Siam Corner, Lichfield, Staffordshire Restaurant Review

Penny Oldham was invited to sample the eastern delights of Thai cuisine at Siam Corner in Lichfield

Siam Corner Ma Ma Thai, 17 Bird Street, Lichfield, Staffs WS13 6PW Tel: 01543 411911

I have to confess to being a bit of a Thai food novice, so when I was invited to sample the eastern delights of Ma Ma Thai in Lichfield I wasn't sure what to expect. We found the restaurant, one of the Siam Corner group, in a pretty area of the city and welcoming waitresses in traditional dress showed us to our table. Taking our seats, which, we were delighted to find, unexpectedly swivelled, we began to take in the scene. It's worth taking a few lines to describe the decor - an important part of the dining experience. Two enormous chandeliers twinkled above from a crimson ceiling, while the striking aubergine and gold 'wallpaper' turned out to be hand-painted onto the walls. Tables were set with black place mats and some contemporary yet surprisingly comfortable cutlery. The glassware was large and elegant and there were fresh pink orchids on each table.

Now for the food. The main menu was extensive but we opted for the set meal option, not having the knowledge to order from some of the delicious-sounding dishes on offer: 'Hoi Obb', a starter of steamed mussels with lemon grass and sweet basil, with fish sauce, fresh chilli, garlic and lime juice (�5); 'Pla Nung Bui', steamed sea bass with preserved plums, ginger, celery and spring onion, topped with a julienne of chillies (�14.50); or 'Seu Rong Hai', which was intriguingly-described as 'Tiger Cry' sirloin steak served with Nam Jim Jea (�9.50). You can see why we opted for pre-selected plates. After all the prettily named la carte dishes, it seemed rather a shame to pick something called 'Menu C' (�19.50 each for two or more people). But Menu C included some equally attractive and tempting dishes. It began with a mixed starter, most items featuring some of the lightest batter I've tasted. But first, a quick word about the unusual china used throughout the meal. Imported from Thailand, the creamy, curved, square plates were individually decorated with Rorschach-like daubs of glaze. Sitting on this, amid a garden of skilfully carved vegetables, were delicate vegetable spring rolls; deep fried chicken wings stuffed with minced pork and rice vermicelli; battered squid - which my partner at first declined on the basis that it would be like chewing a rubber band, but had to admit after being forced to try one that it was delicious; prawn and pork toast sprinkled with sesame seeds; and crispy battered prawns, all served with a spicy carrot and cucumber salad with crushed peanuts, and some dipping sauces. With the meal we'd chosen Thai beers rather than wine, which as a non-beer drinker I nevertheless found a perfect and welcome complement to the spicy food.

The main course arrived promptly; friendly, efficient service was a feature of the meal. There was a perfectly balanced selection of four dishes, all piping hot and served on the pretty china. Our favourite, as rabid carnivores, was the 'Neua Pud Prink Tai Dam'. This was tender bite-sized pieces of beef, stir-fried with crushed peppercorns, diced onion, carrot, red and green capsicums and spring onion. As a contrast, there was 'Pla Choo Chee', crispy boneless sea bream in a spicy coconut sauce, with kaffir lime leaves and a julienne of chillies, the creamy coconut perfectly offsetting the heat of the sauce while the fish retained its distinctive taste and texture. 'Ma Kue Pud Bai Ho Ra Par' - stir-fried aubergine with sweet basil and preserved soya beans was a dark and luscious complement to the meal, which was served with clouds of fluffy Thai rice. It was interesting that when, struggling slightly with the spiciness, we helped ourselves to more rice, a beaming waitress instantly appeared and offered more, gratis, but by then even my partner, normally a bit of a gannet, had to refuse, so replete were we. Thankfully, hot, menthol-infused towels were then tonged out to us, a refreshing yet calorie-free course.

By now, all I could think of was some coconut ice cream so, despite my expanding waistline, I greedily chose banana fritter which came with a large creamy dollop of it. More delicate batter, this time infused with coconut, surrounded the fruit, but I only managed one piece before handing over to the gannet. He'd chosen more wisely, a smooth concoction including blackcurrant sorbet. To finish, we were served jasmine tea from the most charming teapot I've ever seen. Matching the dinner service, it was in the form of an elephant.

Throughout the meal, the Thai waitresses had flitted around like brilliantly coloured butterflies, providing unobtrusive and smilingly efficient service. More of their charm and the fragrant food of the Siam Corner Group can be sampled in Derby, Chesterfield, Walsall and soon at the newly-developed Barton Marina near Burton upon Trent, as well as further afield.

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