BENJA: THAI BOXING IN BEAK ST
We all have our little peccadilloes and mine is an unhealthy love of boxing. Shameful I know in this politically correct day and age, but there you go. The sight of two men bashing lumps out of each other for my pleasure still fills me with a worrying level of excitement.
Years ago, I used to even think I had it in me to be a bit of a boxer myself. I soon, literally, had that silly idea knocked out of me when I went to a gym and did some sparring. The trainer said they were going to sew dusters to the seat of my shorts so I could polish the canvas when I was down there as I was most of the time. Ho hum. Cue change of career plan from multi millionaire sports superstar with all the best lasses and that to a man who, up until recently, flogged books for a living.
I thought about this last night as I walked down Beak St towards what used to be the Lonsdale Boxing Store where I went to buy my gear for my short lived stab and sporting excellence. If I am correct, it is now the site of Benja, the latest attempt at “authentic” Thai dining in London.
My GF, Dawn and I did a walk in last night and, although it is a tiny room, the staff were sweetness itself and managed to find a small table for two right by the entrance where the heavy bags used to be kept if I recall rightly (there is a joke in there somewhere)
Like Indian food in the capital, I still think that most Thai restaurants are like looking through a glass darkly at the cuisine, a slurred vision of the real thing with hints towards the real tastes but muted for western tastes.
They admitted as much here while explaining the menu. But, while I am as far from an expert on such matters as it is possible to get, I came away with this impression that they are trying to come up with a close approximation of the real deal.
Small amuse were called Meng Kham, betal leaf filled with a mixture of dried shrimp, garlic, chilli, lime juice and a few other bits and bobs which, when chomped in one go, gave a pleasing, mouth cleansing taste.
Standing in loco Primero, Dawn joined me in upholding the tradition of three starters. Minced lamb in garlic wrapped in betal leaf resembled dolmades, and were slightly chewy if tasty enough. The other two were more successful. A mound of fried, crispy vermicelli with fried shrimps was good enough for me to take the last bits from the plate with a licked finger and, best of all, minced curry chicken puffs with a tangy cucumber dressing which the waitress disarmingly described as being like “mini Cornish pasties” No they weren’t. But, they were very good and, Dawn being a good girl allowed me to finish the third one.
Main courses, were much more standard. A Yam Talay, was a seafood salad of mussels, shrimp, monkfish and squid in a sharp, hot dressing of lime and chilli seemed to me to represent everything I like about Thai cooking. Clean tastes with an underlying heat and the savouryness of fish sauce. A mussuman beef curry was less appealing. The sauce a bit muddy and the beef a bit stringy and a “four seasons vegetable" could have been found on any menu in Chinatown.
I am not drinking for a few days after my over indulgences in Spain (which probably explains the slightly shaky images as my body spasms from the effects of detox) so just drank mineral water and a fresh Pineapple juice. Dawn had a couple of glasses of an unexpectedly drinkable Thai Columbard which brought the bill to £78 for two including tip for service that was almost puppy like in its eagerness to please.
I don’t eat Thai food that much in London. As I said, it never quite convinces. But, for a place to dip into when you are not sure where else to go, Benja certainly has its charms and the bonus is, even if they wanted to, no one tried to beat the living daylights out of me.