Friday, May 27, 2016

Busaba Eathai Manchester Review

I have been frequenting Busaba Eathai a lot recently.

For someone who rarely eats out (well, in the UK anyway), having gone to this restaurant four times in 3 weeks is quite a feat.

I feel like I may come across as being overly-critical in this review, but I think it's just a Singaporean- or Asian thing to be critical? ๐Ÿ˜ฌ

Trust me when I say the food is worth it- you just need to pick the right dishes! Well, this may be less a review than an insistent "get these dishes or else" but you know, do what you want, and feel free to ask the staff for recommendations to suit your palate. 

I must first start off by loudly proclaiming how bloody excellent the Thai ice coffee (I think it's around £2) is. Pardon my French, but I will repeat- bloody excellent.

The cardamom pods give it a hint of spice, that extra something special, and I am guilty of repeatedly going back just for the iced coffee.

Perfect for summer ๐Ÿ˜Ž

The Thai calamari (£6.95) is a must-have, a perfect blend of salty and sweet. It is a mouthful of chewy heaven that seems to go on forever! Scoop on the ginger pieces and chew on and on and on....

It comes in a tasteful bowl, perfect for sharing between two people, or you can get one on your own because face it, it's amazing and you want it all to yourself. I nearly cried happy tears and took an additional order to go.

There were two businessmen next to me on one of my visits loudly singing its praises, and I couldn't stop smiling at my exact sentiments ๐Ÿ˜Ž

The fish cakes (£4.95) are also very excellent. I wish there were more for the price, but these aren't your ordinary fish cakes- they do pack a punch especially given how bad I am with spicy food- but boy, are they worth it. Just make sure you savour those few bites! I love the texture, and the sauce that comes with it adds a bit of zingy sweetness, and paired with the spicy, savoury flavour of the fishcake, creates the perfect blend of umami.

For the main:

I usually get the Tom kha chicken (£10.95), which is lemongrass chicken and glass noodles in a delicious broth. It's a perfect blend of sour, spice, and savoury- I adore the heady coconut, galangal and lemongrass taste.

If you've had Thai before, the best description for this is Tom yum, with its spiciness neutered somewhat. It's a godsend for people who love Tom yum, but can't handle the spiciness.

Galangal is a root vegetable much like ginger and features prominently in Tom Kha and Tom yum soups. The fact that they've made sure to include it is impressive, since many of the Thai restaurants I've been to leave it out for convenience sake. It's not really something you can find in supermarkets here.

I usually ask for more noodles, since the portion can be quite small. There is ample broth though, which I happily finish every time.

The Classic pad Thai (£9.50) had a huge portion I struggled to finish after ordering a side dish and dessert.

I didn't enjoy it as much because the dried shrimp overwhelmed the whole dish. If you have a Western palate and find fish sauce disgusting, I would not recommend getting this. I did like the crunchy texture of the beansprouts paired with the noodles, but towards the end my mouth was on fire and I could barely taste anything other than fire and dried shrimp.

If you can handle your spice, I would recommend the Northern Thai laksa (£10.95). I had a small taste from my cousin's bowl and the soup is really aromatic. The chicken is tender and flavourful too, and the noodles lend a nice bite to it. Be prepared to down several glasses of water!

And how can one forget to mention a green curry dish? Get the green chicken curry with aubergines and corn and you won't go wrong.

Personally, the side dishes outshine the mains. I would order a whole bunch of sides if I could afford it, to be honest.

I have yet to try the Som Tam, which is a green papaya salad with dried shrimp, peanut, cherry tomatoes and lime but I'm looking forward to it on my next visit- I just couldn't justify getting three sides, and I couldn't not order the calamari or the fish cakes! I Am Pho in Chinatown, Manchester (directions here) does a great salad in the same style, and I regularly go there for good Vietnamese food.

I've tried most of the desserts and some are good, but others are not necessarily something you could justify paying for.

The must-try dessert has to be the sticky black rice pudding (£4.95). It is deliciously sweet, a great palate cleanser, and the sour notes of the mango balance out the sweetness of the condensed milk.

If you loved this, The kitchn does a really good recipe that you can try. Healthy Harlequin has also done a helpful video tutorial, but it uses the Chinese equivalent, which is less sticky.

How to make Forbidden Coconut Black Rice with Healthy Harlequin (15 secs) from Healthy Harlequin on Vimeo.

The coconut ice cream (2 scoops, £3.50; 3 scoops, £4.50) has an interesting bite with coconut pieces, but I would much like it better with a stronger coconut taste- it resembles more vanilla than coconut.

I would skip the pandan roll and buy one from a Chinese bakery at a fraction of the cost.

General Remarks

Ambience: Excellent

The decorations are very thought-out, and everything: from the cutlery, the vases, the furnishings, to the wall decals... hell, the toilets look like they belong in a spa.

(Go to Busaba for the wooden toilet seats!! Tell them I sent you! ๐Ÿ˜‚)

Food: Very Good

There is a good balance between traditional and modern, and the dishes try to be as authentic as possible even as it explores innovative twists. Some of the dishes do fall flat on authenticity, but if you have not been to Thailand, you probably might as well visit them. The London branch has better food than the Manchester one.

Customer service: Very Good

The staff were very friendly and made sure to recommend dishes and ask whether we enjoyed our meals.

The first time we went, there was a breakdown in communication and resulted in us waiting over 20 minutes before they realised. They apologised profusely told us that all our drinks would be on the house, which was a nice surprise.

Sometimes it can be difficult to get their attention, which might be attributed to the large size of the restaurant.

Wait time: 
Generally 10-20 minutes.

The staff usually ask if we want prawn crackers while waiting and serve drinks immediately, so don't worry about sitting around hungry!

Affordability: Very Good

The prices are reasonable but if you are on a student budget i.e. in debt and scrimping to make ends meet, just make sure you get a set meal. They do lunch sets from £9.95 from Monday to Friday, 12-4pm and £12.95 from 4pm.

Otherwise, getting a starter, main, drinks and dessert each would set you back roughly £20-30/ pax.

Opening times: They are open from 12-11pm most days.


I wasn't paid to do this review- all opinions are my own. In fact, I have given them all my money by buying way too much calamari and iced coffee. ๐Ÿ˜…

They have an ongoing promotion for the Bank holiday weekend- exciting times!

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