Rosa’s is a strange beast. A pretty authentic Thai restaurant that is doing its level best not to look like it. And yet it has proper Asian credentials. The original ‘Rosa’ is in fact the Thai-born Saiphin, who opened her original restaurant on the site of a cafe called Rosa’s in London’s now swish Spitalfields.
It is only recently, amid multi-million investment and then a private equity acquisition, that this East End institution was transformed into first a capital-wide and then a national chain of restaurants. It has proper Thai dishes on its menu: the inevitable red and green curry and pad Thai but also papaya salads and grilled Thai sausage, with proper sticky rice and extra chilli and fish sauce for those who revel in such gloriously unsubtle flavours.
But what it has in addition to all that good stuff is a cloying over-abundance of pun-tactic branding that makes it feel somewhat like a south east Asian version of Jamie’s late lamented Italian. Most of what we ate was tasty, and all of it was generously portioned. A spicy beef salad (£11.95), the highlight of the meal, came with hefty chunks of flavoursome seared meat, while a starter of sweetcorn patties (£6.25) featured four sizeable – though slightly greasy – pieces. The stalwart green chicken curry (£11.25) had a good slug of chilli heat and was lighter and more fragrant than many versions served in the UK, although a spicy seafood hot plate (£12.95) had less complexity of flavour, and less spice, than its ‘three chilli’ rating promised.
The dessert menu was somewhat limited and, as with our other courses, one of our choices was definitely better than the other. The weaker option, a not particularly Thai waffle with chocolate sauce (£5.95), was neither fresh nor warm enough to merits its calories. But an affogato (£4.50) was a more reviving finale, the coffee wisely put into the glass ahead of the ice cream to avoid generating the espresso soup that one so often sees. The staff were lovely, and the lemongrass and ginger cocktail fresh and boozy, although in its name – Appe-Thai-Zing (£7.95) – we have a hint of my chief gripe.
A chrome and glass retail unit on Liverpool’s dock front is never going to evoke Bangkok’s street food markets particularly effectively. Nobody can blame Rosa’s for opting out of that fight. But does a British audience really still need the naff drink names (see also Love You Long Time, or Thai and Stop Me) in order to engage with Thai food? Do the toilet doors really need to declare “Pretty fly for a stir fry” and can someone please take pity on the waiters and rid them of their “Thai whiskey (pretty frisky)” T-shirts? Judging by the business of the joint, sufficient punters have either forgiven this cheesiness or perhaps actively like it.
We, like a pair of pretentious tossers who have spent a bit of time in south east Asia, asked for chopsticks in place of our forks and tried to imagine how we’d rate the food for authenticity if it wasn’t overlaid with so much corporate guff. Pretty highly – if you discount the desserts – was our conclusion. But there’s no accounting for taste.