Sara's Thai Restaurant, Cowplain

Stephen K Amos keeps his eyes on the big issues in his new show, Beard and Circuses

Sara's Thai restaurant, also known as Mon Thai, joins a variety of places to eat in this part of Waterlooville's London Road – there's an Indian, an Italian, a steak house-cum-bar, a pub and Sara's.

The small restaurant – it seats a mere 32 and has a holding area for those waiting for takeaways – is simplicity itself. Three large portraits deck the walls, the seating is comfy padded peachy cream, tablecloths and napkins are snow white and the carpet blue.

Flowers and plants add to the dcor alongside vivid yellow and purple curtains.

It's as colourful as Thailand, but was cold when I visited.

Maybe the chilli-hot food, for which Thailand is associated, would warm me up. The menu is of the predictable Thai kind with starters, Thai salads, soups, an excess of duck, beef, chicken, pork, lamb and seafood mains with rice and noodle dishes alongside vegetarian ones.

Chicken satay, spare ribs, dim sum, steamed mussels, fishcakes and vegetable tempura are around the 6 mark, a mixed Thai starter with all the 'Thai favourites' will have you forking out 7.50.

Tom yum soup is a fiver, a spicy beef salad 6.90. Duck tamarind with seaweed, crispy noodles and a sweet and sour sauce is 8.50, a basil leaf chicken 7.50.

Seafood is more pricey, pla jien, deep-fried whole fish with ginger sauce and mushrooms and lemon steamed fish adding 12.90 to your bill. They all sound authentic, don't they?

Time spent at a Thai cookery school in Bangkok taught me that fresh ingredients and presentation form a big part of the pleasures of eating Thai food.

Fish cakes, my preferred starter, were not available. 'All taken' said my rather wonderful waitress.

My second-best choice was shredded duck with a plum sauce, pancakes and shredded spring onion. The duck was cold and very salty and the onions aged. A dismal starter and very un-Thai-like.

Red beef curry (beef in coconut milk, bamboo shoots, kaffir lime leaf, coriander, aubergine, beans and chilli paste) didn't hit the heights either. I warmed my hands on the plate (it really was that cold) before jasmine rice and a bowl of the curry were delivered.

The beef was tasteless, the only flavours emerging from the very liquid sauce being chilli and coconut milk, no trace of the other billed ingredients. But some very over-cooked broccoli and raw pepper mysteriously appeared.

However, I defy anyone to find a more solicitous, charming waitress – she was the prime winning ingredient.

My bill came to just under 20, including a very gassy Singha beer.

Carol is a chef, former restaurateur and editor of Savour, the Guild of Food Writers magazine

Sara's Thai Restaurant, 51 London Road, Cowplain, PO8 8UJ

Open: Mon-Sun 5.30pm– midnight

Food: **

Service: ****

Atmosphere: **

Disabled access: Small door makes it tricky for wheelchairs

How to get there: Take the A3 (M) to Waterlooville and the restaurant is on the corner of London Road and Kings Road. Parking is on-street.