People visit Thailand for so many different reasons. Some want to cover themselves in UV paint and drink terrible alcohol from buckets #gapyah, some want to cuddle up with heavily drugged tigers for Instagram and some go for a ‘massage’. One thing that all those mentioned have in common is that they fall in love with the food. Plenty of restaurants across London serve Thai food. Unfortunately for me, the vegetarian offerings aren’t that great, especially the oil laden vegetarian tempura. Greyhound Café, an already popular mini-chain in Asia, has ventured into Europe for the first time and settled itself on the corner of Berners Street. Bhanu Inkawat, the co-founder, is a truly brave man. We all know what is happening to casual restaurants at the moment and so opening a 600-square meter venue in such a prime location is no easy feat.
As I enter, I am not sure whether to be taken back by the sheer size of the place, the dim lighting or the huge open kitchen right in front of you. As I sit, I am surprised at how intimate our table is, despite being surrounded by more than 100 diners. I would say I was shocked to see an entirely separate vegetarian section, but I would be lying. I had already gone through the menu earlier in the day and chosen what I was going to eat. Don’t judge me, you’ve all done it.
The menu is as chaotic as the city it pays homage to. I can say with absolute certainty that I have never been to a Thai restaurant and ordered bruschetta. That wasn’t going to stop me from ordering it here. As I placed our order, I was constantly being told by ThisFoodieLoves, to not order everything on the menu. As I was taking a bite of my grilled fakthong tofu salad (yes, you can have a giggle), we were presented with one of the main courses. I tried to explain to our waiter that this was for later. The reply I received was ‘I already told you that things come as and when the kitchen is ready to send it, we don’t operate a courses policy’. He had never mentioned that, but who am I to argue because as the saying goes ‘customer is always wrong’. After much persuasion, it was taken back for a few minutes.
Back to the risqué salad. A combination of greens, seeds, heirloom tomatoes, huge slabs of tofu and shreds of crunchy pumpkin. All the vegetables maintained a crunch, the tofu was still warm and the pumpkin gave a very welcome sweetness. The sweetcorn pops were a welcome change from your regular seasonal veg tempura. The sweetcorn inside was soft but the batter had a nice bite to it. One could easily sit at the bar with a glass of wine and a couple of bowls of these little morsels.
Onto the mains and yes, they are mains, regardless of restaurants serving concept. This was my first time trying Sambal, for no other Thai establishment that I have visited in London offers a vegetarian version. Many years of watching John Tarrode critique the dish on Masterchef has taught me that should be fiery with heat and your tastebuds should be taken on a whirlwind tour of Asia. It came so close to being a fantastic dish but fell just short on the heat front. Also, for £12, I expect more than 70:30 rice to sambal ratio on the plate. Next up is the vegetarian version of the Thai national dish, the ‘mixed mushroom basil chilli bomb’. Being truthful, I had no idea what to expect with a description like that but what you get is a heap of rice topped with a fried egg and next to it, a magical mix of mushrooms, basil and chilli. Somehow the earthiness of the mushrooms wasn’t lost in all the other spices that were in the dish and it was great to see the basil shining through as the star of the dish, a herb that is usually put on top of a pizza more out of sympathy than anything else.
The ‘angry’ in angry veggie pasta can be substituted for the word spicy. Noodles are tossed about with mushrooms, tomatoes, those sweetcorn pops form earlier and of course a whole heap of spices. It’s good, but nothing too special. I think the reason for this is that the ingredients are now becoming repetitive. I’ve already had tomatoes in the salad, I’ve already had mushrooms in the chilli bomb and I’ve already had the sweetcorn pops. It’s crying out for some different vegetables. Give me something sweet, give me something crunchy, give me something salty and forget the mushrooms for a minute.
For dessert, we settle on the palm sugar banana. Like the basil, the banana is never really the centre of attention and so I am intrigued to see what this is all about. The menu reads’ Thai grilled and candied banana with palm sugar caramel’, and your £7 buys you 6 little pieces of banana on wooden skewers with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. A hefty price tag for a dish that was neither here nor there. I am glad I tried it but will not be running back for another portion any time soon. And that final statement sort of sums up Greyhound Café as a whole.