Venturing out for dinner with a friend can make even a cold Tuesday evening in January feel special. Having already had a challenging week just two days into it, it seemed only right to treat ourselves. Now, by this point you’ve probably gathered that I tend to prefer my fine dining restaurants over the alternatives, but sometimes a simpler, mid-priced local restaurant that’s relaxed and cozy is exactly what you need when you’re too tired to take out the high heels and need something comforting. Tumnan Thai, in Clapham Junction, does the trick perfectly.
Unlike so many of the mid-priced (or below) establishments one finds in London, Tumnan Thai doesn’t have too many tables squeezed too close together to maximise headcount, like packed sardines. And, unlike so many of those other establishments, you don’t really find yourself having to yell to your dining companion to be heard, even on a busy night. So, that means that before you’ve even had a bite to eat, this is already a lovely environment, which is enhanced by their Thai decor that nods to tradition without going towards cliche’ or even tacky (as I’ve seen other Thai restaurants do).
Sat at our table, the settings were simple and uncomplicated: crisp white tablecloths and elegantly folded serviettes, placemats over the tablecloth… a rose and a candle to set the mood for intimate conversation. A kind Thai woman comes to our table with menus – complete with numbers next to the dishes to avoid any embarrassing pronunciation issues – and we place our order.
My jasmine tea arrives imminently, in a beautiful blue and white teapot that matches the teacup, saucer and the rest of the dishes: simple and traditionally styled. The tea itself is hot, fragrant and lovely, and the only beverage I ever really enjoy with my Thai food (aside from water).
As we engage in our lively and cathartic conversation about our respective work week, the food begins to arrive and make the office fade into the background. Our starter consisted of satay skewers, served with sweet chilli and peanut dips. We ordered mixed skewers so that my friend could have the chicken skewers and I would have the beef, as I usually do. They arrived hot and appetising as an appetiser should be – complete with a sculpted carrot garnish, which might be a bit dated, but hey, who doesn’t appreciate a bit of food sculpture now and then?
I can confirm that the beef was soft and tender, and seasoned to be delicious before I’d even tried the dips. And I did, of course, try the dips. The sweet chilli option was my preferred of the two: the fact that it was a thin sauce rather than a thick one made it feel a bit lighter and fresher. This was in stark contrast to the peanut sauce, which was thicker than what I’ve had elsewhere – and unfortunately, oilier too. I kept to the sweet chilli dip and enjoyed it very much.
I’ve had a few dishes in this restaurant over the years, (I’m a fan of their panang curry in particular) but tonight felt like a pad thai night. And it arrived just as I asked, with no bean sprouts. Whenever I order this dish I am surprised every time by the size of it: I am convinced they serve me a portion for two people, because it just seems so large. However, it also looks irresistible: the crumbs of peanut, the shiny noodles, the glossiness of the prawns and pork (this dish had both) from the combination of sugar, tamarind and fish sauce. The only little detail I could pick on with regards to the way it was served is the presence of lemon instead of the traditional lime. I have ordered this before and have had lime rather than lemon, so I could only assume they’ve run out in the kitchen.
The lime aside, the dish was fantastic: shrimp and pork cooked well, the crunchiness of the peanut, the sweet and savoury flavours dancing on the tongue. It was as much these flavours as well as the generous portion of warm carbohydrates that made this dish the comfort food I needed that particular evening. I think it might be my favourite version of this dish in London.
Even if we hadn’t been stuffed, I would have skipped dessert as I’ve never been a fan of Asian desserts. So, after much chit-chat (at no point did we feel rushed to leave the table, which was very appreciated), we requested the bill and were pleasantly surprised to receive a mint-flavoured chocolate, wrapped in foil and paper branded with the restaurant name. Nice to know that even without dessert, you can end the experience with a little something sweet.
This restaurant is a good 10-12 minute walk up the hill from Clapham Junction station (variable by pace and stride, of course), and it’s a good thing too: after a big dining experience like this one, you will welcome the walk. While we may have left stuffed, we also left happy, and would return any time – as I have already been doing for years. Really good Thai food, pleasant and inviting atmosphere, and at £16 GBP, very reasonably priced: what more could you ask for?
*Calories: I had to make an educated guess here, as my tracking app doesn’t have this restaurant’s dishes listed, but I calculated the main dish combined with the two beef satay skewers to be about 920 calories. Best to round up to 1,000 – especially as I left out the mint chocolate at the end.
Food taste: 4 / 5 (One of my favourite Thai restaurants – outside of Thailand – so I’m naturally happy with the food. I do have concerns about that peanut sauce, and it would have been great to have had lime instead of lemon on the main dish.)
Food/table presentation: 4 / 5 (It was well presented on pretty dishware, and I always appreciate a restaurant with cloth tablecloths and serviettes.)
Service: 4 / 5 (Service was courteous and unobtrusive; there was someone around if we needed something, but they weren’t constantly at our table or pressuring us to leave, which is really the ideal for me. )
Atmosphere/decor: 4.5 / 5 (I can’t remember the decor upstairs, but at least on ground level, I really do like the atmosphere and decor. It’s warm and inviting, with soft lighting, and very obvious nods to their cultural roots without being kitsch. I’m a fan. )
Value for money: 4.5/ 5 (Absolute value for money: I shared a starter, had a pot of tea, a large main dish that should have been a portion for two, all in a lovely setting – for £16, including tip. I can’t think of any of many places that are actually worthwhile that can compare with that kind of value for money. )
Overall rating: 4.2/ 5