12A Newgate Street
Sun-Thur 12-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm
Fri-Sat 12-2.30pm, 5.30-10:30pm
What is it with Morpeth? Is the price of real estate so high that its restaurants have to be housed upstairs? Gianni’s, Marabini’s – they’re hidden above shops – even Kevin Liu’s Mulan is on the top deck.
This time Mrs Diner thought we’d reached rock bottom: “It’s a takeaway chippy,” she said, smelling cheap vegetable oil and kebabs.
“Don’t panic,” I said, secretly panicking, then spotted the sign by the side of the chip shop. We climbed the stairs into the world of Nadon Thai.
Brightly decorated in modern colours, it appears to have been recently refurbished. It’s also very small, just two little rooms knocked together into an intimate restaurant. When we arrived it was absolutely packed, and people were waiting for tables. There was nowhere to wait, other than a few chairs along the side of the wall. “
Stay calm,” I told Mrs Diner. I could tell she thought this was all a big mistake.
There was a mix of customers – some clearly locals, but also a group of businessmen entertaining Japanese clients. It was buzzing, and it was midweek. Booking is essential.
There was no traditional wai of welcome, and just two waitresses, one of them English, coping with three dozen covers or more. But they were both very friendly, and despite the pressure, quickly found us a chair and apologised for the short delay.
When a table came free it was quickly bedecked with fresh flowers and good linen napkins folded into lotus flowers. It was charming. Then we saw the wine list.
You don’t expect to find Cloudy Bay above a chip shop. In fact, you can’t find Cloudy Bay at £30 a bottle in any restaurant on the planet (not that I drink Cloudy Bay anymore since the company was bought by Veuve Clicquot, its winemaker Kevin Rudd left, and its famous Sauvignon Blanc turned into an undistinguished tropical fruit basket).
But they also had Devil’s Corner Pinot Noir from Tamar Ridge in Tasmania, Patriarche’s white Mâcon at a very reasonable £18.50, Rioja and Rhône, Prosecco at £19 a bottle, and even a range of Thai wines from Monsoon Valley, including their crisp Premium Colombard.
This would have been a good list for any local restaurant; it was especially imaginative for a tiny Thai restaurant above a chip shop. House white was £3.50 a glass.
As I wanted to go spicy (the meal, not the wine), I chose Soellner’s Wogenrain Grüner Weltliner, dry but fruity enough to cope with the wildest curry.
And there was no question but we had to try the red curry. The waitress absolutely insisted. It was by far the best thing on the menu, she said – noone comes to Nadon Thai without order the red curry. Alright, give us the red curry, we submitted wearily.
We also ordered shumai, sweet corn cakes, thai fish cakes, vegetable tempura, pad thai, sweet and sour prawns and even a mango salad. Our table would easily have fed all the businessmen at the next table. We hoped no one would notice.
The shumai were excellent herby shrimp and pork dumplings, with fresh light dough. But the sweet corn cakes were very dull.
Thai fish cakes are dangerous things to order. They can be stale, heavy and cloying, even rather overpowering and rancid. These were properly eggy and fresh.
To be honest, this meal was a bit hit and miss. The hits were very good indeed: the sauce on the salad was nicely limed, with finely shredded green mango atop cabbage, green beans and other vegetables, and Mrs Diner enjoyed the sweet and sour stirfry – though I found it rather Western.
The vegetable tempura had a dumpy batter.
The biggest disappointment was the Pad Thai. This was truly awful, arriving without beansprouts and with soggy, starchy noodles. This dish is so ubiquitous, everyone knows how it should taste: noodles with texture, firm fresh tofu, eggs, tamarind and nam pla forming that distinctive sweet, fishy dressing. This was a brown acidic mess.
The waitress was right. The red curry was the star. The consistency was spot on, bamboo shoots crunchy, just the right blend of coconut and heat.
I asked where the chef was from. Thailand, I was told. That much was obvious. From the north, near Chiang Rai. Ah, the Golden Triangle. Now I wish we’d ordered the jungle curry. Maybe next time.
For there will be a next time – I’ll certainly be back. Good Thai restaurants are rare in the North East. It may only have three stars, but it’s the best I’ve found so far. Main courses are around £8 each.