If aliens ever landed and I happened to be the first person they met and for some reason they were particularly famished and wanting to partake in some ‘earth food’, I would take them to Sukhothai in Headingley (not that the other Sukhothais in Chapel Allerton, Leeds city centre and Harrogate aren’t just as good, it’s just that Headingley is much closer for me to drive to).
As unlikely as that scenario sounds, there’s a solid reason behind it and it’s this: the food at Sukhothai is second to none. It’s wonderfully aromatic and has a crisp, clean, dare I say healthy, feel.
But it’s not just the food which would give my imaginary aliens something to ‘write home’ about, it’s the decor. Inside it’s all gleaming surfaces, dark metallic reflections looking like liquid silver in the soft mood lighting. Everything is spotlessly clean, the cutlery perfectly aligned, the staff so neat they look as though they’ve just stepped out of the dry cleaners.
But there’s something else at Sukhothai which would make me take my otherworldly guests and it’s the statues on the way in with money on their heads.
Confusing? I assume, without using the ubiquitous font of all knowledge known as the internet, that this is some kind of ancient Thai custom associated with good luck. That being beside the point, I think it would confuse the heck out of my alien friends but might also serve to make them like us more. The fact we choose to leave material wealth - cold, hard, old fashioned cash - on top of a series of stone buddhas says something about us. Doesn’t it? That we’re not too concerned with things? That we treasure a connection with the ethereal, unseen world as more important?
I think that and a good meal would prevent said aliens from having any inclination whatsoever of engaging in anything we might consider as hostile relations... and it would all be down to Sukhothai (and me).
Aliens or no, though, this Thai restaurant, just round the corner from Salvo’s, that other pillar of the Headingley dining scene, has enough about it to warrant a visit from earthlings too. We pitched up on a chilly November night just after they opened at 5pm and were shown to a nice little table toward the back.
The menu is big and unless you speak the lingo, most of the dishes might sound as though they are from another planet but in a neat little (dare I say nostalgic) twist, they are also numbered, which is helpful and avoids the embarrassment of attempting to verbally navigate the unfamiliar names.
After some time perusing the various options, all of which are segmented under various headings (soups, salads, beef, lamb, duck etc), we ordered everything all in one go.
So, here’s the list:-
134. Crispy seaweed rolls: chopped and seasoned prawn and chicken meat, wrapped in seaweed rolls and served with sweet chilli sauce (£6.25).
7. Grah doog moo: pork spare ribs marinated with special bbq sauce (£6.35).
14. Khow kreb tod: deep-fried prawn crackers, served with sweet chilli sauce (£2.75).
52. Phed pad broccoli: stir-fried duck with broccoli, onion and carrot. (£10.95).
66. Pad prew wan gung: stir-fried prawns with mushroom, spring onion, carrot, onion, pineapple and tomato in a sweet and sour sauce. (£12.25).
43. Pad prik yourk: stir-fried chicken, pork, beef or lamb with green pepper, red pepper, carrot and onion in a black bean sauce. (£10.25).
We also had two lots of Khao Niew (sticky rice, £3.25 per portion).
Additionally, because I had the little ones with me, we ordered two kids pla chup pan (£5.95 each), a kind of Thai take on fish fingers, which went down a treat.
It was all a bit of a share-fest, if I’m honest, with spoons and forks darting across the table to ladle out some of everyone else’s dish but if we’re honest, isn’t that what eating is supposed to be about? Surely, my alien friends would approve of such gregariousness. Furthermore, coupled with the aforementioned statue ritual, their estimation of us as a race would be nothing short of stratospheric.
Drinks included two bottles of Singha lager (£3.60 each), four orange juices (£1.95 each) and two lemonades (£1.95 each), bringing the total bill to a not unreasonable £80.20.
Service throughout was exemplary, the waitress we had displayed a thorough knowledge of the menu, to the point where, when I read out each number, she would recite the appropriate dish by way of confirmation, which was impressive given the menu runs to over 200 items.
In conclusion, Sukhothai has cemented its reputation in Leeds (and beyond) and it will always remain a go-to place for me - a safe bet, whether aliens land or not.
Over and above that, the website is easy to navigate and - get this - they even run masterclasses, so if you’re hunting for that unusual Christmas gift (and whilst not wanting to appear advert-like) look no further.
And if my imaginary alien friends were in a hurry, there’s another reason Sumkhothai would be a good choice because they also do takeaway.
The YEP 2017 Oliver Awards Nominations supplement is out today and features the shortlist of entrants for the awards which celebrate the cream of the Leeds dining scene and which will be judged shortly. A shortlist will be published in January, with the awards ceremony taking place in March at the Elland Road Conference Centre.
Address: 4 St.Annes Rd, Leeds LS6 3NX
Website: www. sukhothai.co.uk
Tel: 0113 242 2795
Opening times: Mon-Thurs 5pm-10pm, Fri-Sun noon-2.30pm & 5pm-10pm