Leeds’ Northern Quarter seems to have sprung a leak with Thai eateries over recent months – Merrion Street’s now got Bar Soba doing their Pan-Asian thing, popular Thai Aroy Dee has finally reopened a few doors from its original site, of course there’s My Thai (my current Thai fave) just up the road on Wade Lane, and with Zaap Thai this part of town is becoming a bit saturated in this department. When initial signs for the place first went up it created a stir on social media and since opening in May that’s not really stopped, it’s really grabbed people’s attention and resulted in lots of bums on seats!
For those of you who’ve no idea who Zaap Thai Street Food are, they’re part of award-winning Sukhothai, their well known fine dining restaurants have been popular in and around the city for years. But with Zaap Thai they’ve gone down another path, the name itself sets its stall out to street food and as soon you enter you feel the energy of the place and start to absorb a multitude of sights and sounds. I imagine they’re trying to replicate the atmosphere you get wandering the markets of Thailand, with tuk tuks as eating booths, bright Thai advertising light boxes and street carts, its open kitchen adds to the atmosphere and the sense of being in the heart of Bangkok.
Arriving around 7:45pm it was busy with a few groups ahead of us waiting, this was dealt with well by staff and not long after ordering drinks at the bar a table became available. Their no booking policy works out for them well I think – we turned up, got lured in by our surroundings, were willing to wait and immediately order drinks ….. game over. The place has a good atmosphere, it’s not too loud and even with music playing in the background being able to have a conversation isn’t a problem.
The menu’s pretty big and divided into dim sum or dim zum as they call it, salads, Krub Krib (snacks and nibbles), larger dishes such as grilled and roasted meat/seafood, noodles, dishes with rice and finally soup and sides. With a good mix from classics such as pad thai, massamam curry and papaya salads alongside mussel pancakes and thai omelettes there’s plenty of choice. On first impressions the menu looked reasonably priced, starters were hitting the £3 – £5.50 mark and most larger dishes were between £6.50 – £8.50, seafood dishes a little more expensive.
I didn’t want to get sucked into ordering non-Thai favourites so went for southern Thai chicken wings, my friend went for the crispy wonton. For our main courses we both went for belly pork, one with rice and one with Morning Glory greens. Ordering was a grab a someone’s attention affair rather than waiting for someone to come to us, as they were bezzing around, this I didn’t mind as I didn’t really see it as a formal setting. With orders marked down on the menu, which also doubled as placemats our server quickly scurried off.
My chicken ‘wings’ (2 x wings, 2 x drumsticks) arrived with sweet chilli sauce, a crisp light batter coated the meat which was moist and juicy, a bit of oomph was provided by the chilli sauce. As much as I love things fried in batter, and I realise this is how it’s done in Thai cuisine, I do prefer them without the batter and just like the skin to be really crisp. The wontons opposite me were polished off quickly, I thought they looked a little light on filling, but my friend was satisfied and had no complaints.
There was a quick turn around and before we new it our main dishes were brought across, both ordering crispy belly pork – mine with boiled rice and a sauce spiked with a bit of chilli heat. Being someone with a mild belly pork obsession, I’m a bit of a traditionalist having eaten it since childhood Chinese style. I have to admit I was a tad disappointed with it, after hearing many good reports recently. Similarly to the chicken, the pork was coated in a light coating of crisp batter, I’m not sure if they cook it twice as the meat was a little tougher than I’d like and even though the meat had a sweetness, the sauce was needed to make up for any lack of flavour. My steamed veg side arrived late and needed chasing up as they’d forgotten about it, what baffled me was they take the time to circle it on my placemat, but then don’t use it to check them off?! In hindsight, I probably should’ve gone for a dish with stir fried veg which would’ve been more flavourful, as they were quite plain. My friends dish was tasty, but she’d openly admit that she’s greedy and would’ve liked the portion to be more generous.
Overall I think the concept’s good and I like how they’ve tried to transport people to the streets of Bangkok, there’s tonnes of choice on the menu and it’s kind on the pocket too. The staff were friendly, but the service wasn’t perfect and I’d say from a first visit the food was a little hit and miss, I liked it but I didn’t love it and there’s room for improvement. In an area where there’s lots of competition at the moment, there are other places I prefer more and will probably stick to them.