COCONUTS HOT SPOT – Everyone in their right mind loves delicious, cheap Thai food. It could be argued, however, that I love it even more than most, having lived in the Kingdom’s foodie city Chiang Mai for four years before moving to Hong Kong, and being a journalist from the north of England – and therefore one of the tightest people on the planet.
Good Thai food is not hard to find in Hong Kong, that’s for sure, but part of me dies inside when I find myself paying 10 times (as opposed to the standard three times) more for the same dishes I can get on the streets of Thailand just because I’m in a trendy, hipster restaurant… mentioning no names, cough, Cha Cha Wan.
On my hunt for cheap and cheerful Thai delights on Hong Kong Island I stumbled across The Spice House on Amoy Street, Wan Chai. Coincidentally, “Amoy” is very close to “aroy”, the Thai word for tasty. But now I’m just showing off.
The first indication that this place could be up to scratch was the simple fact you can actually order in Thai. Many so-called Thai restaurants in Hong Kong look at me blankly when I attempt this, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just because of my no doubt horrendous accent. I’ve been told I sound like a “lady-boy” when I speak Thai, but they’re stll native, right?
Dining with a pesky pescetarian, real meat was obviously off the menu, but having subscribed to the same double-standard diet until my 17th year, it was a sacrifice I could bear. At least she’s not full vegetarian, or, god forbid, vegan!
Touting myself as an authority on Thai cuisine, I persuaded her to stray slightly from the run-of-the-mill Som-Tam (Papaya Salad) to an exotic Tung-Tam (Long Bean Salad) instead (HKD40). Being hardened over the years, I could have handled a touch more spice, but the pummelled beans, tomato, garlic, lime, fish sauce and sugar came in the right respective quantities to make this a memorable and fresh taste of “home”.
We followed this up with Prawns with Herbs in Spicy Lime and Chilli Sauce (HKD80) – a sticky and sweet flash stir-fry with plenty of the said juicy sea creatures and the crunch of super finely chopped, properly edible lemongrass.
The Fried Morning Glory with Garlic (sorry, failed to get a price on this one), completely consumed with oily, melt in the mouth smashed garlic cloves, took a (for once) welcome divination from the traditional dish, in that it didn’t possess the usual overwhelming fishy taste that I feel has no place in gooey greens.
While well portioned and well executed, the above, I was aware, were fairly hard to screw up. The real test therefore came when the next item, the Grilled Fish with Thai Spice and Herbs (HKD100 – HKD150), was served.
To my surprise and delight, this actually took the form of salt-fish, where a whole fish is half baked, half grilled on a barbecue inside a cosy cocoon of salt cake. I’m not sure where they’ve wedged a barbecue in the back of what must be the Spice House’s tiny kitchen, but the fish was honestly as good as any I’ve had in the authentic roadside shacks of Chiang Mai.
Once we peeled away the crusty salt casing (take note novices or you won’t enjoy this at all!), the white flesh was moist, falling from the bones and infused with a barely there hint of smoke and charcoal. It was also a relief to see it served with a genuine homemade spicy dipping sauce as opposed to that Sweet Chilli abomination some impostors deem acceptable. It’s not, for the record.
And in true Thai restaurant style, they don’t really do dessert at The Spice House. I’m happy with that though. It made this excellent meal even cheaper!
The Spice House, G/F, 35 Amoy Street, Wan Chai, (+852) 2804-2522, Monday to Sunday, 11:30am – 10pm.