It’s clear as soon as you open the door to Zaap Thai that something a little different awaits inside.
Unlike the more familiar Thai restaurants kitted out with ornate decorations and formal table settings, it seems designed to replicate the frenetic and gaudy experience of grabbing food from a Bangkok street vendor.
There are bright signs written in Thai and Thai music, alternating between jangly pop and more thrusting rock, as well as exotic-looking products and artefacts dotting the walls. There’s an open kitchen, and for the more adventurous tuk-tuks with tables inside where dinner can be taken.
Based in the former site of Handpicked Hall at the eastern end of the Grand Arcade, it is the brainchild of the people behind the more conventional Sukhothai restaurant chain.
The place opened on Monday, and when we arrive the next day the main part of the restaurant is nearly full. Clearly word is spreading fast.
Fun and informal, Zaap seems to cater to a broader clientelle than most Thai eateries. There’s a couple with a baby during our visit, and an 11pm-to-3am menu for the post-pub crowd.
The menu, printed over both sides of a sheet of A2 paper, is so full of roasted meats, stir fries, curries, noodles and hot pots that deciding what to have is like trying to solve a Where’s Wally puzzle.
After ordering a fizzy drink served in a tin can and a bottle of lager-style Beer Lao, we set the ball rolling with a couple of starters. Look Chin Yang are balls of meat, in this case pork, on skewers, moist and with a slight extra bite to them, as well as a hint of lemongrass. They come with a surprisingly hot dipping sauce.
Sa La Pao Moo Daeng are plump white steamed buns, well-balanced between fluffy and stodgy, with a sweet roasted pork filling inside.
Next up is Guay Tiew Rua, a noodle dish made with an excellent herbal broth, crunchy slices of pork and (less welcome) liver. My partner’s Pad Ga Prao ZAAP, made with stir fried minced pork, is full of flavour and the basil comes across strongly.
Dessert is mango with sweet sticky rice, coated in sesame seeds. The mango is perfectly ripe and the rice not too sweet, though I could have done without the squirt of spray cream.
Service, though speedy and attentive, isn’t totally flawless yet. My partner gets a fried egg with her main course despite asking not to have one, and a waiter at one point brings over a squid dish we didn’t order.
The total bill comes to a few pence over £26, though when we arrive home we realise the dessert wasn’t included. Not bad value, as Zaap is worth a visit for the experience alone.
Zaap Thai Street Food, Grand Arcade, Leeds, LS1 6PY