You wouldn’t suspect it from perusing most Thai eatery menus in Britain, but the Southeast Asian country has a far more varied breadth to its national cuisine than most people realise, from the grilled meats and tamarind-rich dishes of the north, to the sweeter, coconutty curries of the south.
There aren’t many restaurants in London, or indeed the whole country, that exhibit Thai cuisine in its full, wonderful diversity, and even fewer that look as aesthetically resplendent as my destination tonight, housed within the five-star Royal Lancaster London hotel, directly behind Lancaster Gate station.
Nipa Thai emphasises the point of its authenticity, from its polished teak décor and furnishings sourced directly from Thailand – the varnished browns of which contrasting pleasantly with the verdant green scenery of Hyde Park which the restaurant overlooks – to the all-female, all-Thai kitchen cohort led by Head Chef Sanguan Parr, who has been here for 20 years.
In more recent times they have garnered not only two AA Rosettes but the prestigious ‘Thai Select’ award: an accolade bestowed by the Thailand national government itself, only to restaurants proven to have attained the highest standards of authenticity in its cuisine (a bit like a Thai-specific Michelin star). Only a dozen other venues have received it.
So, all that’s left to do is to actually try some of this esteemed food, which naturally does not fail to deliver. Proceedings open with a ‘Ruam Mitr’ selection of chef’s special starters, including traditional Thai fishcakes and crispy prawn dumplings, enlivened by an array of piquant sauces.
This is followed by a ‘Phad Kiew Warn Ta Lay’ – a hearty mixed seafood curry with poached aubergine and basil, whose spiciness hovered at just the right level. It’s probably the thing I love most about Thai cuisine – that amalgamation of light creaminess with mouth-tingling chilli-heat – which this venue executes perfectly, as all the best ones do.
To draw the meal to a close I simply had to go for the ‘Tim Kluay Tod’ dessert option: a classic fried banana fritter whose sugary crunchiness, offset by the accompanying honey ice cream, proved a fantastic finale, along with the robust Argentinean Malbec which washed it all down.
Incidentally, Nipa offers some impressive Thai wine-paired set menus, featuring award-winning vintages with each of the three courses from Monsoon Valley’s prestigious Hua Hin Hills Vineyard (these menus range from £64 to £79 per person, based on a minimum of two people.)
But it’s primarily the food here that has so rightly won the nationally significant Select award from Thailand’s government, which is the best testament a Thai restaurant can get for its menu offering.
The service at Nipa is also of a commensurate standard – helpful yet discreet and professional – and the walk to and from the venue, being via the Royal Lancaster’s elegant marbled stairwell and capacious reception atrium, sets it apart from any Thai restaurant I’ve ever been to, in any country.
So, if it’s the higher end of this national cuisine you’re after, and in the classiest of settings, an evening (or afternoon) here is guaranteed to linger long in the memory.
Address: Nipa Thai, Royal Lancaster London, Lancaster Terrace W2 2TY
Phone: 020 7551 6000