To spend an evening here is to sit briefly in the lap of luxury.
Sukhothai literally means ‘The Dawn Of Happiness’ and is the name of the Thai village 240 miles north of Bangkok, where owner and head chef Ban Kaewkraikhot spent her childhood.
Her business began life in a moderate shop unit in Chapel Allerton more than 15 years ago, and by stealth Sukhothai grew, first into a neighbouring store, before spreading its wings into the city centre, Headingley and Harrogate. Yet by keeping this pace of change gentle, careful and measured, Ban ensured that the quality and values which she had worked hard to establish in Regent Street were never compromised by expansion.
It’s Sunday evening when we call in; the early part of the afternoon is given over to a special Sunday buffet, but at 5pm the full menu kicks in again.
As we arrive, couples are waiting at the busy bar for their takeaways, and in the restaurant the majority of the tables are already taken. A large family party is celebrating an 80th birthday and their vast golden helium balloons of the two digits, bobbing above the table, neatly complement the restaurant’s gilt statues and hanging lamps and the shimmer of the waitresses’ elaborate costumes.
At one end a vast carving hangs above the long stone sides of a sunken fish pond – and as you step through the carved wooden doors into the gents’ toilets you realise that the attention to detail has been maintained even here. Ornate screens, gilt mirrors, tiles and chandeliers lend a feeling of opulence to your ablutions.
Sufficient light penetrates a screen of Thai images to allow diners to watch the team of chefs hard at work in the kitchen beyond. From the first till last, everything they produce exudes the confidence which is characteristic of an establishment which has been at the top of its game for so long, you can barely imagine it doing anything else.
The knowledge that whatever I order will be top notch doesn’t make the task of choosing any easier; the menu touches all the major bases of Thai cuisine, and whatever I go for means there will be at least ten other things which I shall have to leave until another day.
After some prevarication, during which I consider the host of starters, I eventually go back to the top of the list and start with the Satay Gai (£6.25), an old Sukhothai favourite. Weighty herby slices of moist chicken breast have been impaled on three long wooden skewers and draped across a pile of pale crisp salad. A bowl of the spikiest, nuttiest satay sauce provides colour, a coarse crunchy texture and sheer power.
My partner’s Hoy Shell Gratiem Prtik Thai (£8.95) is an altogether more delicate opener. Softy, yielding scallops, dashed with diced onion and carrot are attractively presented inside half-shells bathed in a sauce which is surprisingly mild, despite the lurking presence of green pepper, fresh garlic and slithers of red chilli.
The main courses are equally sure-footed. My squid Pad Prik Gang (£12.50) is a stir-fried riot of flavour and texture. There’s the delicate crunch of sliced green pepper and starburst-shaped slices of carrot. There’s the softness of slender green beans and mushrooms, and there’s the gentle, rubbery resistance of the slithers of squid. All this is held together in a red curry sauce, spiked with slices of chilli and javelins of ginger. It fully justifies the three-chilli flavour rating – the hottest – on the Sukhothai menu.
My partner’s chicken Pad Nam Prik Pao (£10.25) is rightly rated ‘one chilli’ and this is far more delicately spiced, though the freshness of the vegetables and the lightness of the sauce are absolutely emblematic of a restaurant whose dishes are constructed to allow diners to delight in the combination while each of its individual elements can still speak for themselves. And in its vast permutations of meats, vegetables and sauces, you could eat here every day for a year without ever having the same dish twice.
A large bowl of jasmine rice and a plummy Italian Merlot prove the perfect accompaniments to these two full-flavoured main courses, while the service never wavers from being both attentive and unobtrusive. We might easily leave it there, but the opportunity to extend this evening of sensory delights persuades us to press on to dessert. The big globe of a stem wine glass has been pressed into service as a bowl for the Lycheeberry Float (£5.95), a fruit salad of strawberry, backberry, orange and lychees, bathed in a light syrup. The honey banana fritters (£5.50) are moist chunks of fruit encased in a crunchy coconut batter coating, topped with sesame seed and served with vanilla ice cream which offered extra flavour and texture. We drain the last of the Merlot before two strong, oily black coffees wrap up this splendid Sunday evening in style.
Address: 8 Regent St, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, LS7 4PE
Opening times: Noon-11pm Mon-Sat noon-3pm and 5pm-10pm Sun
Telephone: 0113 237 0141