Busaba Eathai needs no introduction for many Londoners, frequently full to the rafters with punters siting around the dark wood communal style tables, most often found surrounded by a series of dishes strewn around the table, enthusiastically attacked by chopstick wielding diners.
Alan Yau first dreamt up this chain in 1999 and to mark its 15th birthday, they’re opening up a new flagship site in hip and happening Shoreditch. It’s a more grown up and glamorous addition to their repertoire, you enter through a water splashed courtyard complete with floating flowers and extensive foliage.
Inside you’re further greeted by a hand-picked selection of Thai art, dance masks, bronze temple bells and a stunning hand carved statue occupying prime place adorned by flowers and incense.
The communal tables remain the same and since the coat hooks are full, it makes for a somewhat awkward balancing act of coats and bags on nearby seats and laps while we peruse the menu. For practised Busaba diners, we quickly descend into picking out our favourites.
We start off with the Thai calamari dusted with green and pink peppercorns, Prawn crackers and Goong tohd – or breaded king prawns with a chilli lime sauce. At first bite, the calamari seem a little chewy but just as soon the combination of flavours hits the tongue, we’re hooked.
The breaded king prawns may seem like the boring choice, reminiscent of a shopping expedition to everyone’s favourite frozen food store Iceland, however the prawns have only had a light touch with the breading and the chilli lime sauce could not be further from my expectations of gloopy sweet chilli sauce, but is light and more like a zingy vinaigrette.
Sadly, things don’t go quite so smoothly from here on in. Mains find their way to our highly bewildered neighbours who are trying to convince our waiter that they didn’t order it, when we notice and interject. Prawn crackers, ordered as a starter make their way towards us only at the end of the mains although they are tasty enough to continue picking on at the end. The crackers are a little broken up though, it’s a packet of crisps you find at the bottom of your bag that are a bit broken up.
The Sen Chan Pad Thai is intended as a luxurious replacement for regular pad thai due to the addition of green mango and crab meat. In reality, both of these are barely discernible although the prawns are well cooked and the noodles soft but not mushy with a spicy, zesty flavour.
The Chicken breast with spicy cucumber salad and sticky rice is a slightly mis-matched addition of flavours, the cucumber salad has an air of raw garlic and something a little bit fishy, like it’s been next to an offending item in the kitchens before making its way out to us.
Drinks at Busaba have an innovative twist and you’re not subject to the usual round of colas and mainstream cocktails. A Guava Collins is an intriguing blend of guava juice with lime leaf with coconut & lime which is not overly sugary sweet while a friend is enamoured with the cocktail list of divine flavours.
Busaba Eathai doesn’t quite make the bestseller list of restaurants for me, but it’s a reliable favourite that hits the spot and once the niggles are ironed out at its’ newest branch in Shoreditch, will continue to be a crowd pleaser for the hipsters of the area.
36 Bethnal Green Road
London, E1 6HT
Tel 020 7033 1288