It’s one of the better Thai restaurants in Shropshire, rather than one of the best. Sawaddee is located in the picturesque south Shropshire town of Church Stretton, tucked handily beneath the shadow of the Long Mynd.
Populated by locals, retirees and throughout the year with outdoor pursuits enthusiasts and tourists, the so-called Little Switzerland caters amply for a diverse demograph with a range of fair-to-middling restaurants.
Visitors head down from the stunning hills in Shropshire’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, freshen up at one of the town’s many hotels or guesthouses before heading out for sustenance. Locals flick through the list of online choices – Thai, Chinese, European – before making their choice. Sawaddee caters to all.
It promotes itself as one of Shropshire’s premier Thai restaurants offering the sort of authentic food that you’d be likely to find in Thailand. Curiously, it combines that boast with a pledge to offer a fabulous fusion of Thai and European food – which, by definition, means it’s not what you’d find in Thailand. I’ve visited the South East Asian country a couple of times and never once eaten a dish bulked out with broccoli and cauliflower. Similarly, the notion that it’s in an elite band of Shropshire Thai restaurants is a stretch too far. There are probably three categories of restaurant in the county: brilliant – which would include the King & Thai at Broseley and Chang Thai in Ludlow; the next-best, which would include Sawaddee and Aroi Thai, in Shrewsbury; and then the rest.
I called in for a Sunday evening supper, phoning an hour beforehand to make sure there was a table. The lady who answered the telephone was politeness itself but, unusually, didn’t ask for a name when I made my reservation. When I arrived at Sawaddee I was alone in the restaurant; there were quite literally no other guests. A short time later, a Dutch family of four arrived and suddenly the chef had a little work to do.
The restaurant itself is as bright as being on the stage at the Palladium. Rows of LED-style lights illuminated the bijou eating space, making it feel like the moment that the lights go on at a disco and you blink like a mole that’s emerged during the daytime. If restaurants are all about mood lighting, Sawaddee is the most optimistic, hopeful, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed of all.
The restaurant manager did a pretty good job, too. Though her skills weren’t put to the greatest test – a table-of-one and table-of-four doesn’t require too much work – she dressed herself in glory. Polite, attentive, engaged and efficient, she was friendly and warm throughout the evening. She made regular checks to make sure food had been gratefully received and her charm helped make for a pleasant experience.
The sawaddee menu was a cut above the rest. While most Thai restaurants in Shropshire seem to offer a selection of curry or noodle dishes, Sawaddee has an extensive range of unexpected specials. Duck with tamarind sauce was among the standouts, though there was also a monkfish green curry, seabass with coriander, mixed seafood dish with clear vermicelli noodles and salmon served three ways. The obligatory red, green, massaman, yellow and jungle curries all featured too.
I opted for one of the house specialities, though not before enjoying a mixed starter. That comprised the most tender and succulent chicken satay with a deliciously fierce peanut dip. Infused with just the right amount of red chilli, it was the stand-out element on a platter that also included a golden brown fish cake, a wonderfully crisp prawn wrapped in filo and served with a sweet chilli dip, a slender vegetable spring roll and a dainty piece of sesame prawn toast. The accompanying salad leaves were past their best and superfluous, but it was a decent way to begin.
My main was chicken with lemongrass, which comprised a fillet of grilled chicken that had been marinated with lemongrass and was served with tamarind sauce and vegetables. I’d imagined the vegetables would be bean sprouts, water chestnuts, peppers and the like but they were, in fact, broccoli, cauliflower and more. When I’d read Sawaddee’s promise to offer Thai-Euro fusion, I hadn’t envisaged the European element would comprise winter veg and they seemed out of place alongside the aromatic chicken, like a man dressed in Superman fancy dress at a Catholic wedding. Odd. The tamarind sauce might have been a little more plentiful and have had more tang, though it was a welcome addition. Tamarind is one of Asia’s greatest gifts and it was warmly received. The chicken was pleasant; providing an aromatic, lemony essence.
And though the chicken was a little over-cooked, it made a welcome change from the ubiquitous green and red curries. The chef’s creative streak provided a point of difference, even though the execution might have been a little better. Coconut rice was sticky, creamy and mild and helped mop up the tamarind sauce.
Sawaddee offered a range of desserts but after a generous starter and ample main I baulked at the idea. The portion sizes were generous and there was no room for variations of mango, pineapple and rice for this guest.
The bill, with drinks, was entirely reasonable and, like the Dutch family opposite, I’d enjoyed pretty good food, pleasant service and a quiet Sunday evening dining room.
Sawaddee has an excellent website that’s been beautifully designed, cleverly thought-through and features sumptuous dishes that are elegantly photographed. In truth, that flatters to deceive, for the restaurant feels less than the sum of its parts. It’s all pretty good and moves in the right direction, but there’s no stand-outs and nothing to write home about.
The salad components on both dishes were limp and wan and the addition of broccoli and cauliflower wasn’t the smartest idea.
Conversely, service was pleasant throughout, the dishes were economically priced, the cooking was generally good and the flavours were robust and pleasing. The restaurant earns a credible three-and-half out of five, therefore: a mark that says it does many things well but needs to go a little further to rank among the best.