Thursday, 29 January 2015

Soht Aroy @ The Goat Inn

So here I am again... It's been quite a while since my last post. We only moved into our new home 2 months ago, and with Christmas in the way, it has all been a little too overwhelming for the few hours there are in each day. I have however not given up my blog. I am deadly serious about seeing it through, so this first review will get me back into some sort of angular swing; and boy do I have a lot to tell you.

This is a review for Soht Aroy, a restaurant that I have now dined in more than any other in my short time so far in the City; every Sunday between 7pm and 9pm to be precise (this is when my friend Anthony Baines, who plays the piano to entertain a small crowd in the Goat Inn on Sopwell Lane, performs his magic). I know Anthony from many years ago now, (I taught him the piano for a year) and I am delighted we stayed in touch and have subsequently become good friends; and even more delighted he is making a career playing the piano. No mean feet!!! I also made the decision, upon my first meal at Soht Aroy, that it would become as regular as I could afford, and this review now has the advantage of being a truly honest appraisal after the 6 meals I have now had there.

When I first went to hear Anthony play his first gig at the Goat Inn last Christmas, I was worried for him. The place was very quiet and he needed to build up a regular clientele I suppose. It is a beautiful building, but full of (even for St Albans standards) really weird people. The sort of crowd that if they cracked a smile occasionally, you might feel an icy chill. Chris, myself, and Anthony's parents are often there as a group, sitting next to the piano to support the Artiste, which was exactly the case on the evening I reviewed this place (the 2nd time I had visited).

Considering the public house that this restaurant inhabits, it is a real surprise! I was not expecting, by any stretch of the imagination, for this mini restaurant, to be as wondrous as it was. It is open on Tuesdays-Sundays, yet I had not read anything about it. In fact the first time I went to hear Anthony I was not even expecting food because the place was so quiet. I took one look at the menu though, and to my delight I got a warm feeling run through my veins. The reason? I had seen an ever so similar menu at the Heron; a real dump of a building near Edgware Road in London, with a very grotty pub upstairs, and an even danker, dingier restaurant downstairs. However, this is a place of legend for Thai aficionados and has been rated 5 stars by many foodies over the past few years. It is one of the most authentic restaurants to experience real Thai food, at its best.

This moment of excitement wafted over me as I thought to myself of the possibility that Soht Aroy might just, be as good as the Heron. The slightly dated pub, the unusual clientele, the very genuine looking menu. It all stacked up, so I simply had to write about it.

To start I went up to the bar and ordered a salad (£5.95). Now... Thai salads are no ordinary boring leafy creations. They should be fiercely spicy, sweet, tangy, savoury and toothsome. On the menu it looked as genuine as it should do, with dried prawns, green mango (a wonderful tangy bitter sweet ingredient), and peanuts. I picked the salad from the 'sides menu', because I did not want a conventional starter. Well, to my delight it arrived quickly and was beautiful. The colours could be from a vivid hand painted still life, and it looked so inviting. Fresh red chilli, with a few seeds in, lovely strips of Green Mango, fresh beans, coriander, peanuts. Etc. All delicious and simple in their combination. The star of this dish was the dressing, which was stupendous. So sweet, and sour and generally cried out 'eat me, eat me' after every bite. The only small point that detracted for me was the fact that the green mango, was a little over ripe (in very traditional recipes the mango should be under ripe and still fairly toothsome). Also, the dressing, for my tastes could have been a little hotter (for the ultimate authentic experience I had received in the Heron). I might add that you do get some nice condiments on the side though; some fresh chilli, sweet chilli sauce, and a very nice Soy Sauce.

Next came the traditional, and probably Britain's favourite Thai Dish, Chicken Green Curry (£7.95). The rice was scented and lovely and sweet, so perfectly cooked that I imagine it must have been done in a rice cooker? The curry, whilst never much to look at, at the best of times, was a beautiful shade of green and the lovely hand carved carrots on the side of every dish are always a delight (I love that little extra touch you see in so many Asian restaurants). The curry itself was among the best I have tasted. Not too thick, but so delectably full of flavour. Again, the perfect balance of sweet, and savoury. Again, it did lack a little chilli kick, but better this way than too much; saving you from screaming in pain on your bathroom break the following day. I am sure the darling chefs, who deliver each dish to you personally after they have cooked it in the ever so small kitchen, would turn the heat up if you asked them. I was so satisfied though that there was no need.

I might add that I have now ordered everything from the curry menu, and can without a doubt say it is one of the most consistently tasty places for Thai food I have come across. Nothing is ever greasy, the meat is always well cooked and never chewy. The flavours always big and bold! Even the starters, of which I have eaten a few now, are pretty damn on the money, especially their take on the prawn toast; so much prawn adorns a lovely piece of baguette, and is not dripping with fat like so many do.

Regarding desserts I have had mixed experiences. The dessert I had on the night of this review was good and tasty. A traditional sweet sticky rice with fresh fruits. The fruits had a lovely sweet, sugary, thick dressing and the incredibly well cooked rice was packed with coconut flavour. A lovely combo. The dessert menu is never on display, but the chefs can tell you what is on that day. The previous week I had been, and the dessert menu they had prepared was amazing! Chilli Chocolate mousse (the hottest thing I had eaten all evening), but so damn good. They also had an incredible coconut cheesecake, which was definitely the nicest dessert I have eaten anywhere for a long time. However, before I scream praises too much, the night I reviewed this place, there was a chocolate cake on the menu, which a friend ordered, and it was, or so it tasted, out of a packet. I know what a cheap costco chocolate dessert tastes like, and after the incredible experience I had, and the homemade desserts (balanced to perfection) the week before, I was a little sad that they served this. I now always ask about the dessert, but I can whole heartedly say that if it is a homemade one then eat it... Hell... Eat 10. I would!

To summarise... This little place, in this rather dingy, weird pub, is a little gem and deserves a lot more attention. I hope they one day open a proper restaurant in town, because they are better than their surroundings, and deservedly so. Please support them!

Food: 8/10
Cost: Low
Good For: Group of mates, curry and beer,  authentic Thai Food without too many pretentious frills, foodies, people watching

Soht Aroy at the Goat Inn

37 Sopwell Lane
St Albans