SUKHOTHAI must be doing something right, since the mini-chain has four restaurants in Leeds and Harrogate, and is somewhat of a local culinary brand. So our expectations were understandably high.
We ventured to the Headingley branch on a midweek evening and found the restaurant about a third full, with the majority of customers being couples.
The decor, heavy on polished wood, was pleasant though nothing wildly imaginative at first glance. However on closer inspection, the sculptures - especially the big carved stone mural lining the back wall - were eye-catching and impressive.
We were shown to our table by a smiling, traditionally dressed waitress and handed a huge - both in size and variety - menu.
I feared it might take an hour just to read through the dishes which numbered around 200 in total!
Despite the sheer number of dishes, the layout of the menu was helpful, with each dish marked with a chilli-rating for heat and the Thai words for different meats, poultry and seafood listed and translated on the first page.
The heat factor ranges from mild (one chilli) to spicy (three chillis) so hopefully something to suit all palates.
The starter menu alone had 38 options, so we took our time selecting,
With squid, tiger prawns, chicken satay and the fascinating sounding ‘golden crispy bags’ all tempting, we eventually decided a Special Mixed Starter for two was the only way to go.
Priced £12.95, this included an assortment of some of the best entrees, the aforementioned golden crispy bags (Tung Thong) among them. Served attractively on a long oblong dish with three dipping sauces, this was a delight.
The selection also included chicken toast, satay chicken and tiger prawns in batter.
The prawns were absolutely huge, and beautifully cooked. The spicy crispy fried bags were filled with a mixture of minced chicken, water-chestnuts and black pepper and were packed with flavour.
Each individual element was well spiced and tasted very fresh.
I especially loved the dipping sauce trio of peanut, sweet chilli and a sweet and sour dip,
My companion was also very happy with the starters. As the dish comes with a generous portion of three pieces of each element, we had fun fighting over the last bit of each.
We should have anticipated we would regret our early greediness, as Thai mains are also not known for skimping on portion size.
We began the mammoth task of selecting from the NINETY-THREE meat, fish and vegetable dishes on offer. This didn’t even include the additional salads and soups.
Names like ‘Weeping Tiger’ and ‘Pearls of Sukhothai’ sounded particularly alluring. After a whole lot of perusing and head-scratching, we opted for a fish dish and a vegetarian dish.
My companion chose the Pad Nam Prik Pao Pla (crispy haddock in a spicy sauce) priced £14.95, with a side of egg fried rice. The beautifully flaky and fresh fish was served with a sauce made of carrot, peppers, sweet basil, spring onions and chilli oil.
The sauce was stickier than might have been expected, and sweeter too. My partner said it could have been a little more fiery, and he might be a bit more adventurous and opt for a higher chilli-rating next time. The rice was average.
I am a big fan of vegetarian curries, as they can be difficult to balance but can be unbeatable when done right. So I selected the Nam Prik Pao Tofu (£8.95). This was chunks of deep fried bean curd, stir fried with a host of spices and vegetables. The texture of the bean curd was spongy in a pleasant way, which meant it soaked up all the flavours of the sauce very well. The sauce was intensely flavoured and the vegetables well-cooked. My side of soft noodles were slightly too ‘soft’ and overcooked, to the point that they were breaking up. I couldn’t persuade my companion to try the vegetarian dish - for some reason he is appalled by the very idea of bean curd!
With the memory of our enormous starters still fresh, we both struggled to finish the mains, and doggy bags were inevitable.
Having said that, we still found room to share a dessert.
The exotic sounding options included Mango Sweet Sticky Rice, Taro Pudding and Lychees in Syrup. But it was the intriguing ‘Green Tea ice cream’ that caught our eye. Unfortunately it was a disappointment and we felt the £4.95 price tag (for two scoops) was very high for what turned out to be a very bland ice cream, with lots of ‘green’ but not much of the ‘tea’ to speak of.
We also ordered a coffee each to finish, but the drinks were again thoroughly average. Maybe the machine was playing up, but it was a disappointing end to an otherwise satisfying meal.
The service throughout our evening was very good, and the food came out fairly quickly. The staff were attentive, polite and patient.
Sukhothai is not short on authentic flavour and there are a wealth of offerings, but there are simply just too many of them. The huge menu could really do with some simplifying because we found it overwhelming, and I think the sheer variety of the offer definitely affected the overall quality of the food.
Although the starters were excellent, the main dishes could definitely do with a little more ‘oomph’. Instead, they left us with somewhat of a ‘Thai food by numbers’ feeling.
Variety is the spice of life, and Sukhothai has plenty of both. But I would still suggest that even a little bit less could offer a whole lot more in the long run.
Our trip to Headingley was decent value for money, with our overall bill, plus drinks, coming in at well under £50.
address: St Anne’s Road, Headingley, LS6 3NX
opening times: Lunch: Fri-Sun 12-3pm, Dinner Mon-Sat 5-11pm Sunday 6-11pm
tel: 0113 278 1234
star rating (out of 5)
Food:*** Value:*** Atmosphere:*** Service:****