The state of the local restaurant in 2020 can essentially be summed up in my visit to Talay Thai. A picturesque little spot with lovely décor and crockery that is populated exclusively by myself, the staff and a brigade of DeliverooberJustEat drivers.
At the time I was there, admittedly 7PM on a torrid, rainy Tuesday, hardly a prime slot for even the most popping places, there were a couple of guys drilling a bit of folkish wooden artwork to the wall. We were warned of a noise, but it wasn’t a disturbance in the least. What was a disturbance were the on-their-knees ceiling speakers, whose hollow thud gave me horrifying flashbacks to being in the Fabric smoking area, just out of earshot of a humming MetalHeadz set.
If the rest of the interior is part of this in-progress redesign, then they’re doing a good job. Flowers and multi-coloured paper umbrellas hang from the ceiling. It certainly seems to be the result of a woman’s touch, that woman being the manager who served us, cropped hair and smiling, along with an extremely old man who she called ‘uncle’.
I’ve been dreading writing this a bit because it’s hard to really say much about Talay Thai past that. The starters were a little strange, a few rubbery fish cakes with a normal sweet chilli sauce, and some pretty dry minced chicken dim sum with a frankly bizarre sauce that was somewhere between sweet soy and petrol.
Again with the mains, a good green curry that was perhaps a little sweet and a prawn jungle curry that I’m assured by my dining partner was decent but to me just tasted like spicy seawater.
But then came the morning glory, or pad pak bung fai daeng, which was stir fried with chilli, garlic and oyster sauce. On the menu it says vegetarian oyster sauce, so thank Christ my other half made the amendment to the evil version. This dish was by far the best thing eaten all night, not a mind-blowing achievement considering what came before, but that shouldn’t take away from it. A smoky, strong, spicy sauce and a fresh crunch, it uplifted everything around it – the curries, before just plainly acceptable, were now in harmony with this lifesaver of a dish. It should have a halo.
You could argue that one item shouldn’t have to rally the rest of the gunk to be made pleasurable, and you’d be right, smart arse. But with the presentation, the service and the surroundings I just couldn’t bring myself to be harsh on Talay Thai. It’s pretty clear where the loyalties lie on its website, a giant banner advertising delivery service owning the whole webpage (today is, apparently, ‘Monday Madness’). But for a local Thai place it’s doing nothing wrong. Sure, it doesn’t inflame the senses with the omniscient fragrance of Chiang Mai or whatever, but we’re in Streatham, and to have a dish as good as this morning glory, which I could honestly eat a bucketful of, is good enough for me.
I think you should come to Talay Thai, even if seemingly no one else can be bothered with it, and the restaurant itself certainly seems to encourage you not to. There’s a certain beauty in a passable restaurant that has that one thing, that one dish, you can’t stop thinking about.
Or you could just order it to your front door and not have to stand in the rain waiting for bus after paying service charge. That’s probably a better shout to be honest.