Baan Phraya, Norwich

A new addition to the Norwich food scene – the Baan Phraya Thai restaurant is adjacent to Thai Wellbeing. SARAH BREALEY samples the menu. She's impressed...

Norwich is blessed when it comes to Thai restaurants – one of them, the Vine, is even in the Good Food Guide – and the most recent addition is keeping up the high standards.

Baan Phraya is upstairs at Thai Wellbeing on Red Lion Street, and is also the sister restaurant to the Thai Sipaak fast-food joint on Castle Street.

Don't make any assumptions based on Thai Sipaak though – this is definitely a more upmarket destination, with opulent purple and gold decor, and even a lavish water feature involving model elephants playing in a waterfall.

The cloth-bound menus are heavy and have myriad dishes to choose from, including some I have not encountered before, such as stir-fried holy basil, or battered morning glory with king prawns and squid.

The wine list is long and helpfully arranged into styles of wine, starting around �15 for a bottle. There is also a choice of Thai lagers, of which I sampled the Tiger beer, while the Real Ale Drinker had to make do with John Smith's.

Every evening meal includes an appetiser called Meing Kam – a traditional Thai snack. We were presented with two betel leaves each and an array of little dishes containing roast peanuts, diced lime, shallot, ginger, tiny dried shrimps, plum sauce and chopped bird's eye chillies. You put a bit of everything (or whatever you fancy) into a leaf, roll it up and pop it into your mouth. It was an explosion of flavour.

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I started with Tom Kha, or coconut soup, which comes with a choice of chicken, seafood, tofu and so on.

I had the mushroom variety, and the fungi combined with the coconut cream was strangely reminiscent of an old-fashioned English cream of mushroom soup – but then the bright spicy flavours of lemongrass, chilli, coriander and galangal were a welcome contrast.

The Real Ale Drinker had Kra Tong Thong, which is minced chicken and prawn with Thai herbs and various vege-tables, served in pastry cups.

The texture contrast worked well, and it tasted pleasant – though the flavours were so mingled it was hard to tell what you were actually eating.

Main courses were hard to choose, such was the array of options, but I unadventurously opted for my usual choice of green curry with vegetables.

It was very good – a mixture of nicely-cooked broccoli, corn, beansprouts and so on, plus Thai eggplants, Thai basil, and kaffir lime leaves in a fragrant, reasonably spicy sauce.

The Real Ale Drinker had the panang curry with mussels, which featured the mussels stir-fried in a red curry paste, topped with chilli and lime leaves.

It was sweeter and saltier than the green curry, still intensely savoury, with a good number of shelled, very large mussels which looked the size of New Zealand green lip mussels.

We shared some steamed jasmine rice and also Thai sticky rice, which was as sticky and glutinous as the name suggests.

To finish we shared a dessert of mango with sticky rice and ice cream, a traditional Thai dessert which worked well, though the mango could perhaps have been a touch riper.

The menu specified a 'choice of Thai ice-cream', but what materialised resembled nothing so much as Wall's Cream of Cornish to me.

The slightly odd aspect of eating above a spa is that your table may include a promotion for a special offer on eye-brow threading, and the toilets have showers in them too.

But with excellent food and a relaxing atmosphere we did not hold this against them. Indeed, in the battle for the city's gourmet Thai crown, I think Baan Phraya will be giving Vine Thai a run for its money.

Baan Phraya Thai

Red Lion Street


01603 614590

Prices: Around �4 for a starter, from �8 upwards for a main dish, plus around �3 for rice. Desserts are from �4. There is

also a cheaper lunch menu.

Wheelchair access: No – it's upstairs.

Opening times: Every lunchtime and evening except Sunday lunch.

Vegetarian options: Lots.