At the risk of writing a 1,000-word review in the space of 66 words, it provides diners with a great environment in which to eat, it has an exceptional independent owner, the front of house staff are first class, the food is high quality and the prices are more than fair.
The two Thai restaurants worth eating at, incidentally, are a street-food-style stall called House of Yum, in Shrewsbury Market, and the county’s ever-green nonpareil Suree Coates, whose small-but-perfectly-formed Suree’s Kitchen, in Ironbridge’s Wharfage.
Though markedly different, all offer precisely-cooked food, a carnival of flavours, interesting environments in which to eat and chefs with an impressive understanding of fragrant herbs, spices and pastes.
Chang Thai has been nothing but successful since opening. Fashioned from a former pub and styled with upcycled furniture and bright, vibrant pictures and ephemera, Chang Thai reflects the personality of its owner and staff.
It’s colourful and has a sense of fun, it’s reverent towards Thailand but isn’t afraid to modernise. It is, in short, a great concept that’s been executed with flair, panache and no little skill.
It’s one thing to come up with a great idea, it’s quite another to find the staff and resources to execute that. Yet Chang Thai has been blessed with both and since its opening has established itself as one of Shropshire’s best, mid-range independents.
There’s knowledgeable service with a smile from staff who seem to delight in working there.
And nothing’s too much trouble for the kitchen: when my friend asked about dishes no longer listed on an abridged menu, he was told there’d be no difficulty in whipping up something to suit his tastes. When I asked to change one of the dishes listed on the menu, the chef happily agreed. What a difference such service makes from the po-faced seriousness of other restaurants who insist they can’t modify or adapt.
Restaurants are all about pleasing the customer, rather than pandering to the ego or sensibilities of chefs. And please the customer is precisely what Chang Thai does.
On a grey, windy winter’s night, when most of Ludlow’s restaurants were closed, Chang Thai was enjoying a roaring trade. A couple of tables of two, a large party seated in a corner; the atmosphere was that of a Saturday night as people enjoyed good food, service and hospitality.
My friend was not persuaded by my entreaty that we eat a sharing platter of five dishes – next time I’ll take Mr Greedy, rather than Mr Sensible – and so we started sensibly.
He ate delicious duck spring rolls, filled with shredded duck, spring onion and hoi sin sauce. Flavour bombs. Each and every one.
I opted for the exotically named knanom jeeb tod, comprising deep fried dumplings with mint, pork, water chestnut and mushroom. They were served with a sweet chilli dip and maxed out on big, bold umami flavours. Deliciously crisp and offering both dazzling texture and no-messing flavours, they provided a perfect introduction to our evening.
While choosing our food, we’d found one dish that piqued our interest. Fried Meat didn’t list the protein from whence it came: would it be duck or prawn, chicken or beef? “I’ll go for that,” said my friend, with a dirty grin. He’d chosen the ubiquitous shredded crispy beef with peppers, which was served alongside jasmine rice. The beef was as crispy as ‘deep fried meat’ ought to be, the sauce as punchy as a Tyson Fury right hook and the rice as fluffy as rainbow-coloured unicorn feathers. Or something.
My main – a sort-of invented dish, that substituted deep fried chicken for emperor prawns – was based on a sweet, sticky tamarind sauce. Lemurs in Madagascar are huge fans of tamarind.
And if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I explicitly hope to be reborn as a Madagascan lemur, so that I can hang from trees, doped out of my tiny, frazzled face on sweet, sour and sticky tamarind pulp.
Reincarnation, of course, is for fools. And so I’ll make the best of the tangible world by eating my fill at such restaurants as Chang Thai.
The chicken with which the sauce came was almost as crisp as my friend’s ‘fried meat’ while the coconut rice was served in a halved coconut shell.
We skipped desserts – in truth, I was thinking about going back to the beginning and ordering another plate or two of starters – and paid the bill. It had been a thoroughly jolly evening with great service from a keen-and-eager-to-please waitress who’d been light on her feet and the epitome of helpful.
There are a number of truly awful Thai restaurants in Shropshire and Chang Thai isn’t one of them. On the contrary. It sets standards to which most others should aspire.
It’s owner is innovative and entrepreneurial, continually coming up with new ideas and new concepts designed to entice and interest. He’s backed up by a first class kitchen which has enviable experience on which to draw.
Food is consistently good and unfussy; balancing interesting texture and fresh ingredients, exciting flavours and uncomplicated techniques. There’s a great art in making simple things look easy and at Chang Thai the chefs have achieved just that.
And then there’s the service.
Our waitress made repeat visits to our table until she was sure in her own mind that we were happy and relaxed.
Bless. A great dining environment adds to the experience.
Chang Thai is a warm and welcoming space that’s conducive to happy nights out. For sure, there are small tweaks here and there that could be made, but this week’s nine out of ten review is thoroughly deserved.