On the Table: Thai Square
Thai cuisine has a reputation for excellence across the globe. Mark Bibby Jackson chats with the man behind the UK’s Thai Square restaurants.
Sitting opposite Haim Danous in his flagship Thai Square restaurant just across from Trafalgar Square, it is clear that the Baghdad-born property tycoon is a proud man.
“It is the most authentic Thai food that is produced in London,” says Danous, who moved to the UK capital in his youth. “The truth is the quality of our food you can not find even in Thailand.”
Such confidence is not without foundation. Now totalling 18 restaurants, each with its own unique design and menu, the Thai Square brand has scooped up many an award since its first restaurant opened on London’s The Strand 15 years ago.
Judging by my meal, both confidence and acclaim are justified. To start, I chose a papaya salad. A perfect mix of sugar and chilli, it would not have seemed out of place in the five-star kitchens of Bangkok, and left my palate invigorated for what was to follow.
My main was a black cod wing served in a sweet chilli sauce with a side order of aubergine in basil leaves. Both dishes show how traditional Thai dishes have been adapted to local ingredients. Cod is not a fish you often see on menus in Thailand, but the somewhat flavourless fish complimented the piquancy of the sauce. The aubergines were the fleshy European-style varietal of the vegetable rather than its pithy miniature Thai cousin. The dish had a distinct nasal kick to it.
Danous stresses the importance of maintaining both the quality and authenticity of the food. His contempt for the seemingly ubiquitous fusion food is undisguised. “Fusion food is here today, gone tomorrow, authentic food is forever,” he says before adding that he ships vital ingredients from Thailand in his own containers.
It is not just the food that is authentic. The restaurant’s décor has distinct Thai touches from the gold leaf used to adorn the walls to the white light shades dangling from the ceiling and the Thai objets d’art sprinkled around the room. Danous has a warehouse full of artefacts originating from the Kingdom, which he raids each time he opens a new restaurant.
But the authenticity of Thai Square is more than skin deep. Danous believes that Thai food can only be cooked and served by Thais – he claims to have an exemplary relationship with the UK’s Home Office over work visas. The reason for this lies deeper than the common assertion that Thai service is the best in the world.
“Thai food, it’s not the food itself,” Danous explains. “It’s the whole experience.” And this is what ultimately lead a successful Iraqi businessman to open a chain of Thai restaurants in his adopted London. “I chose Thai food because of the culture of Thailand,” he says. Whether it’s the culture, the authenticity or simply the taste of the food, the Thai Square brand is certainly going down a storm in the London restaurant scene.
Thai Square Trafalgar Square
21-24 Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square, London, SW1Y 5BN
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7839 4000
Thai Square is endorsed by the DITP under its Thai Select scheme. The Thai Select programme was launched to certify and promote authentic Thai cuisine around the world. It is a seal of approval granted to Thai restaurants – both overseas and local Thai eateries that serve authentic food – and processed Thai food products. The objective is to increase the recognition of quality Thai restaurants and processed Thai food products as well as to encourage Thai restaurateurs and food producers to raise quality while maintaining authenticity. For more details of the scheme visit: Thaiselect.com.