Rosa’s Thai (And A Chance To Win Free Pad Thai!)
Like many good things in life, the name of Rosa’s Thai came about completely by accident. After starting a food stall on Brick Lane in 2007, founder Saiphin and her partner Alex found a site to open a permanent restaurant – just two years after the couple had moved to the UK. The plot in question was previously a popular local British caff called Rosa’s Café (funnily enough), and as a mark of respect to the old owners, and a lack of money, they left the same sign on the door. Now with over thirty restaurants across the UK, Saiphin’s food has come a long way from that first stall on Brick Lane.
The Leeds restaurant, situated on the top floor of Trinity Shopping Centre, opposite Wagamama’s, asked me to come along to try their Pad Thai in anticipation of National Pad Thai Day on the 7th of November. After a post-work pint in Whitelocks, a friend and I headed up to the restaurant.
Once seated, it is possible to altogether forget that you are in a shopping centre, such is the relaxed and personalised design of the space. I ordered the king prawn Pad Thai, with my mate opting for the “drunken noodles” (pad kee mao), to be accompanied by two “Rosa’s Thai-PA’s”. The ale was fantastic: blended with lemongrass and lime, it was crisp, refreshing and the perfect accompaniment to our food, which arrived swiftly after ordering.
I have to concede that I’m not overly versed in Thai Food, but my Pad Thai was umami-rich, and the sauce consistency was glossy, coating the still-firm noodles (nobody likes a soggy noodle). The prawns were well cooked, charred from the wok but still juicy, with a hint of wok hei, that beautifully smoky flavour achieved through proper wok cookery. With a squeeze of lime over the top and ground peanuts on the side, my Pad Thai was balanced, comforting and moreish. When ordering his “drunken noodles”, my friend was asked if he’d be okay with the spice of his dish, to which he replied a confident yes. Although he was a bit on the rouge side when we finished eating, as well as polishing off both of our waters, he handled the authentically hot plate of noodles well. Reportedly earning their name for being an ideal post-night-out meal, Thai pad kee mao (“drunken noodles”) was something new to me, and from what I tasted at Rosa’s they pack a punch in spice, salt and umami, and is something I would like to try again. On the note of spice, I always think it is a shame if any restaurant dulls down the spice (or salt) of a dish for the Western palate, and you certainly can’t accuse Rosa’s of this.
One problem Rosa’s Thai does have is company. A short walk to Vicar Lane and you can see three Thai restaurants from the same street corner, with many more a short walk away. I’m not sure Rosa’s Thai outperforms the renowned Thai A Roy Dee for flavour; but in terms of accessibility, I can see the appeal of exploring a new cuisine in what feels like a familiar setting of a thoughtfully franchised restaurant.
On the note of franchising, whilst we were eating, I couldn’t help but mentally compare Rosa’s Thai with their neighbours in Trinity: Wagamama’s. This widely successful business is a classic example of a brand rolling out restaurants throughout the country causing a drop in the standards of their food – sorry if anyone is a Waga’s fan, but their ramen tastes like dishwater. As far as I can tell, this has not happened at Rosa’s Thai. Thailand, and Thai flavours, remain at the heart of their quest: the tamarind paste used in their Pad Thai comes from Saiphin’s home province in Phetchabun. Rosa’s Thai is living and breathing proof that the word ‘franchise’ need not be the dirty word it all too often is in the food world, for at the top of Trinity shopping centre lies an entrance into a cuisine that I would like to delve further into, and it is through the process of franchising that this has been made possible.
Whether Rosa’s invented National Pad Thai Day is ambiguous, but either way, on the 7th of November they’re offering the opportunity to win free food! All you need to do is roll a nine on their “special” pair of dice – if you fancy your chances click here for more information. May the odds be ever in your favour!