Zaap! K-POW! WHAM!
No, it’s not a Marvel comic, or even a Marvel film review (which is a rare thing these days and something to be grateful for), it’s just that, well, first of all I’ve never started a restaurant review with those words in that order (or any order) and secondly, I’d never forgive myself for not doing so, because that is actually the name of the restaurant.
You can tell how much the restaurant scene has changed over the last decade or so just by clocking the names of places.
Time was, if you were serious about enertaining the general public on a regular basis and wanted to garner a name for yourself and some respect from your peers, you had to be called something like The Manor House or Casa Somethingorother.
Not so today, because the grammar rule book has been well and truly burned at the stake (or at the very least flambeed in a healthy drizzle of kerosene) in an almost Pagan act of self-assured revelry. Bravo.
This rather wanton act has freed food emporiums, or rather their owners, from the shackles of orthordoxy which were no doubt diligently placed upon them by their bow-tie wearing English teachers and allowed them, instead, to name their restaurants whatever the heck they liked.
And so we come to Zaap, which is just down from the Grand Theatre, being at the bottom of the arcade of the same name.
It opened last year and to begin with was something of a curiosity. From the outside, it has always looked busy, perhaps too busy (if a restaurant can be too busy), in that there never looked to be any room in there and everyone looked a bit squashed.
Luckily for Zaap, that’s a good thing because, as we discovered during our recent visit - it’s meant to be like that. What the owners are clearly striving for here is Downtown Bangkok and although I’ve never been, I’ll wager they have and they’ve made a pretty good job of it.
There’s an air of chaos here, its noisy with conversation, waiters seem to everywhere, winding themselves through the gaps between tables, the kitchen clanks but there’s also passion, energy and an atmosphere that sucks you in.
Once inside, there’s so much to look at - lanterns hanging from the ceiling, which is made partially of strips of painted currugated iron, strings of beads leading your eyes to a wall festooned with Buddhas and other nick-nacks from the Far East and then down to an incongruous glass cabinet packed with tourist-type trinkets, next to which is a hand-written sign for an incongruous ‘Sexy Salad’, beyond which you suddenly glimpse the kitchen, all steam and stainless steel, the clank of pans and several baseball cap-wearing chefs moving hither and thither.
The greeting is immediate and warm, staff are relaxed and confident. We’re lead to a table which is just about big enough for us to fit the menus on - huge sprawling double-sided affairs in A3, with a banner reading ‘Let us bring the streets of Bangkok to you’. Let’s go then.
To begin with, the menu seems bewildering, with dozens of dishes with names which will be mostly alien to your typical Anglo-Saxon, but worry ye not, for there are handy translations below each. For Keg Huay, read ‘crysanthemum tea’ and for An Chan Soda, read ‘butterfly pea juice soda water and lemon juice’.
Certainly, we were amused by some of the translations, with Pad Pak Bung Fai Daeng/Moo Krob being one such - it translates as ‘stir fried Morning Glory with oyster sauce, garlic and chilli.’
Menu mayhem aside, we took the attitude of in for a penny, in for a pound and ordered starters and mains together, as it the convention apparently.
We ordered Gra Dook Moo (braised pork spare ribs in black bean sauce, £4.50 for three pieces), Look Chin Tod (a mixture of deep-fried chicken and fish balls on skewers, £4) and Tod Mum Pla (Thai fish cake, £4), together with Pla Pae Sa/Nueng Manow (steamed fish of the day with Chinese leaves, chilli and coriander, £12.95) and Guay Jab Sa Tan Fah (noodle rolls with pork liver, crispy belly pork and egg in a secret - ooo - recipe soup, £6.50). We also ordered a side of Edamame (steamed green beans with salt, £2.75).
The fish of the day turned out to be sea bass and a big one at that. There’s something so satisfying about getting a whole fish, head-and-all, and this was cooked perfectly, falling off the bone, the coriander and salt just crackling on your tongue.
The noodle roll soup was a revalation. Presented in a clear, satisfying stock jam packed with flavour, the noodle rolls, which resembled long strings of pasta, were sumptuous and delicious, the belly pork salty and succulent with a crunch.
I wasn’t too keen on the fish/meat skewers and I know they’re meant to be rubbery but it’s just not my bag. The peapods we were skeptical about but shelling them turned out to be therapuetic and I have to admit a few bounced off towards other diners (eek). What fun!
Dessert was Chow Guay (black jelly, £2.95) and pancake (£3.95), both freshly made, both interesting. Together with a bottle of Fonte De Nico (£15.95), a Chang beer (£3.50), a black coffee (£1.75) and a chai milk tea (£3), the whole thing came to a paltry £65.80.
Zaap is from the people behind Sukhothai, which is much more upmarket. It’s got something special. Service is spot on, the atmosphere is lively and being crammed in wasn’t that bad after all. If you’re in town to catch a show and want something quick and tasty, Zaap’s the place to go.
Address: 22 Grand Arcade, Leeds LS1 6PG
Opening times: 11am-midnight, seven days
Ratings (out of 5):