What is it about those little touches that make you feel so special? I went to a party recently and was genuinely surprised when the guy next to me pulled my chair out for me to sit down and when he offered me the first pick of the wine. And no, I hadn't promised him anything. This was chivalry at its finest. So people do still have manners then, I thought. It got me thinking how long it is since I had been to a proper restaurant. The sort of place that takes your coat and doesn't charge you to hang it there. There might not be the promise of bottomless coca cola, but in its place would be an arm appears from nowhere to refill your glass with wine. Wine that is quite good at that, we are talking in the 20-30 quid a bottle bracket. I am the sort of woman who finds herself saying, "The house wine please" due to budget not preference. I think its safe to say I have aspirations beyond my means.
I'd heard about Mango Tree from a work colleague. Situated in Belgravia, Mango Tree can be found bedded between beautiful stone town houses associated with the area. Anyone who knows me will know that I've had a real thing for Thai cuisine since I went travelling there last year. Once I got my head around paying more around the £20 mark for a curry, the equivalent of which I could have paid £1 for overseas, I settled in my seat expecting luxury. Mango Tree has a concession in Harrods, that should explain the target market quite nicely. For those on a more recession friendly budget, 50% vouchers are available on Top Table and the restaurant itself also offer numerous set menus, including pre-theatre. This could be a real treat for a loved one considering Billy Elliot and Wicked are showing right around the corner. Makes the evening seem a bit more special than chowing down a hurried carbonara in Bella Italia.
The restaurant itself is light and airy due to the large sash windows and modern decor. The contemporary design is clean cut but not cold. On the contrary, I found the place inviting rather than imposing. I credit this largely to the staff who were warm and friendly from the word go. They were not patronising or despairing as we struggled to order in Thai instead of saying, "I'll have 66, the one with the chicken." I was very conscious that every effort was being made despite our party being relatively young and lively. A refreshing response compared with other high end restaurants I have been to in the the past. Some seem to require a certification in snobbery as validation that you should be so worthy to dine in their establishment. Not so at Mango Tree.
To start, I had Gai Hor Bai Toey - roughly translated as deep fried chicken fillet wrapped in coriander and garlic in pandan leaves & served with seasame sauce. Each meaty parcel was meltingly flavoursome. I also devoured one of my fellow diners traditional Tod Mun Pla fish cakes. These are more rubbery than Western fish cakes, with a texture more associated with mushrooms than of flaky fish. The spices in these were delicately balanced with flavours of kaffir lime and chilli weaving through. Other classics on the menu included satay of beef or chicken.
For main, I had Gai Med Mamuang - stir fried chicken with cashew nuts, mushrooms, capsicum, spring onions. I was happy to see that this looked and tasted exactly how I remembered it too, right down to the dried chilli garnish. Again I dipped into my companions dish of Panage Gai, or red curry to you and I. Sweetened with basil leaves and coconut milk, this for me was the starring dish. There seemed an essence to it that I have not been able to recreate in my own kitchen.
Our party of ten may have started out fine dining in Mango Tree, but rest assured good reader, we ended up in Weatherspoons. Merry from the good wine, we headed to the bad wine. My friend found a homeless admirer and I had two Peroni's for a fiver. Irresistible value.