Last time I asked for the spiciest thing on the menu in a Thai restaurant was in a ramshackle joint on the picturesque island of Koh Chang. The meal ended with some giggling waitresses and a rather sweaty looking and broken Englishman. Sat in the bustling atmosphere of Chaophraya I was quietly confident this time would be different.
The staff are really friendly and just as bubbly as you would find in Thailand and service is brisk despite the fact it's busy even on the Wednesday evening when we chose to dine. Bright but delicate lighting gives the place an almost festive feel and there's a few tables that look to be celebrating something or other. Another nice feature is the open kitchen, offering a view of smiling chefs and fresh ingredients.
After some crispy prawn crackers and a couple of tasty Thai themed cocktails to start things off we tuck into a shared starter, the satay fondue, a sort of South East Asian take on the 70’s dinner party classic. The molten cheese is replaced with a warm spicy peanut sauce and in place of stale bread we’ve got skewered squid, king prawns, pork, chicken and fish cake balls, a pretty decent substitution in my book. It’s a well seasoned and very generous portion of meats that does exactly as promised, we probably could've managed with half as much but I wasn't complaining.
So on to the main course where I selected the ‘exceptionally hot’ jungle fish curry and it was spot on. Spicy enough to give your heart a flutter but not so much as to drown out those fragrant flavours. The dish includes krachai, a root similar to galangal, and green peppercorns as well as thai basil and plenty of chilli, the whole thing sings in the bowl and coconut rice provides the perfect foil. Feeling pretty pleased with myself for overcoming the spiciest thing on offer, my companion for the evening is looking smug too, the lamb shank in yellow curry really is something to behold. Thick, rich creamy coconut curry humming with flavour and a lamb shank sat atop the lot, the meat falls off the bone, my mate even declares it the best meal he's had all year. Both currys come packed with vegetables as well and taste wholesome and healthy, something all too often hard to find when eating out.
And so at the risk of it all getting a bit too virtuous the dessert menu comes to the rescue with deep fried ice cream. Chocolate and coconut flavoured balls coated in breadcrumbs it's certainly indulgent if not sophisticated. On a more traditional tip I opt for the Thai pancakes, filled with pandan leaf, sticky rice and coconut caramel, they're a bit of an odd green colour and aren't really to my taste to be honest.
The pancakes though are a small blemish on a great meal, the two curries really were impressive and the satay starter a nice idea. There's a fair bit of choice of Thai restaurants in Manchester these days and it's easy to see why Chaophraya is one of the most popular. Delicious food in a relaxed but vibrant setting I'll definitely be coming back, if only to get that lamb shank myself next time!