For many years, my Thursday treat was a green chicken curry at Siam Smiles on George Street in Manchester’s Chinatown. Combined with a supermarket, it was a hidden gem with some of the best Thai food I’ve ever tasted. It was reviewed in The Guardian by the mysterious Marina O’Loughlin in 2014 and that brought deserved fame to Chef May, the owner and Thai master chef. It closed a few years later when the unscrupulous landlord doubled her rent overnight. I thought I would never see her, or her food, ever again.

Siam Smiles Cafe, ManchesterIn the meantime, I moved to the lower end of Deansgate near the Hilton. It was handy for eating out although Thursdays were never quite the same. But there was hope. Near where I live are a set of stairs leading to the ODEON box office through Deansgate Mews. The Mews themselves, hidden and empty for years, were an up-and-coming destination with a bar, a great Polish restaurant, a cupcake shop, some kind of axe-throwing emporium and a sourdough bakery. And, as if sent by God, the relocated and reopened Siam Smiles Cafe. With my Thursday treat restored, a natural rhythm to my week had been renewed. Until the pandemic.

Along with all my lunchtime haunts, May closed her doors. I was left to rely on my own rusty culinary skills. While my no-knead bread was something of a revelation, I was beginning to crave the food of my former life. Salvation of a kind came last week when Chef May announced on social media that Siam Smiles Cafe would be open for takeaway. The online menu is full of summer rolls, fish cakes, soups, rice dishes and tasty noodles.

Siam Smiles Cafe, ManchesterMy first meal of Thai-braised sea bass and green chicken curry with sticky rice was everything I remembered it to be. A creamy and well-spiced green curry sauce was not heavy with coconut, but deep and satisfying. The sea bass was light and flavoured with soy and fish sauce, tender and moist on the palate. It was simply delicious.

So, as we are about to enter our third month of lockdown, if you’re in Manchester city centre then go ahead and treat yourself to an authentic, flavoursome Thai takeaway at Siam Smiles. It makes more sense than simply staying alert.

By Robert Hamilton