Tel: +44 (0)20 7794 6238
Address: 82 Hampstead High Street, London NW3 1RE
Cuisine Type: Thai
It’s been said that one can accurately judge a Thai restaurants’ culinary ability based on how well they prepare their pad thai – a standard and relatively simple noodle dish. I have never been to a Thai eatery that didn’t serve this mainstay – in various adaptations – but have unfortunately visited plenty that have ruined it.
So, unsurprisingly, I deferred choosing from the many other appealing main dishes and opted to put Little Basil to the test. The verdict: deliciously spicy and tangy, and creatively presented in a light egg pancake. I was also thankful the portion size wasn’t enormous since I’d already delved into a first course – a generous portion of charcoal grilled mussels (one of the house specialities), which was wonderfully spiced with fresh garlic and chilli, but a bit dry. The fried vegetarian spring rolls made up for things taste-wise, although our starters were served about ten minutes apart, which left us watching each other eat. The same timing issues plagued our neighbouring table.
The menu is separated into several sections, including hearty soups, exotic salads (pomelo fruit and shrimp, for example), side orders (or starters), noodles, meat and seafood rice dishes, satays and curries, ranging from a very reasonable £1.30 for a piece of satay to £8.50 for chargrilled sirloin steak. I would go back to try the grilled mackerel, cooked with herbs and wrapped in banana leaf, or the gai yang kamin, half a deep-fried free-range chicken basted with coriander-infused oil. Important to note, there are almost no main dishes suitable for strict vegetarians.
Wines by the bottle are fairly reasonable from £10.60 – £23.00; wines by the glass (£3.50) consist of a well-chosen Semillon Chardonnay or Shiraz Cabernet. Both will go down quite easy, but for something more festive, try one of the fun concoctions with names like Bangkok Sling or Illusion, all for £4.90.
Rarely one to pass up dessert (£3.00 – £4.00), I was intrigued by options like coconut with black sticky rice pudding and vanilla ice cream with pineapple and rambutans. But since my husband wasn’t feeling very adventurous, we ordered the coconut ice cream with dried coconut instead, which disappointingly, was served with large slices of slippery coconut from a can, as our server admitted. Maybe the pad thai theory isn’t necessarily the best guide…
While the food and drinks were satisfactory overall, the environment was really the highlight – casual and lively, yet soothing, starting with the Zen-like waterfall in the entryway. You also can’t miss the distinctively designed wood tables, abundance of candles, baskets of unusual produce decorating the tables, and immaculate space (loos too – a true indication of cleanliness).
Since Little Basil is a recent addition to the bustling Hampstead area and perhaps still ironing out some kinks, I will be back to try a few more of the imaginative, inexpensive lunch and dinner offerings, pre- and post-shopping.