It is a busy Spitalfields evening bubbling with the post-work crush of young, hip Londoners all looking for perfectly spiced food and interesting combinations. I love Spitalfields for its trendy, laid back creative vibe and Rosa’s is perfectly at home in that environment.
The food is served in classic white and blue enamel plates and bowls, and normal Thai offerings rub shoulders with funkier fusion cooking – Thai calamari, grilled venison and spicy seafood spaghetti all jostle on the menu alongside the more traditional offerings of red and green curry, pad Thai and various coconut based soups.
I have brought along my hippest friend – a drama teacher with dreadlocks who grew up in Nepal and has just spent six months backpacking in Australia. Even she is impressed with the vibe and we order soft shell crab to start. Soft shell crab is my new food envy – it is appearing on menus throughout London and I love it. The crab is perfectly crispy and yet still succulent with the sweet, spicy undercurrent of a well balanced Thai dish. The portion size is generous and the dipping sauce brings in notes of lime, chilli and palm sugar, making it the perfect addition to the slightly mild, delicate crab.
For the main we select food filled with memories: my friend picks Som Tam – a dish she recalls eating hundreds of times on her gap year in Thailand – dried shrimp salad served with papaya and cashew nuts. At the last minute I risk it all and order one of my sacred dishes – green Thai curry.
I believe most food writers have three dishes that are sacred in their life, dishes that have been tried hundreds of times and are very tricky to recreate. For me these magic dishes are spaghetti carbonara, lemon and poppyseed cake and green Thai curry. I always avoid ordering these dishes when out as I’m virtually always disappointed.
Rosa’s Thai Cafe, however, has become the exception to my green Thai curry rule. When my curry arrives it is the perfect blend of sweet, spicy and salty – delicately blended with a rich coconut base but still with an undercurrent of chilli heat that offsets the creaminess of the sauce. The aubergine and chicken are perfectly cooked and I get overexcited when I discover that in the sauce there are also bamboo shoots and sweet basil – expensive extras which are often missed off.
The best word I can use to sum up my main is ‘fragrant’. Thai food is all about balancing all of your taste buds at once and playing off the different flavours to create a really sensual taste. By which I mean your senses should be engaged in your eating rather than just focusing on taste. Rosa’s achieves exactly this: the atmosphere is hip and visually interesting, the atmosphere is buzzing, the food smells and tastes incredible, making for an especially memorable meal.
Rosa’s moto is ‘Born in the East, raised in the East End’. The one small point I would raise is that these are not old fashioned East End prices – the dishes are not cheap for Thai. Starters range from £6-£9 and mains range from £10-£16, meaning dinner for two at Rosa’s will easily set you back £50, including wine. However, the food is worth it. If you’re looking for an up and coming Thai restaurant in London, look no further, Rosa’s is it.
12 Hanbury Street
Tel: 020 7247 1093