Beach blanket Brixton: Rosa’s Thai Cafe


Rosa's Thai Kitchen

Richard Allen warms up at Rosa’s Thai Cafe

Intrepid backpackers who discovered the beaches of south-east Asia years ago came back with more than just tales of sun, sea and sand. They told of fabulous food: light, fragrant and, in those days, mysterious.

Now our love affair with Thai cuisine has reached its cosy “I’ve heard that joke before, Darling” stage. Every high street boasts its own version of the beach-side restaurant: high-end, middle-brow or takeaway.

Rosa’s Thai Café hinted at something a little different as we were shown to our side table with banquettes: hip décor, buzzing atmosphere (no need for muzak here) and a menu with more than a few items departing from the tourist trail. The new winter menu was on board as the temperatures descend outside.

I decided to ease into the evening with a ginger and lemongrass fizz while my companion wanted to keep her critical faculties sharp with a lemony lemonade. Both, in their different ways, packed, a real tangy punch − mine in particular as all the alcohol and ginger had settled at the bottom. It seems Thai spies like their cocktails neither shaken nor stirred.

Meanwhile we nibbled on huge prawn crackers that had more substance than the usual fluff served up in so many Asian-style eateries.

My dining companion is Italian, so someone fanatical about freshness, flavour and cooking times. She is also a big fan of Thai food and decided to go for a couple of classics, to see whether they were out of the ordinary. I wanted to try some house specialities and something that just leapt out at me from the list. 

The informative menu suggested that we order everything together – Thai style – and then share the smörgåsbord (as it were).

So, the vegetable spring rolls with a sweet chilli sauce were a definite cut above the usual offerings – no grease and with extra zing. The pad thai had unusually deep flavours – apart from the gigantic prawns which had no flavour at all. Next time I’ll pick the chicken version.

The stir-fried aubergine was a riot of feisty spices, and the Thai calamari managed to avoid the common pitfalls of rubberiness and minimal taste. 

For me, the star attraction was the massaman curry – chicken in a smooth sauce packed with galangal and lemongrass, chilli spice, potatoes and cashew nuts gently soaking into a bed of egg fried rice. Simply − to use a technical term − scrummy.

To finish, I, for one, could manage no more than a double espresso (yes, they nailed this too) but my companion could not resist mango and sticky rice. I tried a spoonful and agreed that it was a very long way from rice pudding and jam.

For a Wednesday night the place was full: hip 20-somethings, middle-aged couples, families, you name it. So what happens on Friday and Saturday, I asked. They queue down the street, came the answer. That figures.

36 Atlantic Road, SW9 8JW | 020 3393 8562 | | @ROSASTHAICAFE