I met someone the other day who had never tried calamari. Never. Not in their whole entire life. They had never before even considered the fact that squid could be eaten. In fact, at the very mention of it, they scrunched their nose up, stuck out their tongue and began to wretch, in the kind of way you did as a kid when someone hinted at the idea of you kissing someone of the opposite sex or something. Or at least pretended to wretch. Anyway, it was all very strange to be quite honest with you.
I understand that not everyone has been lucky enough to have tried as many incredible dishes and cuisines as I have, but I can’t help but think that if you are in London, regardless of whether you eat them or not, you must be aware of the different flavours and ingredients available across the multiple cuisines offered on your doorstep? Or maybe that really is what blogs like this are for?
Either way, it got me thinking about one of the best calamari dishes I have ever had in my life which can be found at Busaba Eathai on Store Street (and various other locations).
Busaba is a chain of fantastic Thai restaurants which has multiple homes in and around the West-end, Chelsea, Westfield (Shepherds Bush & Stratford) and Shoreditch. They also have a restaurant located in Bicester Village (their only restaurant located outside of London). This restaurant has a huge menu of deliciously made Thai dishes and side plates, all of which you enjoy whilst sitting on wooden benches on large tables that you share with other diners. The best thing to do here is order yourself a small selection of side dishes to share, as well a bowl or two of rice, and then choose a main dish each – this is the way to get the best out of this extensive menu.
The Thai Calamari (the best i’ve ever had and priced at just £6.50) is unlike generic calamari that you get in a chain American restaurant; it’s not coated in greasy batter. Instead, the crispy coating is thin, yet still bursting with flavour. The scored pieces of squid taste almost caramelised, but there is a hint of chilli hiding beneath the surface of the initial sweet hit to your tastebuds. The menu doesn’t give much away in the way of ingredients, other than ‘ginger and peppercorn’, so there’s no way of knowing exactly what it is that makes this calamari so incredible, but my mother and I did our research and found a few blogs that have speculated over the ingredients and believe they’ve worked out the secret. You can find the best recipe I have found here. I honestly defy you to not enjoy this amazing bowl of squid. I have now taken several family members, friends and colleagues to this restaurant to enjoy this dish, and all have left singing the praises of this intriguing, innovative take on a usually greasy and generic side dish.
After you order your calamari (yes, it’s actually compulsory now) it’s time to give the rest of the menu a peruse. It has all the greats from the world of thai cooking. Fresh, crunchy salads, noodle soups, the classic stir-frys we all know and love (with ginger beef, prawns, tofu and chicken) can all be found, as well as a selection of grilled and rice dishes with a beautiful array of meats cooked in delicate spices and pastes. However my winning dishes are located in the curry section where two of the best Thai dishes i’ve tried outside of Thailand can be found.
I don’t think there is a better dish on the menu than the Duck Mussaman Curry (£10.50) which homes a thick creamy sauce with a subtle, sweet undertone, along with soft, boiled potatoes, crisp peanuts and tasty onions all coating tender chunks of duck. The flavours have a pleasant complexity that mimics those found in Thailand. The duck is succulent, meaty and full of flavour while the potatoes are fluffy, soaking up the flavours in the sauce.
The other star curry dish has, to my utter dismay, been very recently removed from the menu. This was the pumpkin and squash curry which was smooth, creamy, sweet and bursting with flavour from the root vegetables. Accompanying this dish always came a small bowl of sweet sugar water (with cucumber, onions & sweet chillies) designed to lessen the heat from any spice in the curry, which in turn allowed for another dimension to be created as its addition made the curry sweeter. Busaba team: if you’re reading this, please bring this dish back!
The rice is beautiful too; either opt for the classic Sticky rice which works perfectly with the saucy curries as it soaks up the gorgeous sauces, or the Coconut rice which goes wonderfully with the grilled dishes (both £3.30 each).
Other dishes of note obviously include their Pad Thai which is fresh, filling and cooked well with quality ingredients, as well as the chilli prawn stir-fry.
When it comes to drinks, my favourite is without doubt the non alcoholic Grapefruit Mojito (£3.30) with vanilla, mint, lime and chilli. The tangy, cheek sucking tartness of the grapefruit is mouthwatering, whereas the mint brings a light freshness. Meanwhile the chilli flakes gently infused give the mouth a pleasant shock with every sip.
The prices definitely don’t reflect the prices you’d pay on the Khao San Road, but considering you’re dining in London, this isn’t a badly priced meal. Service is quick and the atmosphere is enjoyable.
Busaba Eathai is the brain child of Alan Yau, the man behind Michelin starred restaurants Hakassan & Yauatcha, as well as the founder of the wonderful Japanese food chain Wagamamma. His latest restaurant venture is the Chinese noodle bar Cha Cha Moon which can be found in Kingly Court, Carnaby. You can read my tastecard blog review for CCM here.