Food review: Aroi Thai, Shrewsbury
Find out what our reviewer made of Aroi Thai restaurant in Mardol, Shrewsbury.
Two of the greatest culinary stories of the past two decades have featured Ludlow and Birmingham.
Ludlow led the way at the start of the millennium as it swept the board in the Michelin Guide. Three restaurants earned stars while a fourth earned a Bib Gourmand, with two other restaurants receiving subsequent honours that kept the flame alive.
And as Ludlow’s star gradually waned – as these things do – so Birmingham took up the mantle. The city’s best restaurants filled the gap left by Ludlow as a clutch of city centre and suburban restaurants earned stars. It wasn’t just the Michelin posse who drove Birmingham’s reputation to new heights, however. It was also the fact that the city offered an impressive diaspora of food from further afield. Those who fancied Ethiopian, Turkish, Iraqi, Italian or Korean food were brilliantly catered to. And yet though Birmingham developed a truly impressive reputation for multi-cultural cuisine, there remains one gap in the market: Thai.
There are a number of Thai restaurants in the Second City – but none of them is the sort of places you’d make a journey for. While it has exceptional Chinese food – and China Town is as good as you might imagine it to be – the scarcity of good Thai restaurants is notable.
In recent times, the opposite has been true for Shropshire. There’s been one decent Chinese restaurant – China Diner, in Bridgnorth – but little else of note. And yet there’s been a clutch of good Thai restaurants. Times are changing, however, and not necessarily for the better. Shropshire’s best Thai restaurant, The King and Thai, at Broseley, recently closed, bringing to an end a glorious era of sensational cuisine from the brilliant Suree Coates.
Coates won the UK Thai Cook of the Year and numerous other awards that put her ahead of the game. Her stunning flavours and inventive food set the standards for some years. Ludlow has a decent Thai restaurant, Chang Thai, but beyond that, the pickings are slim.
In Shrewsbury, there are several restaurants serving Thai food, including a couple that opened in recent years. The quality is variable, however, as it is across the county.
Indeed, our most recent visit to a Shropshire Thai restaurant was so underwhelming that we decided not to publish the review. Punters aren’t stupid, they don’t always need us to tell them when a restaurant is malfunctioning.
Aroi Thai, in Shrewsbury, has been a beacon of hope in recent times.
Opened a couple of years ago, it’s offered a tapas-sized menu so that people can enjoy a bit of this and a bit of that, rather than max out on a gargantuan main. It made a pretty good impression when it first opened, too. Standards were high, food was pleasant, service was not bad.
But a recent visit was a cause for disappointment as service stuttered and the food was frankly poor.
My friend and I booked a table using an online app that required an email address. And you’d imagine that when a restaurant manager sees the name of the county’s evening paper on a booking, they’d make sure everything was tickety boo just in case they were being reviewed. Which they were. And yet our evening was one mired in mediocrity where standards were low.
The evening started reasonably enough as we were asked to choose the table at which we wanted to sit. The rickety chairs – they felt more like rocking chairs, they were so loose – were evocative of Thailand, in deep, rich, hardwood colours. Service was a little slow, which was curious considering there was only one other table in.
We opted for the Thai tapas and my friend selected duck spring rolls with a hoisin sauce. They were the best part of the evening. Crisp, nicely cooked and with a savoury dip, they made for pleasant eating. My crispy squid with a sweet chilli dip were enveloped in a crispy batter, though the squid had been overcooked and was chewy. Squid and octopus are delicious, delicate and delightful when in the right hands. And in the wrong hands, they bounce like a rubber ball. Still, the batter was nice.
The chicken satay, in contrast, was woeful. Overcooked, dry and unappetising, it was served with a thin satay sauce that lacked definition or flavour. The chicken was poor; hard, dry and stuck to the stick.
We’d offered for Thai curries with rice to follow. It’s a habit: she always goes red, I always go green. On this occasion, we’d have been happier not to go at all. The sauce was decent; coconut-ey and with a gentle heat. However, the chicken was worse than the satay. Whether the ingredients were of indeterminate quality, the cooking was poor or both factors were at play, we knew not. But the texture was on a par with the rubbery squid and we found ourselves unable to eat the whole bowl. Instead, we mopped up the sauce – decent – with the rice – also decent, while lamenting the quality of the food.
We opted for dessert; she always does. Though not before we’d laughed at the name of a battered banana dish called Gluary Tord; there was a picture of it beside the description. Thank heavens they didn’t spell it wrong. Google translate hasn’t a clue what a Gluary Tord is – and we weren’t about to find out.
Instead, I opted for the mango with coconut rice while she had an apple pie. The mango was nice, probably the most enjoyable part of the evening, along with the duck spring rolls. The coconut rice was weird. The apple pie, meanwhile, was the worst part of the evening. My friend has been known to eat four desserts off the bat – I’ve only ever seen her leave one once before; and on that occasion we had to stop on the way home to fill her with Magnum ice creams. She baulked at the pie. A supposed crumble topping was, in fact, damp oats that were soggy and lacked sweetness. The pastry was flaccid, like a razor clam taken straight from the shell. It flipped and flopped beneath the fork, rather than breaking with a snap.
After dinner, we waited for 20 minutes for our plates to be cleared. They weren’t. So we moved them onto another table ourselves then went to pay the bill. It was that sort of night.
Aroi Thai started well but has fallen back a little. Service and food both need a little more attention; better quality is required. It prides itself on authenticity but I’m not so sure. If the food is really like that in Bangkok, I’m staying home.