The first time I went to Rosa's I left my camera charging at home and couldn't stop kicking myself for being such an idiot. So I promised myself I would return - not just to take photos, mind ... but also because the food was rather tasty and deserved another visit. Persistently on Timeout's list of Top 10 Cheap Eats in east London (mind you this was in the day before the branch in Soho opened) and I've been wanting to try it out but was way to lazy to head all that way east. So all the better for me when they opened up in central London. I know there's been quite a bit of criticism about how the quality had dropped dramatically over the last few years but hey, I'm none the wiser. On this visit it also tickled me to drag my friend Rosa along (childish, I know!).
Perusing the menu, I realised I had forgotten that Rosa doesn’t take too well to anything spicy and is no fan of coconuts either. The 2 things so entrenched in Thai cuisine. No worries, there had to be something that she could have – sticky rice – safe and definitely had no spice and no coconut. Interestingly it was not until recently that I realised quite a few people don’t like coconut milk/cream. I guess growing up in Malaysia I just took it for granted that people just ate it – nothing to dislike. Ooo … I do remember thinking it was the oddest thing when I found out an old boss of mine not liking bean sprouts! She would laboriously pick out every bit from her plate before she started eating. Imagine! And she lived in Malaysia too where nearly every noodle dish comes with a handful of bean sprouts. Anyway, I diverge from Rosa’s meal. For her main she chose Gai Pad Cashew Nuts (£8.25) – innocently described as stir-fried chicken and cashew nuts with mixed peppers in oyster sauce. So Rosa digs in – first bite “emm … nice”, second bite, third bite …. Then she starts sniffing. A little at first and then a bit more.
“Are you OK, Rosa?”
“Noooo … this is spicy!!!!”
So I peer at the dish. It still looks incredibly innocent. I shove my fork in and taste a bit.
“Don’t be silly, Rosa. It’s fine.”
I shove my fork into the dish again (I’m notoriously greedy and would never say no to an extra titbit). Then it hit me. Uh ohh … there’s some heat coming through. Peering at the dish again I realise that the little dark specks throughout the dish were not innocent bits of blackened veg but bits of lethal dried chilli. Poor Rosa! I dare say she was not a happy bunny (no worries, we went for cake after, which cheered her up immensely).
I would say this to Rosa’s though …. If you’re going to add chilli to a dish, just say it on the menu! Put a little chilli sign next to the dish. You do for all your other spicy dishes.
I went down the boring route and ordered what my dining companion had on my first visit a few months previously - Gaeh Yang Char (£10.50) - grilled rack of lamb served with spicy dry chilli sauce and cooled steamed vegetables. I really enjoyed this dish on my previous visit and then it hit me … I probably only enjoyed it so much because I only had a few bites. Faced with a whole dish – 3 large pieces of grilled lamb covered in creamy coconut gravy – I realised what a wimp I had become. Oh I finished it alright … along with the steamed veg sitting at the bottom of the meaty heap – steamed cauliflower and carrots (I’m still not sure what they mean by “cooled steamed vegetables” – cool against the spice of the gravy or the veg was hot once upon a time when it came out of the steamer and now it isn’t?). But I was almost whimpering by the time I swallowed my last bite. It was a mountain of food and this wasn’t even counting the steamed rice I had ordered on the side. I offered to share my meat with Rosa – she likes lamb, she told me so – but my offer was kindly declined.
“It’s covered in coconut sauce, Justine.”
Ah, yes. I had almost forgotten. She did accept a piece – a conciliatory gesture. She did point out it wasn’t cooked through. Yeah, I know …. It was an extremely bright shade of uncooked red in the middle.
“I think the English like to eat their lamb a bit rarer than you or I, Rosa”.
She simply nods. From one foreigner to another. Rosa’s Soho 48 Dean Street, London W1D 5BF
A Malaysian foodie at heart, I now live in London where, after eight years, I am still trying to come to terms with the four changing seasons. Although far from home there is never short of good food to be salivated over!Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org