ALE Summer 1998 No. 291

Thai'd Houses

Hardly a month seems to go by without another pub in the area putting up a banner proclaiming "Authentic Thai Food".

The Wrestlers

in Newmarket Road is the longest-established Thai pub and in our experience has never disappointed. However, we felt duty bound to give some of the others a whirl.

The Barley Mow, Histon

Those of us with long memories recall this as one of the last outlets for Greene King's KK Light Mild. Since then it has been much altered and extended but retains two bars. The main bar is noisily youthful so we headed for the pleasantly-appointed lounge.

The Thai menu is extensive, with most main meals reasonably priced at 4.50-6. We shared a bowl of Dim Sum for starters. They were fine but the portion wasn't generous for 3.50. For main course I tried the crispy lemon chicken (5) which came with a bowl of plain rice. The chicken was superb, lightly battered and succulent, beautifully set off by the piquant lemon sauce and spring onions. My companion had Bangkok fried rice with chicken (5) which was pronounced excellent. Both portions were very generous. The real ales here are Greene King IPA and Abbot, neither of which was in especially good form. We sauntered down the road for post-meal drinks.

Thai verdict - top-notch quality and great value.

The Railway Tavern, Great Shelford

Ten years or so ago this was a real dive but it has since been transformed into a smart two-roomed local with a separate restaurant area. Again we were faced with a huge choice of offerings, the menu supplemented by blackboard specials.

We eschewed starters and went straight for main meals at 6.25. The Egg Noodles were stir-fried with pork, eggs, onion, spring onions and beansprouts, nicely presented, which hit the flavour buttons in all the right places. The Red Chicken Curry with sweet basil, coconut milk and lemon grass was seriously hot, with copious red chillies, seeds and all, mounting a ferocious assault on the taste buds. It went a little beyond my personal threshhold and I would have welcomed a warning in the menu that this was for the cast-iron gob brigade.

The Railway proclaims itself a Free House though there is heavy commitment to the products of its previous owner, Whitbread. Flowers IPA and Original were the disappointing choice, but a guest beer can sometimes be found. Post-meal drinks were a short drive away in the next village.

Thai verdict - apparently authentic but be sure you know what you're ordering.

The Navigator, Little Shelford

Previously named the Plough but changed its name to avoid confusion with the pub of the same name in neighbouring Great Shelford. Low-ceilings, beams, dark wooden panelling and bare brick walls create a warm, cosy atmosphere. Although opened out from its former two-bar layout, the shape is sufficiently irregular to be interesting. The shortish menu was supplemented by a couple of fish-oriented specials. I selected Sweet and Sour Chicken with Pineapple, Onion and Tomato (6.40). This was less glutinous and sacchariny than the virulently coloured concoctions served up at most Chineses but, while pleasant, did not have a "Thai" taste. My companion felt much the same about the Chicken, stir-fried with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, broccoli, onion and peppers (6.90). The cashew nut topping worked well on this and the whole ensemble was tasty, well-presented, but not earth-shattering. Rice in both cases was the plain basmati variety.

Real ales are Greene King IPA and Abbot and both were in excellent condition.

Thai verdict - it may be that we chanced upon the two mildest offerings on the menu. Perhaps the other dishes have more of the bite associated with Thai food.

Tudor Hotel, Fenstanton

A large pub/restaurant at the south end of Fenstanton village, just outside our Branch area. The food was fabulous, easily the best of the four places we visited. However, the sole handpump on the bar had no cask beer to dispense.

Overall verdict

The Wrestlers remains the yardstick by which others trying Thai may be judged. But there is a good and interesting choice out there.

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