We’re often asked about the latest food trends on the Island. To be described, like one place, as ‘a bit of Shoreditch in Ventnor’, is high praise. With restaurants, as with other businesses, we crave the novel, the maverick, and the disruptor. But for every Uber and Tesla making headlines with radical new ideas there is another company like Network Rail or Sainsbury’s, doing less glamorous but more necessary things. And frankly, we are more interested in buying teabags and toilet roll than we are in having our parcels delivered by autonomous drones.
So it is with eating out. Fusion food and tattooed chefs waving choppers to a grimecore mashup have their places – places we often rave about – but it’s possible to have enough of that stuff. We also enjoy a nice leisurely meal in comfortable surroundings as much as the next food reviewers, and we went to Shanklin’s Thai Mukda to see if they could oblige.
Thai Mukda is in the location that for some years was the Siam Pearl, and this former tearoom is one of the Island’s most notable dining venues. We like this building; we like its mock-Tudor exterior, leaded lights, bakelite switches and central wooden staircase. It’s as if a baronial hall has been plopped in the high street. But on the Isle of Wight incongruous is the new normal; Thai Mukda’s half-timbering and stained glass are not out of place among its eclectic neighbours, whose windows display dinosaur skulls, tattoo ideas and souvenir tea cosies. And this clearly has its appeal. On the evening we went, Shanklin was positively buzzing; Showaddywaddy were playing at the theatre – and Thai Mukda was filling up.
We’re getting rather used to informal service; offered uncapped bottles or jam jars to sup from instead of glasses, and being served our meals on disposable foil trays – even when eating in. At Thai Mukda things are reassuringly old school. Meeting, greeting and seating was courteously efficient and, when our dishes arrived, they were served with a flourish and an explanation. Even the cutlery was comfortingly weighty, decorated with Buddhas and elephants.
Matt’s starter, a tureen of tom kha – chicken and mushroom coconut soup with herbs and spices – arrived under a cover, the lid then removed for the big reveal. The flavours, too, were revealed, not all at once, but cleverly layered. Dunking his melamine spoon, Matt drew out a soft mushroom, shrouded with a flat coriander leaf. He dove in again, withdrawing only the rich, fragrant liquid. First sweet, then hot, then sour flavours danced on his tongue. A splendid dish.
Tom kha soup £4.95
Chicken massaman £8.95
Pad Thai £8.95
Egg fried rice (2 @ £3.25) £6.50
Cat’s chicken massaman arrived in the familiar lidded casserole. The curry had a sweet, complicated flavour. Tiny bits of chilli gave a flash of heat, but without pain. Its coconut milk foundation smoothed the way for a sour afternote. Cat used her golden cutlery to fork in another mouthful for the taste merry-go-round to take another revolution. As she spooned the curry and its crinkle-cut potatoes and soft chicken on to her plate, the egg-fried rice soaked up the juices.
The gentle flavours and textures of chicken pad Thai delighted Matt. Generous handfuls of crunchy peanut and fresh coriander garnished this traditional dish. Alongside was a small salad that was a remarkable display of the vegetable carver’s art. We cooed at a turnip which had been rendered into a lotus flower, and a carrot had all but been scooped out to create a sort of orange bell. Talking of which, the gentle ambient music in the restaurant sounded like it was played on a doorbell; rhythmic but without a discernible tune, it seemed almost procedurally generated.
Throughout our meal the staff were attentive but not overbearing. The dinners themselves arrived quickly; with almost no delay at all between courses. Like Newport’s God’s Providence House, the venue has been part of the street scene for donkey’s and, at first glance, you might think that modernisation would be called for. We hope it that doesn’t happen, because That Mukda is well-maintained in its quaint old style, and has got something special going on just as it is. Sometimes the appeal of these anachronistic places is in their lack of fancy-pants gimmicks. No chalkboard or clipboards, no galvanised buckets or slates. This is a very good traditional restaurant, with graceful service and tongue-teasing dishes at extremely reasonable prices.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Delicious food
- Interesting venue
- Discrete and polite service