We hadn’t intended going to Sukhothai.
In fact, we’d booked a table for 6pm at another well known Headingley restaurant not a million miles away but when we turned up at just a few minutes to the appointed hour - and with temperatures a couple of degrees below zero - only to find the doors firmly locked and staff inside clearly aware of our presence but nontheless completely disinclined to bend the rules to let us in, we decided it wasn’t worth begging for the honour. Seeing as we’d just walked past the well lit (and open) Thai restaurant (and it was below freezing), it was a simple decision.
So, in we went and what a happy chance of circumstances it turned out to be. The restaurant, one of three in Leeds (there’s also another in Harrogate) has had a presence in the city since 2002 when head chef and owner Ban Kaewkraikhot opened up in Chapel Allerton. Since then, Sukhothai has grown both in number and reputation and not without reason.
Greeted at the door and welcomed in from the cold, we were told that, despite it being almost fully booked, they would find us a table.
As we entered, there seemed to be plenty of space, with only a few tables occupied but this soon changed, so much so that by the time we left, there wasn’t an empty seat in the place.
The atmosphere is warm, with deep brown leather seats and shimmering gold lamp shades and Chinese-style lanterns giving the dining area a cosy, relaxed feel.
We were presented with a well-thought out Christmas menu with some tempting and ingeniously named offerings, including Happy Bird in Basket (prawn breadcrumbs on a bed of sweet crispy noodles in a potato basket), Prawn Snowflake (tiger prawns dusted in flour and sesame seeds, deep fried and drizzled with honey) and Winter Curry (a spicy Southern-style yellow lamb curry with potato and pumpkin). All very ho-ho but seeing as this menu won’t be around for much longer, we decided to order from the main menu, which is, to say the least, extensive. At some restaurants, this can be a bad thing. One of the worst mistakes restaurateurs make is to confuse diners with an overcomplicated and often cumbersome bible of menu options but here, each page has its own them. So, for example, there is a page devoted to duck done more than a dozen different ways, another page for pork and fish and so on. At the back, there are the usual set-menu options and there’s also a very affordable kids menu, which offers two courses for £5.
To start we ordered the seafood platter (£9.99 per person for a minumum of two people) and what a joy it was. Presented on a three-tiered platter, it came with deep fried crispy squid, the batter being so light and delicate, it was supberb just on its own. There was also muscles done in soy sauce and garlic - absolutely divine, with a deep, salty kick and sweet aftertaste that just made you want to eat more. Not forgetting the battered fish, which put even the best fish n’ chips to shame. We also ordered grah doog moo (sticky spare ribs at £5.95), which fell off the bone and were a delight to eat.
The starters came within minutes of us ordering, which is always nice.
For my main, I went for Phed Gata Lon (£11.95), which was duck, stir-fried with garlic, black pepper, lime leaves, oyster sauce, lemongrass, onion, fresh chilli and crispy basil. It came served on a sizzling hot platter and was outstanding, each of the flavours dancing around the rich dark meat of the duck but never overpowering it. My only quibble was the duck meat was slightly on the tough side, although not to the point where you wouldn’t eat it.
My partner opted for Pad Khing (£9.95), stir-fried pork, beef with ginger and spring onion. Again, another triumph of flavour, the ginger zinging around your palate while the spring onion delivered a burst of earthy freshness which complemented the whole dish.
We had a bit of a wait before we ordered our desserts but given that the restaurant had become full, this was perhaps understandable.
Despite the fact we were also full, we dug deep and pressed on, ordering Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake (£4.95) and the splendid sounding Custard Pancake (£4.95).
All to often, when it comes to desserts, restaurants let themselves down with generic looking (in some cases shop bought) offerings. Not here.
The cheesecake, a traditional biscuit base topped with a tangy lemon cheesecake and caramelized ginger, was beautifully presented, a tiny cylinder of creamy heaven with the freshness of the ginger really coming through but never to the point where it became overpoweering.
The second dish was a banana and sticky rice pancake with vanilla ice cream. Supber. On every level. The pancake itself was green and absolutely gorgeous. I asked a passing waiter how it was made and without hesitation, he proceeded to run through the whole process, informing me they were made using juice from pandan leaves (which is what makes it green), which is then left in the fridge for several hours and... I won’t bore you with the rest. Suffice to say, the pudding (for that is what it was), more than hit the spot.
All told, with sides and drinks, including two bottles of Singha lager at £3.60 apiece, a glass of house Pinot Grigiot at £4.45, steamed rice with coconut milk and a banana leaf (£3.25) and noodles (£3.25) the final bill rolled in at £77.35.
Service was really very good, staff polite, eager to please and attentive. There’s an impressive attention to detail here, even down to how clean the toilets are. Everything seems to have its place, staff know their jobs inside out. One other feature worth a mention is the glass fronted gallery kitchen, which allows you to observe as the various cooks and waiters go about their business.
If Sukhothai wasn’t on your Christmas wishlist, you should make it a new year resolution.
Address: Sukhothai, St Anne’s Road, Headingley, LS6 3NX
Opening times: Monday-Sunday 5pm-11pm and Fri/Sat/Sun noon-3pm
Tel: 0113 278 1234