Brewer Street gets spicy
If you’ve got a hankering for Thai food when you’re out and about in the Soho area, then the obvious choice is Busaba Eathai. I find Alan Yau’s chain to be merely okay though, so the relaunch of Janetira on Soho’s Brewer Street piqued my interest. This small mom and pop outfit used to look like an Ikea showroom, but has recently been redecorated with lots of attractive dark wood panelling and spot lighting. It’s like a smaller budget version of the decor at Busaba – there’s no incense to sweeten the air for example. The menu is a little bigger than before, but it still concentrates mainly on dishes that rarely turn up on the menus of other Thai restaurants in London.
First things first
Janetira doesn’t take bookings unless you have a party of six or more, but Socialist Worker, Resume and I easily snagged a table for a weekday lunch. I’m not sure how authentic the Thai iced tea is, but it was pleasing – its maltiness with hints of what was almost certainly soya bean milk made for an interesting and refreshing soft drink. Even the tap water for the table was interesting – the addition of cucumber slices gave the water a distinctive sweetness.
I started off with the amusingly named son-in-law balls which were actually eggs coated and fried in a thin, slightly chewy batter, topped with chewy fried onions and served in a shallow pool of lightly sweet and sour sauce. It wasn’t bad, but a runnier egg yolk and perhaps a crispier batter would’ve made for a more satisfying starter.
I’ve never encountered duck noodle soup in a British Thai restaurant before and while it’s been a few years since I last had it in Thailand, Janetira’s version still struck me as pretty good. The lightly salty and richly moreish soup went down a treat, while the breast meat was tender and lightly fatty which went well with the wrinkly ramen-esque noodles.
Socialist Worker managed to overcome his crippling indecision and plopped for the chicken and noodles in coconut curry sauce. The thin sauce was more like a soup and was mildly nutty and only lightly spiced. What the sauce lacked in character, the egg noodles more than made up for – thick, moderately wide and hearty noodles which were very satisfying. Prising the chicken meat off the drumstick without splashing curry sauce everywhere proved to be a challenge for Socialist Worker, but he managed it in the end.
Despite describing the menu as ‘lush’, Resume did manage to pick one of the plainer dishes available – the chicken omelette with rice. The kitchen’s first attempt was actually the vegetarian-friendly meat-free omelette which Resume was unimpressed with – she described it as bland and oily. Resume, despite her protestations that it was unnecessary, was given a second omelette free of charge although this too appeared to be largely free of chicken. It was far tastier though with umami hits courtesy of tomatoes and fish sauce.
Going back for seconds
I revisited Janetira, this time with the help of The Gunner. We started off by sharing the pad thai. Although slightly greasy, the peanut-topped rice noodles were also zesty and tangy although the effect did peter out as we made our way through the surprisingly generous helping. The prawns were firm enough, but lacked the zing I’d expect from really fresh prawns.
The Gunner opted for the green chicken curry which was surprisingly light despite the creaminess of the sauce. There was plenty of punchy lemongrass, galangal and coconut in the sauce which made for a flavoursome curry.
The Gunner isn’t fond of spicy heat, so he didn’t sample any of my mackerel curry which was a shame as it’s a corker despite the minimal presence of actual fish. The thin sauce was earthy and packed plenty of spicy heat. It also had a strong salty taste reminiscent of shrimp paste which is very much an acquired taste, but I loved it. The addition of tender lotus root was a nice touch and made up for the lack of mackerel.
Three is the magic number
For my third and final meal at Janetira I started off with the classic tom yung gung soup. Although the button mushrooms were a typically uninteresting choice of vegetable, the firm prawns were complimented well by the sharp spice of the galangal and the sourness of the soup itself which also had plenty of zesty lemongrass hints.
The rad naah isn’t a very attractive dish, but it proved be the perfect main course for a brisk winter’s day – homely and comforting. The thick, moderately wide rice noodles were topped with slices of tender pork and some bitter greens. The whole shebang is drenched in a viscous sauce that’s mildly tangy with some hints of ginger.
I washed it all down with the Thai iced coffee which was sweet, malty, nutty and soy bean-ish. In a way, it almost tasted like condensed milk although there wasn’t any milk in this drink at all.
Janetira isn’t perfect – the scarcity of meat in some of its meat dishes is a recurring problem – but it’s still one of the better Thai restaurants that I’ve been to in London and I’d much rather eat here than at Busaba.
Address: 28 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 0SR
Phone: 020 7434 3777
Web: http://www.janetira.co.uk (down at the time of writing)
Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday noon–23:00 and Sunday noon-18:00
Reservations: only taken for groups of six or more
Average cost for one person including service and soft drinks: £20-30