Ah, the joys of eating out. We are already back in the happy position of not being able to book a table at the drop of a hat.
Try making a phone call for a reservation at the last minute and you’ll be greeted with: “I’m sorry, we’re fully booked.”
Rejection never sounded so good. After 15 months of not being able to get a table because the hospitality industry was crocked, now it’s hard to get one because it’s booming and the tables are socially distanced. Bliss.
The industry is, of course, continuing to teeter. Restaurants – or, most restaurants – are mired in debt, the cost of staying afloat while not trading.
Staff are the ones who ultimately pick up the tab – as well as the owners.
It’s an industry in which people are generally low paid and there’s been an exodus during the pandemic.
Venues are fighting for staff, competing to fill vacancies in an industry where the hours are long and anti-social and the pay generally poor.
And yet, they’re expected to smile their way through it, grateful to be doing the washing or ferrying plates of food to customers who are too blithe to say ‘thank you’.
Funny old world, particularly if you work in hospitality.
We’re in a strange place, therefore, and perhaps we can draw parallels to where we were early in the pandemic.
Remember the usual Government headbangers denigrating ‘low-skilled’ workers just before Covid hit: the care home workers, the refuse collectors, the hospital porters. They were the ones taken for granted pre-Covid – and then the nation woke up to the impressive quality and quantity of work they do when we needed them most.
They were the ones who kept the country moving when we were in jeopardy.
Suddenly, they were viewed in a new light. They were no longer the butt of cheap political point scoring, they were no longer taken for granted.
The staff at restaurants are similar. It’s time for us, as customers, to be a little bit more appreciative, to be polite, kind, well-mannered and, if we can afford it, leave a tip.
For the industry is largely built on good will by left-of-centre individuals who don’t fit into the mainstream and are happy to do the jobs that others might not.
Which brings us to Chang Thai. While many Shropshire restaurants were declaring no room at the inn for those who’d failed to book ahead, Chang Thai had a table for one at 6.30pm on Wednesday.
Bliss. All those flavours. All that skilful cooking. All that good service.
It’s a well-run restaurant that’s popular with locals and is sufficiently good to warrant a modest journey.
The restaurant has a good owner, a focused and reliable kitchen and decent front-of-house staff who go the extra mile and aim to please guests.
Not without reason did it thrive pre-Covid and it’s starting to thrive anew now that the pandemic is slowly starting to pass – though, let’s not make ourselves hostages to fortune, we all know there are dark days still to come.
Chang Thai looks great. The décor is largely upcycled furniture and large artwork on the wall depicting street scenes from Thailand.
It perhaps doesn’t have quite the buzz of a local restaurant in downtown Bangkok, but it does a better job than any other Thai restaurant in the county.
The food is also decent.
I started with the obligatory bowl of prawn crackers with a sweet chilli dip. The dip was presumably made in the kitchen, rather than straight from a jar – though if I’m wrong about that, whoever manufactured it did an impressive job. Not too sweet and with a pleasing heat, it was scooped up gleefully and greedily with the crisp, light crackers.
The starter was reasonable; four short ribs that had been garnished with onion and chilli and were served with a piquant, spicy dip.
The best ribs are those that have been cooked so long and slow that all of the fat has rendered away so they are simultaneously moist and crisp.
It would be pushing the truth to describe Chang Thai’s ribs as being that, though they were decent enough and made for a pleasant starter.
The main was equally enjoyable.
Emperor prawns – yup, one grade up from our favourite, Mr King – were butterflied and served with small, halved broccoli florets and creamy cashew nuts in a tamarind sauce.
The sauce was a little thin, a reduced, stickier version may have been better, though the unmistakeable sweet-sour flavour of tamarind was pronounced and made for joyous eating.
A light, refreshing dish, the broccoli had been accurately cooked while the prawns were of good quality.
A nicely cooked bowl of fluffy Jasmine rice served to soak up the watery tamarind and it proved to be a pleasant dinner.
Service was good. Two staff manned the floor, both being polite and efficient and one being particularly engaging, attentive and charming.
Even while wearing masks, staff who make the effort shine through and their efforts do not go unnoticed. In this twilight time, as people start to rebuild confidence in their ability to go out, such work is important.
Eyes that sparkle and gestures that are kind and efficient encourage customers to get back out in the world, which benefits local businesses.
Now that the vaccination is rolled out – and, public service announcement: if you’ve not had one, then do us all a favour and roll up your sleeve – it’s time to support local businesses.
Hospitality has been hard hit and needs the consistent support of locals and regulars to get back on its feet.
We also owe it to the people who work in that sector and who’ve suffered to be decent guests.
It’s a tough gig and reciprocating the efforts that hospitality workers make is the least we might do as we emerge from the pandemic.
ADDRESS: Chang Thai, 3 Market Street, Ludlow SY8 1BP 01584 874212 thailudlow.co.uk