This time last year, I thought I’d found my favourite Thai restaurant in London. The Walmer Castle wasn’t strictly a restaurant – rather, a pub with a Thai food menu and a dining room with an exotic look and feel – but the food was excellent and very reasonably priced; to top it all, it was ridiculously close to both my flat and my office. Their Pad Thai was the best I’d had in town, and their cooking got me hooked to yellow curry, which I now like even more than red or green. I fell for the place head over heels, and as it happens when you’re so blindly in love, I thought it would last forever.
Then, last March, a “closed for refurbishment” sign appeared on the door. I didn’t worry: I knew building and decorating works were in the plans. When the place reopened, however, the Thai menu had disappeared. They’d also stripped the dining room of most seats and all the furniture I remembered, and stuck in an additional bar counter and TV screen. Out of the blue, my favourite Thai restaurant had turned to serving burgers, chips and chicken wings, like – well, almost every other pub in the area. As if this wasn’t enough, the food was bland, unremarkable; a flat-out change for the worst. The Walmer Castle had lost its edge, its personality, its appeal. Why anyone would ditch that one thing they’re really great at, and settle for being mediocre at what everyone else does, escapes my logic.
The search for a new local Thai restaurant I could rely on began, and I didn’t feel I had that many options. A visit to the nearby, far more famous Churchill Arms left me unimpressed: it was too crowded, too stuffy, the food was no match to the Walmer Castle’s. Then along came a colleague, who used to work in Hammersmith. Reun Thai was her favourite lunch spot around the old office, she told me – and the best Thai she knew of in London. Why the hell not, I thought. Hammersmith isn’t exactly “local”, but I was craving Thai food so badly, I figured I could compromise on that. Since I don’t do things by halves, I dragged my partner there on my birthday. No pressure, hey.
It took us a while to get familiar with the menu: it gave us so much choice, we found it hard to decide whether to try something new, or rely on an old favourite. As we pondered, prawn crackers landed on our table; we wolfed them down quickly, and I’d have happily ordered more, but thought better of it and saved my appetite for a main dish. Speaking of mains: mine was red curry, remarkably close to the Walmer Castle’s gold standard. The one thing I wasn’t too comfortable with was the addition of grapes. I can cope with pineapple, which not everyone does – but grapes? I don’t even like them on their own. Although the red sauce was packed with flavour, and the meat well cooked, the grapes put me off ordering Reun Thai’s red curry again. I didn’t let that bring me down: it only meant I could make room for a new favourite. Sure enough, I found it that same evening.
We have this thing going on, my partner and I. Whenever we’re out for a meal, and find two dishes we’re both keen on, we get one each and compare our impressions; without fail, his tastes better than mine. This was no exception: I only had a forkful of his main, but immediately decided I’d return to Reun Thai just to have a whole portion. And I did. By that time, however – around 2 months from our first visit – both of us had forgotten what it was called. None of the descriptions on the menu rang a bell loud enough, but I was so determined to have exactly that dish, I asked our waitress to translate my vague recollection into an order that made sense (“you know, we came here in August, and he was having this meat dish I really loved…”. Yes, catering workers, I’m the ditzy, annoying customer you ridicule on Behind Closed Ovens). Even though my clues weren’t the most helpful, she put up with them admirably, and pointed me towards the Gang Phed Fed Yang: a bowl of roasted duck in a sweet coconut milk sauce, drier than your usual Thai curry, but with meat just as tender. As good as I remembered; even better, perhaps, since I was having a massive helping of it. With sticky rice.
My partner’s chicken Pad Thai also looked glorious, not to mention abundant. I know that’s what I’ll order on my next visit: I have lost count of how many months have passed since my last Pad Thai. See you soon, then, Reun Thai; I sense this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Just promise you won’t ghost on me, I’m not sure I could go through that again.
100 Fulham Palace Road
London, W6 9PL
(nearest tube station: Hammersmith)
See website for opening hours
0208 748 4881