The first time I really felt “wow I live in London” was during my first visit to Busaba Eathai in Soho. At the time there was only one Busaba restaurant in existence but recently I have noticed a few more have sprung up around London. With any luck it will continue to franchise and my northern friends can experience this wonderful place too.
It has none of the formality of a normal restaurant and that is why I love it so much. First of all, you can’t book a table and usually have to queue outside for ten minutes or so… but that’s okay because, seeing as it’s in Soho, you have usually gone for some drinks first and someone in your party will want a cigarette. The waiters/waitresses bring menus outside for you to drool over so don’t let the queue put you off.
Inside is truly a delight for the senses. The lights are low and the air heavy with incense and delicious Thai smells. I have been tipsy in there so many times that just walking through the door makes me feel intoxicated these days.
Diners are seated on big, dark, communal wooden tables. There is no concept of “starter, main and dessert” anything you order will all arrive at once. Apparently they don’t even do desserts but I have never actually noticed.
My maiden voyage to Busaba was a mid-week trip with two lovely colleagues from my brand new grown-up job in London. After work we had gone for a drink in a local gay bar (how lovely for a Sheffielder) and when we got hungry they casually mentioned they knew of an awesome Thai restaurant nearby.
We shared a bottle of wine, some stir fried ginger beef, a pad Thai and a Thai green curry and I remember drinking my white wine, looking out the big glass windows at the buzzing streets of Soho and thinking how awesome my life was.
Those were the days when getting the underground to work was still a novelty, queueing for a restaurant was fun rather than routine and the big bright lights of Soho seemed so exciting and full of possibility. Of course I am used to London now, but there is something about Busaba that awakens the excited 24-year-old in me that is so impressed by the big smoke.
Our first menu choices were rather unadventurous and since then I have tried pretty much everything. If you ever go then you must try the Thai calamari with ginger and peppercorn. Seriously, it is life changing. Lightly textured and sweetly salted with a lovely, fresh ginger taste.
Other firm favourites are the cod fillet stif fry, the red beef curry and the asparagus fried rice with sun blush tomato, apple and egg.
When i need a Busaba “fix” I always go for the Sen chan pad Thai (rice noodle with prawn, peanut, egg, green mango and crabmeat). It is mega spicy but absolutely bloody gorgeous.
I have been there with family, colleagues, friends and lovers and it is simply perfect for a spontaneous treat and a catch up, though don’t expect a whole lot of privacy as the communal tables are usually full.
Of of my best memories of Busaba is taking my new girlfriend for her birthday. It was a great venue for a date as the food is satisfying and delicious without being too heavy (unless you order a whole bowl of thai calamari to yourself as well as a main course, which I have been known to do).
The low lighting and easy chatter of the other customers make it all too tempting to drink lots of wine, without worrying about becoming drunk and self-conscious. On that birthday date, I got a little tiddled and tried to show off by eating a whole chilli. It backfired of course and we both ended up with tears streaming our faces, mine with the burning chilli and hers with laughter.
Another great time was Soho Pride 2008. The weather was scorching and I had been dancing all day in Soho Square. I managed to round up some people I knew from Sheffield as well as some friends from London and we all had shared a Busaba together before hitting G.A.Y.
Damn my mouth is watering. Anybody in the London vicinity fancy a Busaba tonight?