What do Thais rely on for their instant comfort food fix?
Tatiya Thai Orchid Restaurant in Havant has the answer: tom yum goong, which touches all the Thai taste bases of salty, sour, sweet and spicy.
My large bowlful contained not only a whole shoal of tiger prawns but also lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, chilli, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice and shards of galangal, plus Thai ginger for added pungency.
I sat back after this most satisfying of soups and surveyed the restaurant.
Suddenly the slight cold of the room (a wind was whipping down East Street on the day I visited) didn’t matter and nor did the erratic waitressing.
The flowers and candles seemed brighter, as did the portrait of the Thai king and those silk-patterned dancers within their frames, some of which I have hanging on my wall at home.
There are many other starter choices, including tempura prawns, chicken satay, fishcakes and chicken soup.
Or choose from spicy seafood salad with a Thai dressing, grilled beef salad and prawn toasts.
Delve into all those curries – red, green, chicken, beef, pork, prawn, vegetable.
Or go for stir-fried dishes, deep-fried cod with garlic, sweet and sour pork ribs and plenty of vegetarian dishes alongside side orders of jasmine rice and noodle fried rice.
Deciding against the usual red or green curry with coconut milk, I chose a dish new to me – minced chicken with chillies, garlic and Thai basil with plain rice. The chicken dish was beautifully presented on an oblong serving plate alongside some exquisitely-carved shards of carrot and cucumber, while the rice was in a kind of long pointed petal bowl. Lovely.
Now we all know that there is chilli – and then there is chilli. One type, phrik khi nu suan, is very small, while the very large phrik yuak is the least spicy and used more as a vegetable.
The one I shoved into my mouth turned out to be small, hot one. I suffered, although the cucumber helped my stinging lips.
‘Is the chilli too hot?’ queried the chef as she came out of the kitchen to greet some regulars. I crunched on the cucumber.
The minced chicken was perfectly acceptable, but not as satisfying as a good coconut curry. And my conclusion had nothing to do with the chilli.
Tatiya Thai Orchid is an excellent addition to Havant’s rather barren dining scene and the waitress, despite doing a disappearing act, was utterly charming.
Most starters were around £5 and mains around £8-9 – my bill came to just under £19 for two courses and a very good glass of white wine.
Tatiya Thai Orchid Restaurant (formerly Mai Thai) 10, East Street, Havant PO9 1AQ
(023) 9248 0020
Open: 6pm–late all week
Food: Four stars (out of five)
Service: Three stars
Atmosphere: Four stars
How to get there: Exit the A27 at Havant and follow signs to the station, turning right on to North Street at the mini-roundabout (where the road becomes East Street).
The restaurant is on the right. Parking is on-street (but not on East Street).