg ham off-the-bone, and served with Spanish onion slices and two dips – one with coriander/Thai flavours and a second bright orange paste. Finishing in close second for favourites was a Thai-fusion style dessert of warm black sticky rice with taro in coconut milk. Given the richness of the dish it would have been a struggle to finish a whole bowl, but a short taster of the chewy black rice bathed in thick, sweet coconut milk rounded off my meal nicely.
My only dislike with the Thai-style iced milk tea. It was an unappealing flurescent orange in colour, and served in large glass jars that that tried to be hip but were just plain impractical: too large for one person to finish, and not the right shape for sharing (I tried, unsuccessfully, and ended up with milk tea everywhere). Taste-wise it was also pretty ordinary, and definitely in need of a sweet flavour boost (even with the use of the provided sugar syrup).
Thai Town’s menu is in English, Japanese and Chinese, with pictures of key dishes, making menu ordering in a diverse group easy. Its banquet options are good value, although they will not substitute dishes. The Ren’ai restaurant is at 49 Ren’ai Road, Section 2 (ph: 2351 0960). For other venues, visit its website: www.thaitown.com.tw