Tel: +44 (0)20 7255 8686
Address: 106-110 Wardour Street, W1F 0TR
Cuisine Type: Thai
Alan Yau, the man who set up Wagamama in the early 1990s, took the successful format of the Japanese fast food chain and applied it to Thai food. Same no bookings policy, communal dining tables, non-smoking throughout, menu divided into neat categories (noodles, rice, curries etc), dishes under the £10 mark.
The less successful differences? The entrance is so small that queuing involves lining up outside the restaurant – unpleasant in nasty weather. Low hanging lampshades casting a subdued glow give the room a dark and closeted aspect.
I, for one, do not subscribe to the British obsession with queuing, but unless you choose to eat at 5pm or give up and go to another restaurant, this is an inevitable precursor to your meal. Having waited in the cold for the best part of half an hour, my companion and I were determined to eat at Busaba through sheer bloody-mindedness more than anything else.
When we were finally seated next to a couple of complete strangers in a cramped corner and given menus, I was surprised to find myself still in the mood for eating, and even more surprised that I actually thought a lot of dishes sounded appealing. We passed over the more familiar selection, such as pad thai (stir fried rice noodles), tom yam goong (rice noodles with prawns in a spicy sour soup) and various green curry dishes, in favour of the aromatic butternut pumpkin curry (£5.70), tofu and spinach stir-fry with shallots, chilli and yellow beans (£4.90) and som tam, green papaya salad (£5.60) with jasmine rice (£1.30 per person).
The food was very spicy, almost overwhelmingly so, such that this was the indelible impression of our meal. Admittedly, the menu does identify particularly hot dishes, so I can hardly complain that the tofu and spinach stir-fry (our only dish without this marking) was rather bland and forgettable. The butternut curry was the best dish of the meal, the sweetness of the squash tempering the heat from the sauce. The papaya salad was crunchy and zingy, but was too fiery for us to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls.
There is a short, uninspiring wine list – at £11.50 to £14.90 a bottle, it’s unlikely there will be any real gems. We stuck to soft drinks – passion peach smoothie (£2.90) and lemongrass and ginger pressé (£2) – but there is Phuket beer and Thai whiskey for those wanting the 100% Thai experience.
Another Busaba has now opened in Bloomsbury, so the concept must be enjoying some success. Who knows, just as Thai is the new Japanese, so Busaba could be the new Wagamama.
– Tracy Yam, 3/2004
Editor’s note: There is now a range of Busaba restaurants in London – see website for details