With all the new pop-ups and high profile restaurants opening in Leeds, it is easy to often forget the old faithfuls that have served the city amazing food well before the culinary revolution of the last few years had taken hold. Chaophraya is one of those places – a steadfast beacon of high quality, traditional Thai cuisine in beautiful surroundings which seems to have always been in Leeds, and well respected as a place for fine dining. Due to the saturation of new places opening in Leeds, offering competitively high quality fare, it does make you wonder how older establishments compete with the new influx of trendy eating spots, including award winning Zaap, which boasts Thai street food. I think the answer has to be quality – or to put it more bluntly (yet grammatically incorrect) : if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
I had been to Chaophraya years ago and was very impressed with the exotic interiors of the restaurant and the sumptuousness of the food (not to mention the traditional procession with drum beating which seemed to happen comically every time my friend and I were having an in-depth conversation). This time round, nearly 6 years later, nothing had changed. It looked exactly the same and had the same sense of class and glamour that I had remembered from my first visit. Even my friend, who works as a chef and who had accompanied me as my plus one, commented on how fancy it was – and that was just the bar area.
The event we had been invited to was the launch of their new Graduation menu, tied in with a few of the other experience packages they offer, like the cooking school and cocktail making masterclasses. We felt really lucky to be taking part in this as there were only two other bloggers there, which gave us a glimpse of what a private cooking class might feel like. After a complimentary glass of bubbly, we were whisked upstairs to the demonstration area, where Fon, our lovely hostess, showed us how to make our first delicacy, sweet corn cakes. We all donned a surgical rubber glove (and avoided the inappropriate gags running round our brains) and got stuck in, mixing sweet corn, red Thai curry paste, flour and eggs and making small patties to be fried. It was easy, fun and lovely to see them all fluffed up after being cooked. We also tried our hand at making vegetarian Thai spring rolls, with the help of the amazing Lady Noi, a senior chef from the restaurant who could chop vegetables up at lightning speed and work a wok like a true culinary artist. After she had cooked our fillings for the rolls, it was now our chance at donning an apron, a tall paper chef’s hat and mimicking Lady Noi’s effortless spring roll preparation. Whereas hers took seconds, mine took minutes and whilst my first effort looked like a flabby Swiss roll, after a bit of practice, I had actually learnt how to roll a spring roll. Chiyo! as they’d say in Thailand.(Yes, I googled that). Fon also taught us how to make golden baskets too, with a skilful twist on the tying of the same wrap used for spring rolls
After cleaning up, we sat down to our beautiful set table and were promptly served with our homemade sweetcorn cakes and spring rolls with lashings of sweet chilli sauce. Alongside these we also received two more of the Graduation menu appetisers, with scallops and black pudding and Mahoh (finely diced pork, with palm sugar, sweet turnips and peanuts, served on pineapple) being served up with a real eye for artistry.
Our Sweetcorn cakes were absolutely delicious (definitely something I’m going to try to cook at home) and the Spring rolls were crispy, light and delicious when dipped in the addictive chilli sauce. The Mahoh, whilst looking like little peanut butter balls resting on the back of a pineapple swan, were less appetising, being far too sweet for my palate. I couldn’t taste the pork at all and it didn’t appeal to me or my diners, but I’m sure the sweet toothed may enjoy it. The real star of the appetiser line up though was the scallops and black pudding which, Fon told us to our horror, was being taken off the menu due to not being as popular as the other dishes. This would be a gastronomic tragedy! The scallop was perfectly cooked, with juicy slices of mango and spicy chilli, which were perched on what has to be the best slice of black pudding I have ever tasted. Everyone sat at our table agreed how wonderful this dish was, so I hope this heartfelt plea stops the powers that be at Chaophraya from removing this from the menu. Save our scallops!
The portion sizes for the appetisers were incredibly generous,so much so that we had to take some home with us (my colleagues at work were jealous the next day – spring rolls beat sandwiches any day). Our main meals were then presented, again with hugely generous portion sizes, offering up roasted duck in red curry, steamed sea bass with ginger and soy sauce and wok chicken noodle with sriracha sauce and a mountain of steaming egg fried rice.
Each meal was as delicious as the next, with the sea bass fillets beautifully dripping in sticky soy emulsion and the tender duck being strangely yet deliciously complimented by a mixed berry sauce which worked well with the spice of the red curry. The sriracha dish was probably my favourite, as I am a huge hot sauce fan, with the soft noodle and tender chicken melting in the mouth and the spice being well balanced so as not to overpower the tastebuds. From looking at the menu, vegetarians also have a great choice for the mains, with a veggie green curry, sweet and sour crispy tofu and stir fried aubergine and basil being offered.
After filling up another take away box with the delicious remnants of our mains, we were faced with the task of making our own fruity cocktail. Headed by a friendly barman from the restaurant, we all learnt how to properly mix our cocktail, blending mixed berry purées with a shot of vanilla vodka and Chambord and shaking it like a Polaroid picture. It was wonderful fun and the cocktail tasted brilliant – so fruity that you hardly noticed there was any booze in it – dangerous and moreish, like a good cocktail should be. This was then followed up by our dessert, a bubbling chocolate fondue with exotic fruits served in a pineapple. A lovely fresh way to end the meal, although none of us were sure about the combination of pineapple and chocolate, so stuck with the old favourite of strawberries instead.
In my opinion, if you had just graduated, Chaophraya would be a great place to celebrate, with the opulence of the surroundings and the high quality of food adding to your special day. The set menu is innovative and delicious and would satisfy anyone’s taste buds, especially if the black pudding dish remains. The cooking demos and cocktail classes are great fun (Lady Noi is a legend!) and would be suitable for hen parties, birthdays or any get together with like-minded friends who love good food and getting their hands dirty. Chaophraya may not be one of the newest restaurants in Leeds, but it is one of the best, showing that quality always keeps people coming back for more.
20A Blayds Court
Photos by Lucy Reynolds