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RESTAURANTS: Visit the daddy of all Thai restaurants; Chester comes under siege from the Far East: Glyn Mon Hughes reports from a table on the front line.

Byline: Glyn Mon Hughes

CHESTER seems to be under a Siamese siege. In recent years several superior Thai restaurants have opened in the city but the latest - Siam in City Road - is the daddy of them all and has brought the teppan-yaki style of dining to the city

The place is huge, occupying two floors of a former warehouse and is located above the venerable and long-established Old Harkers Arms, another venue well worth a visit.

Siam is spacious, the decor smart with plenty of elephants dotted around the place to give it some air of authenticity. A decision has to be made on arrival, though, whether to go Thai or experience the teppan-yaki floorshow. We went Thai although we did stop to watch the performance later when a bemused group of four people looked on as knives chopped vegetables at the speed of light, meat cleavers were banged in sharp, staccato notes on the surface of the griddle and, at one point, the whole place looked as though it would go up in flames as the griddle was deliberately - and only momentarily - set alight. That experience doesn't come especially cheap, though, with the five-course banquet costing pounds 29.95 with a la carte main courses from pounds 12.95 ranging to pounds 26.95 for lobster tails.

Moving upstairs, we took time to consult what is a very extensive and well-planned menu. All the usual Thai delicacies are there with some tempting, perhaps rather more unusual offerings: breaded crab claws, for instance, or Thai fisherman's hot and sour soup, spicy pomfrait, or roasted sea bass with brandy sauces.

Too much choice sent us scurrying to the set meals which take the panic out of ordering, give a good selection - our meal consisted of ten dishes - and are, generally, better value.

At first glance, the wine list quite frightened us with just five selections all averaging around pounds 40 a bottle. Read further and all is revealed: it's the special selection of the restaurant's "Connoisseur Club", available in limited quantities. The rest of the list reveals a good selection dominated by French and South American offerings. Prices seem reasonable, bottles costing from pounds 11.90 or so to around pounds 30. The house champagne is a well-priced pounds 24.50, though a 1996 Cuvee Dom Perignon would set you back pounds 125. Soft drinks are a little pricey: pounds 3 for a litre of sparkling water feels a little excessive.

We chose a Cabernet Merlot Siete Soles from Chile. "Inky black and complex," said Mark, "with loads of flavour. I'm rarely disappointed with what we drink from Chile."

And then the food started arriving - and kept on coming. The starters included those breaded crab claws, chicken satay, prawn toasties and Thai crispy duck spring rolls. The crab claws came with a spicy sweet and sour plum sauce, while the prawn toasties were served with a sweet and sour onion relish. Everything was exquisitely served and the starters themselves could even present a challenge: proportions were generous with the prawn toasties actually having a generous helping of fish, rather than the usual apology for a fishy taste.

"The satay is spicy and the plum sauce complements the crab," said Mark. "It doesn't overpower the meat but brings out the flavour."

If anything it was the soup which stunned us both into silence. We've had chicken in Thai spicy coconut cream sauce but this equalled - probably bettered - anything we've had in the world. Subtle, verging on being quite spicy, sometimes sweet, light and far from being cloying and overly-fatty

"But Thai soup with onion?" asked Mark. Later in the meal, he remarked that there did seem to be a glut of onions served with the meal. "A mistake, maybe," he suggested, "as it makes it feel ever so slightly the stuff of the local Chinese chippy."

The main courses included beef in Thai mussaman curry - described in the menu as Muslim - as well as chicken stir-fried with cashew nuts, stir-fried seasonal vegetables in oyster sauce and fish in sweet and sour chilli sauce.

For me, the fish was near perfect - a plentiful quantity of while fish in a complementary sauce. This is a dish which can go seriously wrong as the spices overpower the delicate fish flavours.

"The meat in this curry is so well done it melts in your mouth" said Mark. "Excellent."

The main courses came with boiled rice - again beautifully served - a triumph for a dish which is so simple and commonplace.

Beginning to struggle with quantity and racing against time to catch a train the ice cream dessert - chocolate for Mark, vanilla for me - was wolfed rather, but again this was delicate and immaculately served.

It's all new and we did find we were a little overpowered by the service: an army of waitresses appeared on hand to serve the sprinkling of clients in on a Tuesday night. But these are early days. The decor is beautiful, the cutlery feels pricey, and everything says that this will become one of Chester's great eating-out attractions.

It certainly deserves to be.

Decor is smart with plenty of elephants dotted around

Siam Thai and Teppanyaki, 32 City Road, Chester, CH1 3AE, 01244 403222

Parking: Reasonable City Road has space after office hours

Disabled access: Long walk to get in. Lifts available

The Bill: Siam Set Banquet B (Ten dishes): pounds 22.95 each

Bottle of Cabernet Merlot Siete Soles: pounds 13.50

Total: pounds 59.40

CAPTION(S):

Stephen Stewart and Tongmark Billington in the new Siam Thai. Chefs Nava Khan Kaew and Somsak Kumdang in the new Siam Thai restaurant on City Road.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 28, 2006
Words:943
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