OUR region is blessed with many fine Thai restaurants; it is a cuisine which has crept in during the past 30 years to add a fresher, crisper dimension to a taste for Asia which was cultivated in Indian and Chinese restaurants over the postwar decades.
In the best known – places like Chaophraya and Sukhothai – a premium is placed on providing an experience which almost feels decadent, with sumptuous decor, ornate furniture and deferential service by staff in silken golden finery.
At Thai Aroy Dee, staff eschew this ornate dress for simple purple polos shirts and black leggings, though their service is no less genuine and attentive. And this is utterly characteristic of a restaurant which takes a quite different approach to its better-known rivals, with a clear emphasis on giving their customers value rather than indulgence, but with no sacrifice in quality.
And its popularity is such that booking can be essential, particularly at weekends. Our attempt to eat here one Saturday teatime recently was greeted with an apologetic: “We’re fully booked until 10pm.”
We come back a few days later, relieved that when we step inside this bright and airy space there is ample room. It looks a little gaudy from the outside, and the ambience is that of a cafe or a canteen, the decor a simple white, the ceiling criss-crossed with bunting and coloured lights. Industrial exhaust pipes, which seem to have no practical purpose, protrude from the ceiling at one end of the room. A village scene, a golden wall hanging, a God and the occasional statue are a few little concessions to the traditional Thai restaurant genre.
While some would have closed off the windows to encase their diners in a feeling of Oriental luxury, here the outside world is embraced. Diners look out on a brisk streetscene, shoppers and buses bustling by in busy Vicar Lane.
With an “Aroy” here, “A Roy” there and “Aroi” elsewhere, there even seems to be a little vagueness about how this restaurant should spell its own name, something that would never be allowed to happen with the more testing “Chaophraya”.
The menu offers a host of choices, several marked with bright red chillis to indicate strength, for diners like me who are always drawn to the sinister end of the spice scale. We abdicate the responsibility for choosing by starting with the Special Hors d’Oeuvres (£12 for two) which is a plate laden with brittle chicken spring rolls, slabs of pork rib, minced chicken on toast and prawn parcels in a delicate batter, attractively presented with a crunchy salad and devilish chilli and peanut dips. Best of this though is the satay – slithers of chicken, skewered, grilled and perfect for lathering in lashings of that peanut sauce.
Having shared a starter, our main courses take us in different directions. My partner chooses the Chicken Gang Panang (£6.95), lean chunks of meat wrapped in a mild, thick and creamy, golden coloured sauce to which a generous splash of coconut milk has lent a luxuriant smoothness. Lime leaves and slim green beans bring extra colour and texture to a dish which ranks as a “two chilli” choice on the menu, but is nonetheless a quite gentle alternative to Thailand’s traditional red and green curry choices.
I take the spice route into seafood territory, challenging my palate with the “four chilli” Pad Poh Taek (£8.95) which is a dark and dangerous swamp of king prawns, thick slices of squid and lovely juicy scallops with peppers, onions and surprising slices of celery.
It’s all bathed in a special spicy sauce which derives genuine potency from pounded garlic and fresh chillies – and will certainly be a repeat choice, next time I visit here.
From a good list of rice and noodle accompaniments we choose the Jasmine rice (£2) and the sticky rice (£2.50), to soak up some of these two delicious and contrasting dishes.
After a brief interlude, we allow ourselves to be tempted by the dessert menu, my partner cleansing her palate with a stingingly citric lemon sorbet (£3.50) and me doing my arteries no good at all with the pancake roll (£2.50), which is a fried wrap of flaky pastry, oozing oil and sugar.
Some coffees follow, as does a bill for just a little over £40 which represents absolutely stellar value for money. Though the surroundings are clearly very different, there was little in either the service or the food to suggest that Thai Aroy Dee is a down-market choice when set against some of its glittering and gilded rivals.
Until 5pm every day, a fixed-price two-course menu of six starters and nine main courses is available for an astonishing £6.95 a head. That the restaurant isn’t licensed, so you can bring in your own beers and bottles of wine, helps to further keep a lid on the price.
Thai Aroy Dee
Address: 120-122 Vicar Lane, Leeds, LS2 7NL
Opening hours: noon-11pm daily
Telephone: 0113 245 2174