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ALL THAI-D UP IN NOTS; ALISON DAVISON FEELS LET DOWN BY A NEW CITY RESTAURANT.

Byline: ALISON DAVISON

It's such a shame when a new restaurant puts a ton of money into the decor, gets great people front of house and yet can't get the food right.

That, sad to say, was the case at Kinnaree Thai, the latest food venture to have opened up by the Mailbox.

It has a fab spot in the Holiday Wharf building, occupying a sizeable chunk of the ground floor while the rest is - you guessed it - luxury apartments. The Cube will be built right opposite.

The long glass frontage makes the most of its waterside views and fills the vast dining space, suitably kitted out with ethnic knick knacks including a centre-stage model boat, with light.

The prettily-dressed staff are ineffably pleasant and welcoming and as you make yourself comfortable on the heavy wooden chairs (try not to slam the low crossbar into your achilles as I did), all seems to bode well.

A casual enquiry as to whether the waitress's dress was made of silk sent her scurrying off to enquire.

Another question as to the meaning of kinnaree resulted in a visit from the friendly manager and a lengthy explanation (kinnnaree is, apparently, a half woman, half swan who's a dab hand at singing and dancing, though quite how she dances with swan feet I'm unsure). You can't knock the effort they put in.

Unfortunately, the good feeling didn't last. The prawn cracker-style snacks on the table were pretty unpalatable but maybe they just weren't to our taste.

Then our white wine (pounds 10.95) appeared and was no better. A familiar sinking feeling kicked in. It's a bad, bad sign when a restaurant isn't prepared to buy decent house wine.

We distracted ourselves with the enormous menu, a labyrinthine affair with some great-sounding dishes. Brother-in-law's egg anyone? Or maybe flaming weeping tiger or jungle curry, perhaps even goong disco?

The amount of choice was bewildering but we opted to start with emerald chicken (which appeared on the bill as emerdale chicken), a mushroom dish (hed satay, pounds 4.99) and fishcakes (poo jaa, pounds 5.99).

Everything was presented elaborately, each dish arriving on an ornate gold-effect bowl.

My mushrooms, three wooden skewers each threaded with three flattened shiitake caps, looked disconcertingly like old men's ears.

Even more alarming was the fluorescent colour they left on the white plate - a vivid, unnatural yellow that could have come from a highlighter pen.

It wouldn't have been mattered if they'd tasted OK but these chewy little horrors had an equally-unnatural bitterness. The strange, cardboardy satay sauce provided no comfort.

The friend with the fishcakes was struggling too. These also tasted synthetic, bitter and not remotely of fish.

They had an accompanying sauce which was another disaster - "it looks and tastes like watered-down ketchup with chilli added" she said.

I gave her one of my mushrooms to try. She spat it out on her plate. "I've never done that before," she apologised. And let's hope she never does again, either.

Only the emerald chicken was a success, with chunks of appetising, moist meat that actually had some decent flavour. They were served wrapped in exotic leaves (the finger bowl came in handy) and though their pink hue made them look raw, it was thankfully from a marinade and not under-cooking.

We didn't have high hopes for the main courses but these were a distinct improvement - not that that was too difficult.

I had masaman curry (pounds 6.99), a gently-spiced mix of carrot and whole new potatoes (which looked a little odd) with cashews and tofu in a rich and sweet, heavily-coconutty sauce which ultimately became slightly cloying.

The jasmine rice (pounds 1.99) was just like plain old boiled rice but was fine and a useful blotter.

One friend also had jasmine rice with her lamb green curry (pounds 7.99). Thai sauce-laden curries are a bit thin for some tastes - and this was for hers - but nevertheless, it tasted good, with flavoursome meat and veg, a good creaminess from the coconut, the right level of heat from the chilli and a useful citrus undercurrent.

Our other friend had decided to try the flaming weeping tiger (pounds 10.49). This is actually sirloin steak, which is not only "grilled to your desire" but also flambeed by the table, rather to the shock of the waitress holding it who had to duck out of the way to save her eyebrows when the manager set it dramatically alight.

The foil wrapping looked a bit naff but the masses of meat dotted with broccoli, red pepper and onion were well-marinated and tasty, even if cooked for rather longer than she'd requested.

She was disappointed with the rather thin sauce but not half as much as she was with the sticky rice (pounds 2.49), which she declared virtually inedible. At least she didn't spit it out, for which we were all grateful.

A couple of espressos and a tea plus the obligatory 10 per cent service charge and the bill totalled pounds 72.48. A lot of money for a meal which offered some decent stuff but was spoiled by too much that was disappointing.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 30, 2006
Words:865
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