Rosa’s Thai opened on Oxford George Street this summer, the 30th venue in the chain’s portfolio. READ ABOUT IT HERE.
The brainchild of Saiphin Moore, who promises authentic Thai food, it has an urban, street-foody vibe and crowd.
But head off towards the station and there you will find the doyenne of Oxford Thai offerings Bangkok House which has been there for over 30 years, where my dad would take me to eat as a student.
So how will the two compare and is there room for both in Oxford?
Rosa’s Thai has definitely got George Street‘s transient vibe – ready for shoppers and theatre-goers, visitors, families and tourists, much like Banana Tree down the road or Pho in the Westgate. Easy access, quick-in-and-out, its warehouse style mentality means its bustling and busy with young and old.
The staff are great there, keen, polite, welcoming, and a real asset, and while the menu is instantly recognisable with classics like Massaman and Penang curries to the summer rolls in rice paper, there are also some more unusual offerings to be had – honey marinated pork stir fried noodles, the fiery drunken noodles or the cucumber salad with a sweet, sour and spicy dressing.
What did however become immediately obvious is that they don’t hold back on the chilli hit – no ‘tourist strength’ here. (I’m sure it’s still moderated but visibly hotter than average).
The dishes were also less creamy and darker with spices, which meant that while flavoursome, the Tom Yum soup (£7-£8) and the Thai green curry (£12-£14.25) lacked that silky smooth texture and lightness.
On the other hand the Tum Tang Kwa cucumber salad (£7.50) with carrot, green beans, cherry tomatoes, cashew nuts, cucumber and chilli had a really refreshing zing to it, full of crunch and texture.
So yes, very George Street; accessible, buzzing and mainstream, but lacking the delicacy of flavour I was after.
A few weeks later a friend booked us into Bangkok House. I hadn’t been for years. Surely it was resting on its laurels and had lost its unique and exciting atmosphere by now?
And yet as soon as we processed off Hythe Bridge Street up the stairs to the lofty dining room with its arched ceiling, where the glassed topped carved wooden tables still reign supreme, that hushed reverence descended.
The service was slightly off; the place was heaving on a mid-week night but it still took a while to get noticed and we had to wave for drinks and to order.
But once the food started arriving we couldn’t have cared less. Aromatic, authentic, dainty, it was the real deal, the ingredients sang and the care in the kitchen in every component from the sauces and dips to presentation evident.
The mixed sharing platter was beautiful to behold, complete with four different dips: from delicate steamed dumplings with a minced pork, prawn and water chestnut filling served with a sweet soya sauce to Thai fish cakes in a red curry paste with cucumber dressing, prawn tempura in breadcrumbs with a spicy mayonnaise, crispy spring rolls filled with minced chicken, vermicelli, julienne cabbage with a plum sauce and the chicken satay, which even had its own grilling flame (see main pic).
And all for a bargain £7.50 per person, the above a feast for two people.
The Tom Yum coconut soup, or happy soup as I call it, was exactly as I’d hoped with that piquant, creamy depth of flavour, the galangal and lemongrass tangible. I closed my eyes as I drank it.
Curry wise we had a bit of everything from classic red and green to the beef massaman, all immaculately presented, all heaving with the appropriate flavours. And we tried the pad thai – with egg, bean sprouts, spring onion and ground peanuts – which came up trumps.
The only dud note was the dessert, the fritters rather tasteless, but in terms of value for money
It was great to be back, which made me realise that Bangkok House has survived 30 plus years in Oxford for a reason. It’s still that good.
So yes, in answer to your question, there is room for both and more in fact, Thai eateries plentiful in the city centre. So for quick central eats, Rosa’s Thai fits the bill, but for a more luxuriant, indulgent, relaxing, gourmet experience get down to Bangkok House. It hasn’t lost any of its appeal over the years.
Rosa’s Thai, 27-29 George Street, Oxford https://rosasthai.com/locations/rosas-thai-restaurant-delivery-takeaway-oxford
Bangkok House is at 42A Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford https://www.office.co.uk