Taking a left from the beast of a central London road connecting Leicester Square to Covent Garden into the oasis of calm that is St Martin's Courtyard, it's Suda's shiny, chic exterior that you first notice. Inside, Suda exudes a similar laid-back cool, echoing the well-to-do refinement of its neighboring shops but with some quirky touches (bizarre chairs, little animal sculptures) relaxing the atmosphere. It boasts a clean and polished appearance that's by no stretch of the imagination clinical, giving it a recently-opened feel; you feel inclined to take it seriously, or, rather, retreat as fast as your legs can carry you for fear of paying all of last month's wages for your dinner.
As such it's a surprise to note the reasonable prices (£8-ish for a main? Come on, that's pretty good) on a menu that, although extensive, lacks fuss. It's comprised of many, many familiar, old-faithful dishes but with enough curiosity-courting alternatives to make ordering a long and arduous task. We would have benefited from some slightly richer descriptions on said menu (the website was also difficult to glean information from, being a tad complicated to navigate). A flurry of friendly, smiley waitresses filled in the blanks, and lifted the experience to charming plains.
Inevitably, we started with satay chicken. Because let's face it, if a Thai restaurant (or Siamese rice bar, if you're willing to embrace pretension) can't do the latter justice all bets are off. Luckily, the soft succulent chicken, although unremarkable, passed the test. But as ever MORE PEANUT SAUCE NEXT TIME PLEASE. Some wonderfully light and not-too-salty caramelised lemongrass crackers complemented nicely.
Elsewhere, the sizable portions on offer continued to walk the line between light and filling. The beautiful quality of the sea bass in kaffir lime leaves in a non-fatty, zingy red curry sauce of the perfect consistency was the evening's biggest hit. Its fluffy, cooked-to-perfection texture translated to the massive portion of delicate tempura we were served; sea bass, prawns and an assortment of vegetables fried to perfection in a wonderfully light batter. The lightness was offset by the occasional, undeniable scorch of chilli in the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink street-food-esque prawn pad Thai. Thankfully sans grease, and infused with yet more peanutty chicken and vegetables. The hybrid of taste comes close to overpowering but never quite does.
The rice-with-a-twist dishes around which Suda builds its brand proved a moreish accompaniment (albeit with a sporadic too-hard texture), and was even a presence during dessert: sticky rice and homemade coconut ice cream topped with peanuts and coconut flesh was a winner, banana fritters a close second. Yes, yet more batter. It's scarily easy to eat, here. Soft balls of root vegetable/purple potato-like taro, served in a warm, milky coconut cream, is an unusual and not particularly aesthetically-pleasing dish, but one that strikes you as interesting and authentic, and quite pleasant if you can get past the first few odd mouthfuls.
A credible and refreshing competitor among the much-saturated Thai restaurant circuit. Although Suda's not so amazing you'll want to return straight away, you'll likely keep it in back of your mind, should you find yourself in central with a friend in need of decent food at a decent price in a handsome restaurant.
St Martin's Courtyard,
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