There’s a small café with a dual personality on Elm Grove in Southsea.
This simple place run by a mother-and-daughter team moves easily between two menus, a very English one and one reflecting their own Thai heritage.
The décor is very much Thai, with a Buddha here and there, hanging artefacts mostly decorated with elephants and a map and flag of Thailand.
Sit at one of the tiled tables and be entertained by the Thai banter in the on-view kitchen between mum, the chef, and daughter, who serves.
The English menu, which features during the daytime only – the Thai menu is available all day and evening – offers the usual breakfasts and burgers. But I’m here to try the Thai food.
The sticky menu offers chicken satay and homemade spring rolls for £3.75, also the price for pak tord (vegetables in batter). Add 25p more for spare ribs, pork toast or peek gai, chicken wings marinated in Lin’s own sauce.
There are tom yum soups; tom kha soups with coconut milk; gaeng keowan (classic Thai curries, either green, red or coconut ones); gaeng massaman (curries with peanuts, potatoes and coconut); pat gaprao (curries with chillies, lime leaves and Thai basil) and other dishes including stir-fried and noodle ones. There is also a typical Thai beef salad, deep-fried fish with chilli, garlic sauce and vegetables.
The tom yum soup, with five fat king prawns and mushrooms bobbing in the clear, chilli, coriander, kaffir lime leaf broth, should be available on the National Health Service thanks to the feeling of complete wellbeing created by slurping this soup. I was transported straight back to street stalls in Thailand by authentic ingredients, well-sourced.
I followed this with gaeng keowan, pieces of chicken in a thin coconut sauce with carrots, onions, bamboo, mange tout and cauliflower and a mound of rice.
Lin’s cooking is of the homemade variety with plenty of textures and Thai flavours, the cost a mere £5.50 with £2 more for the excellent rice. A mug of green tea bumped the total bill up to £12.
Don’t expect smart, carved this and that or Royal Thai dishes, the more subtle, refined cookery found in stylish circles. This is home-spun cooking from the heart, a cross between street food and cooking found in family-run restaurants in Thailand.
It’s just like having a meal in a family kitchen, albeit a large one. And the service is utterly lovely.
The proof is always: would I return? You bet. For a quick, nourishing, satisfying meal and a good value one at that, the Thai Café can expect this fan to turn up. But not for the ubiquitous all-day English breakfast.
Lin’s Thai Café, 78 Elm Grove, Southsea.
(023) 9229 1115.
Open: Seven days a week, ‘early ‘til late’
Food: Four stars (out of five)
Service: Four stars
Atmosphere: Four stars
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: Elm Grove is a continuation of Kings Road with Albert Road following. The café is towards the Victoria Road junction and is on the right. Parking is on-street.