Before Somsaa and Smoking Goat, there was Mango Tree.
From the moment I enter, I feel I have stepped back in time a little bit. The classical vibes of this place remind me of a time when dining out was a sense of occasion. The restaurant is cavernous, occupying a prime location in London Belgravia. There are leather-padded chairs and wooden floorboards, giving it a dark, moody look but the floor-to-ceilings windows cast enough dust-spangled sunlight to brighten up the space. One would expect this to be a fine dining, stuffy place. Instead, the lack of crisp white cloths suggest a more relaxed and informal destination to dine (although I do spy a drinks trolley from the corner of my eye). It is retro but not jaded.
From the starters, we order an assortment of crowd-pleasing Thai staples: Mango Tree Pork Satay (grilled skewers of marinated pork threaded into a skewer); Spicy Thai Fishcakes (with fish paste and minced prawns, seasoned with Thai Curry paste and lime leaves) and Chicken Jeerapan (grilled boneless corn-fed chicken, marinated in black pepper, garlic and coriander).
Perhaps the least favourite is the satay which is not as satisfying as the fragrant and aromatic fish cakes or the fatty full-flavoured chicken thighs. Three starters are enough to share between two without stuffing ourselves completely.
The mains include a soothing, creamy Prawn Penang (rich red curry with coconut leaves, sweet basil leaves and pea aubergine) and some fluffy Egg Fried Rice, all decently portioned and smelling divine.
My main of Talay Pad Cha (spicy wok-fried mixed seafood with fresh chilli, garlic, that herbs and peppercorns) is tantalising; groaning with heaps of juicy prawns, squid, mussels in a puddle of scintillating fiery broth. My senses are numbed with the heat from the chillies and peppercorns so the accompanying coconut rice is a life-saver. This dish is definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Being established for these many years, the wheels of this place are well-oiled. Service is spot-on, waiters polite and smile without being too overfamiliar. Overall, it is a completely satisfying meal for the belly and soul.
The food here reminds me of a time when London was just starting to discover food outside of the British staples. Unlike recent Thai joints that are uncompromising and staunch about their authenticity of flavours, I feel the food in Mango Tree is tweaked to suit old-school English clientele, slightly wimped down without deviating too much from flavours. In a foodie capital like London with diverse demographic, there is and should be a place for both.
Location: 46 Grosvenor Place, London SW1X 7EQ
More information can be found here.