Upgrading from French

Once there was a bistro… mediocre at best, but upmarket for the traditional surroundings associated with the infamous Chippy Alley of Caroline Street in the centre of Cardiff. Few tears were shed at Juno HQ as Pierre met his demise during the Covid lockdowns of 2020… but, what would replace it? Summer of 2021 gave rise to a hint of refurbishment, and in recent weeks the curtain can be raised on a new Thai restaurant. Busaba emerges to taunt those who only have time for a bag of chips… the eternal staple of the street food warriors of Caroline Street (myself included on occasions of haste).

It passes the first test… the menus are not overly complicated, and certainly don’t need to be made of wipe-down plastic (a surefire sign of *********** well, fill in the blanks with your own commentary). However, step two created a problem… even though the menu had ‘starters’ and ‘mains’ as categories, the whole lot arrived in one go!

Makes for an exciting looking table, but something’s going to get cold… not least the stare from my discerning culinary companion!

Some things were definitely going to need replacing with freshly cooked dishes (and the restaurant staff duly obliged without any fuss).

Matchstick Chicken provided crispy bites of flavour without the expected fiery burn back. Yam Pak Crispy Duck salad provided a substantial leg, covering a fabulously tasty crunchy assortment of loveliness with a hint of peanut sauce. The Chicken Green Curry provided that wonderful Thai combination of coconut and lemongrass. The Tamarind Duck Breast was accompanied by that slight fiery tang originally expected from the Matchstick starter.

But, pride of place goes to that smallest of bowls (top right of the photograph). Calamari… described on the menu as their signature wok-tossed dish in ginger and green peppercorn sauce. Or, described by me as WTF… that’s the best Calamari I’ve tasted… ever!!

Until we speak again, they describe their restaurant as “Eating in balance… at Busaba you’ll find fresh authentic flavours with an innovative twist.” I say: “Bon Voyage mediocre French joint… I want more of that Calamari… NOW!”

My Thai

Is it a religion? Is it a form of martial arts? Or is it a flippant reference to the other half? No, it’s time to satisfy that hunger with some exotic cuisine. When you’ve exhausted your mental and physical faculties sitting down and watching a couple of rugby matches in the Millennium Stadium you can really work up an appetite. So, the question is whether you follow the neanderthal hordes to the nearest burger van, or maybe hit Cardiff’s infamous chip alley down Caroline Street?

Those of us with an ounce of forward planning capability realise that restaurants will be full, unless that is you book in advance. And if you book in advance why not go that exotic extra taste bud or two. The Thai House is a well established Cardiff institution, conveniently located close to a range of other unique eating establishments that eschew (that’s a nice word borrowed from the TLF blog!) the chain mentality. If you like your eatery to have a Portuguese flavour then you will have to walk a whole 3 yards to that place below draped with a Welsh flag. If you like your nosh with a touch of the art insulation, or even a religious backdrop, then you will have to muster up the energy to walk a further 20 yards (all of which are reviewed in other posts on this site).

Strangely, this is a Thai restaurant that boasts a Rugby addition to the menu, but this is no time for a theme park trough. Dynamic flowing rugby needs to be followed by something a little more exquisite.

Thai House [1]

TheĀ Thai House menu is a navigational challenge in its own right. But after you have spent 10 minutes with the verbal gymnastics, guzzling a Singa Beer for inspiration, you pluck up the courage to order using the Thai wording; only for your ethnic waitress to look at the menu and ask if you mean 4, 9, 21, 22, 51 and 54! The Sate (tender pork and chicken) and Tord Mun (Spicy Thai Fish Medallions) both offer delicately spiced and succulent starters…

Thai House [2]

Then it’s time for something that no burger van or famous fish and chip shop in the world is likely to serve up. The crispy duck comes with an even more crispy kale, to offer contrasting assaults on the taste buds. Then the Emperor prawns deliver an unexpected undressing challenge, to remove the hard shell in order to reveal a juicy sacrifice within; made all the more rewarding when enveloped in a spicy coconut sauce, with lime and mushroom additional flavours…

Thai House [3]

Don’t go here on a busy day expecting rapid service. This is a place you come to to absorb the culinary offerings in a more relaxed mode. Neither Juno or Bella were enamoured with my liking for the prawn. But I’m sure that duck and the earlier fish and meat combinations would have taken some swiping off unguarded plates.

Until we speak again I will be taking a tour of fields way beyond Cardiff, sharing some Cardiff Cool Cat reflections on ‘elsewhere’.