While The ‘Land of Smiles’ may be thousands of kilometres away, there’s actually a fantastic little slice of Thailand on offer a lot closer to home, says Matt Blackwell
Thai people are renowned for their infectious smiles and, sure enough, the moment I walked through the door of Shang Thai at The Wave, Muscat, I was met with beaming staff that were eager to please.
I visited on a Thursday evening, at around 8.30pm, and found the restaurant to have a pleasant buzz about it. There were two large parties that took over the centre of the room, while smaller groups and couples were sitting around the edge of the dining space. The staff had no problem finding us a table, leading us to one by the wall. However, many holes had been cut into the wood as part of an intricate pattern, to the extent that we could have shaken hands with people walking past if we wanted to. While this design detail was pleasing to the eye, it did mean that our perusal of the menu was set to a soundtrack of grating screams from some particularly unruly children who were roaming The Wave free from parental control.
I spent six weeks travelling South East Asia as part of a wider trip around the world after graduating from university and, consequently, the cuisine of the region holds a special place in my heart. Memories of the tastes and smells of Thailand flooded back as I scanned the menu, finding myself spoilt for choice. I wanted one of everything – it all sounded so good. Alas, neither my stomach nor my wallet could allow me such an indulgence and I settled on Thai-style steamed dumplings with prawns to start, while my friend and dining companion, Ailish, opted for the Tom Yum soup. My three dumplings were a decent size, served in a quaint basket with a lid. The prawn was minced, which was unexpected yet pleasant and the accompanying sweet soya sauce enhanced the taste by providing a subtle saltiness. The soup was flavoured with lemongrass, a popular ingredient in Asian cooking, but both Ailish and I agreed that this was faintly overpowered by the coriander. The bowl was huge and although the spicy soup included fish, mussels and squid, it could’ve benefitted from slightly more seafood.
Shang Thai’s relaxed ambience had the conversation flowing and while I don’t remember us being particularly slow in consuming our first course, our mains were served as soon as the starters departed. This is the smallest of gripes, though, and I would much rather suffer swift service over slow.
Presentation and portion size are two things that Shang Thai scores full marks on. Ever the seafood lover, Ailish had chosen the steamed fish fillet with soya sauce and ginger, which was served in a fish shaped dish on top of a bed of colourful vegetables. The dory fillet itself was slightly salty but cooked to perfection and fell apart in the mouth. My Ped Grob Phad Bai Kra Praow, which, to the uninitiated, means stir-fried crispy fried duck with hot basil, was, in short, delicious. Lightly fried, the meat was smothered in a sticky glaze, while managing to retain its trademark strong taste. Red chillies and black peppercorns provided a potent kick of spice and the dish was bulked out with green beans and baby sweetcorn that were cooked to perfection.We had ordered sides of stir-fried broccoli and sticky rice, although in reality just one of these would have been enough as the portions were very generous.
As much as I hate wasting good food, I found myself staring down the barrel of defeat and had to throw in the towel. Dessert was the last thing on my mind at that point, but after a lengthy break, we decided to tackle the tempura ice cream. While the notion of deep-frying something that is frozen may seem strange, I can honestly say that the combination works. The tempura batter was light and the taste reminded me of doughnuts; it felt like you were getting two deserts for the price of one when combined with the vanilla ice cream within. Lashings of chocolate sauce transformed this into a devilishly decadent desert.
The service was good, with our waitress remaining a respectful distance throughout, although quickly on hand as soon as my eyes sought her out. It’s often said that time flies when you’re having fun and before we knew it, we’d spent three hours at Shang Thai. This stands as a testament to the restaurant’s laid-back, hassle-free atmosphere, which ensured the entire experience was a pleasure as opposed to a chore.
Thailand is known as the “Land of Smiles” and we certainly left with one on our faces.
The Wave, Muscat
Tel: +968 2455 4774
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 11.30am-11pm
Dinner for two including drinks: RO31.4
Generous portions of great-tasting food.
Y Magazine reviews anonymously and pays for its meals