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Chaophraya review

Jonathan Schofield can't believe the food at the popular 'Thai' restaurant

Written by . Published on April 9th 2011.

Chaophraya review

Chaophraya was busy on both review visits.

The guests were hearty Mancs and burr-accented Lancs sat in close ranks across the first floor dining area. The smell of incense drifted past, as did the scent from the waitresses.

The latter seemed to come in two forms.

They were either in traditional costume or mini-skirts and tight tops. It was an odd and uncomfortable mix and came with bowing and scraping and hands held together as though in prayer. The waiters had the same cross-over of Thai and Western costume as well. This merging and mingling would become the theme of the meals.

The whole meal was not worth the final tally of £74 or anything like it. Even the Pinot Noir Le Fou at over £20 was poor, “soapy” being the verdict.

On one visit a man on the next table was saying: “It’s not like the real street food of Bangkok, you know. They’ve gone too far to please the locals.”

The man went on and on about his Thai travels in a very loud voice. Travel sometimes doesn’t broaden the mind, it just makes you boring.

We were sat in a nineteenth century building on Chapel Walks above Sam’s Chop House, and no, it wasn’t really anything like Bangkok.

Listening to our neighbour reminded me of an occasion a decade ago when I took an English journalist and his French wife on a tour of Manchester. They’d lived in Hong Kong for two decades. He was the biggest arse the world has ever known, and she was the second. All they wanted to do was complain. A real beef for them was the authenticity of food.

They even complained in Red Chilli in Chinatown while having the non-Western dishes. “This isn’t real Chinese black pudding, it’s too sweet, not authentic at all,” the man said while screwing up his face.He called the waiter over and complained.

The waiter was very authentic. He couldn’t speak a word of English.

Our man in Hong Kong turned away disgusted, and his wife muttered, “typical.” The rest of us ducked as the all the ironies crashed down on the table.

Back to Chaophraya. Back to the theme of authenticity.

Of course this place is not about creating an utterly genuine Thai experience, it’s a compromise. It’s about creating an ambience, based on a memory, which may not even be your own but something seen on a travel programme. The result is profit for the business, and a controlled and pleasant experience for the guest, without the messiness of trying to adapt to local customs and weather conditions.

This is what Chaophraya does well.

Or rather did.

When it first opened four or five years ago I’m sure it featured light Thai dishes, alive with lemongrass, subtlety and charm. Maybe my memory is going.

Now the food has gone so far in trying to please Northerners it’s almost inedible. I’m sorry to say that the second visit confirmed the impression of clumsy ugly food I’d gained on the first. It was the worst meal I’ve had in more than a year.

Consider the mains which were recommended by our very nice waiter.

The Ka Gae Massaman (£14.50), or a lamb shank with peanuts, shallots, spuds and a massaman curry sauce, made an immediate bad impression. It was ugly to look at, a great lump of watery brown, surrounding a flag pole of a bone. It resembled something a child of three might create with playdough.

The meat was tough and unyielding, old tasting, and almost cold before it was taken away to be reheated. The whole thing was sat on a squash which was the best thing but shouldn’t have even been there. The potatoes were hard. There was a nauseating splash of white dribbled down one side, which my guest, described as looking "bodily". Yoghurt I hoped.

I didn’t even eat half of it.

It was like a bad Sunday dinner with a few Eastern bits added. It was grotesque.

The other main of Pad Sauce Gaprao (£14), was ‘sautéed duck with hot basil, fine beans and chilli in a Thai peppercorn sauce’. It was 2% better than the lamb. It looked better but was also grim to taste, a mess of flavours with shoe-leather duck.

These two dishes were from the ‘Chef’s Recommendations’ part of the menu. To show just how crazy Chaophraya has gone in attempting to pander to a local audience there’s a dish description which beggars belief.

The Penang Nua Yang (£15.50) is ‘grilled sirloin steak served on a Yorkshire pudding, topped with penang curry sauce, topped with kaffir lime leaves and red chilli’. Words fail me.

Our shared platter of a starter, Chaophraya’s Golden Treasures (£9.50 per person), came with prawns in batter, deep fried honey marinated pork, chicken satay, a very odd spam-fritter like prawn thingy, and a spicy somtum salad. The last two bits of this were ok, but the whole spread across a huge serving plate looked insubstantial and certainly not worth £20.

The whole meal was not worth the final tally of £74 or anything like it. Even the Pinot Noir Le Fou at over £20 was poor, “soapy” being the verdict.

I really don’t know what has happened at Chaophraya.

I’m sure it was better than this. I’m sure the world’s worst ‘Happy Birthday’ celebration for guests didn’t take place, with several waiters discordantly banging gongs and drums and shaking bells.

Yet the place is busy. People seem to love the sheer quantity of mis-matched ingredients. Not for me though. Chaophraya and its management needs to get back to basics, needs to re-emphasise its theme, needs to become more Thai. As my Hong Kong Englishman said all those years ago to the waiter who didn't understand, "There's a value to authenticity you know?". As for Yorkshire Pudding with kaffir lime leaves and red chilli - that’s not even funny. Or perhaps it is.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on twitter @JonathSchofield

Breakdown:2/10 food
4/5 service
3.5/5 ambience
Chapel Walks
M2 1HN
0161 832 8342

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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43 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

macwiddupApril 7th 2011.

Used to love the place and Leeds doesn't seem to have lost it but dined there Monday night and never had such greasy starters - the shared platter - even from a takeaway!
To be fair rest of the meal was ok but the final bill of £100 for two of us including a couple of cocktails was definitely not worth it

WozzerApril 7th 2011.

Shame - Ive only ever had really good food there??

WhitesidesOnsideApril 7th 2011.

Ning with the superb Norman Musa in the kitchen is a far better option for authentic Thai/Malay cuisine.

JayApril 7th 2011.

This place used to be so good when it opened but went downhill quickly, perhaps the management decided to focus on getting the WAGS into the Liverpool restaurant and bar.
Now when I get the urge for Thai food I go to Try Thai instead, it's half the price of Chaophraya and the food is better.

JayceeApril 7th 2011.

I've eaten here many times and have love the place and the food. It as if the article is about somewhere else!

I like Ning too, but prefer Chaophraya.

What a shame.

big jackApril 7th 2011.

I've always found the Thai restaurants in Bolton were much better than the Manchester ones. It's a shame Mai Thai closed, however Nam Ploy is still pretty good.

AnonymousApril 7th 2011.

Great food, shit service if you book with more than 2 people. Shame

Little JonApril 7th 2011.

Went to Chaophraya a few years back and even then it was just ok. Been eating at Try Thai for a while now and have had top food consistently and the prices are decent too.

Leah MackayApril 7th 2011.

Have to agree with most here. Was great years ago when it first opened, but the standard is not the same. I too prefer Try Thai and Ning. Far better value for money and better food!

KensApril 7th 2011.

The first time I tried Chaophraya, was the last one.

To me it felt (and looked) like scabby "chinese takeaway"

Fell off my seat when the bill came!

Lady JaneApril 7th 2011.

I'd recommend the Royal Orchid - went there a few weeks ago and had stunning food with brilliant service and even better when the bill came I didn't need resusitating. Definitely one to revisit soon.

Heather DareApril 7th 2011.

I completely agree with the review. Used to love this place when it opened and was a regular visitor. The food was really excellent but it's gone downhill on every visit in the last couple of years. Now serves goopy, below average food with a crazy price tag - what a shame.

Jo NApril 7th 2011.

I would agree that Try Thai is far better, and the staff are really helpful.

sharxApril 7th 2011.

I have to say i have been recently and had an aveage meal. Although prior to this i ahd a decent meal. I tend to agree with a lot of things mentioned in the report. However just to get a bit technical a Lamb shank cant be over-cooked and be tough. I think you meant undercooked!

JimboofmancuniaApril 7th 2011.

Try Thai in Chinatown is miles better and a lovely restaurant with great staff as well.

molsterApril 7th 2011.

Never had a bad meal here and the service has always been fantastic. I had the lamb shank on my last visit too (December), and it was cooked to perfection. The Moo Yang is just gorgeous. Still my fave restaurant in Manchester.

PaulApril 7th 2011.

Had it being authentic you could of taken one of them girls with the short skirts home for twenty notes

AnonymousApril 7th 2011.

We were actually sat a few tables away from you - we recognised you and wondered if you were doing a review. We were a large group, although the majority of us were not what you could describe as hearty Mancs or burr-accented Lancs!

We booked our 6pm table a while back and were called by the restaurant that day to confirm our booking and to be told we would only be allowed to order from the set menu (ie banquets) due to the size of our group. We said we didn't want the banquet and asked if we could pre-book from the a la carte menu instead, but were told no - they said it was because they sometimes get other large groups. We said we would have to cancel and they seemed happy to turn away our guaranteed booking on the off-chance that another large group might turn up that day.

However, as members of our group really wanted to eat there, we turned up and pretended to be a different group without a booking - they showed us to our table and provided us with the a la carte menu and we were able to order from it without any question. Seems a strange way to run a business...

MouseApril 7th 2011.

I am staying anon for once but last time I was in there saw a mouse in the gents' loo. That, combined with a very average meal means I shall not dine there for a long, long time.

RSApril 7th 2011.

this is scathing, to those that hang on Man Con's every word, don't boycott this place. I love it there, the atmosphere and food is authentic (and i've spent a month in thailand) - don't know if the author has been there.. my only criticism is its pricey.

Jonathan SchofieldApril 7th 2011.

Sharx you're right. Perhaps 'old' would have been a better word/phrase.

YorkieApril 7th 2011.

Sounds very ropey. Give Koh Samui on Princess Street a try. I've never had a bad meal there. Good food, smiling service and decent value.

crackersApril 7th 2011.

always over expensive in my eyes, and just not that good.

also, what ever happened to the prawn crackers when you had a drink at their bar?!

baggioApril 7th 2011.

i've been to chaophraya a couple of times, most recently about a year ago, and each time the food has been great. i prefer try thai though. as for royal orchid, didn't that score really low with the recent hse visit! best thai i know is jitrada in sale.

NortherngeezerApril 7th 2011.

Reet, i'll throw my two'penneth in to the ring i think as Thai is my most favorite dining experience.
I agree with Ed, i've eaten here.......once, overpriced and average at best, seems on this visit Jonno you got the real shitty end of the stick.
Agree with most of the other rants above, there ARE far better, and cheaper, Thai restaurants in Mancunia, Try Thai & Ning vying for top spot in my opinion.
Kho Samui aint as good as it used to be, a complaint about a poor meal there was met with a shrug of the shoulders and THIS customer vowing not to set foot in the place again.
Jitrada in Sale is staging a comeback after a change of ownership.
Interesting comments from Big Jack regarding Bolton, i think i'll give them a try, see how they compare.

colem6April 7th 2011.

Eaten here once, never again. Poor service and overpriced, average food. No thanks.

charlApril 8th 2011.

I love it at Chaophraya.
This is only one persons view......you cant please everyone!

DiggerApril 8th 2011.

Had a similar "group" experience to Anonymous above, only we didn't find out until we sat down, by which time it was too late to pretend we were all separate parties. What a strange way to run a business. Why does it make any difference to serve 12 folk at one table from a menu that you are offering to the other 120 people sat at other tables? That, the bland, limp, uninspiring food, and the size of the bill, was enough to make sure I never went back, and never will.

around the cornerApril 8th 2011.

I used to love it when it first opened - I had some wonderful meals there, whether it was as a couple or as part of a birthday group. It was never cheap but I thought the quality was excellent. The staff were friendly and nothing was too much trouble.

Then things started to slip. The staff no longer seemed friendly and sweet, more jaded and pushy (especially when it came to trying to get you to order a second bottle of wine!) The place started to look tatty. The wine list prices kept creeping up.

Then it closed for renos, which I thought would be a good thing as it needed a facelift. It doesn't sound good though. Yorkshire pudding?? I have eaten lunch in the bar area since the revamp and while the food was still ok (had the green curry and the mixed starters) it just didn't feel like the nice post-shopping lunch experience I remembered. Plus they had the cheek to charge me £3.50 for a glass of diet coke (seems the bar prices were revamped too...)

Kazza699April 8th 2011.

Surprised! Have been here many a time, although not been yet this year. Always had great service & great food. And I'm fairly fussy over my food! Perhaps it was just a bad day?

AnonymousApril 8th 2011.

Agree with review. I'd heard great things and thought I'd try. It was bobbins. Never again.

AnonymousApril 8th 2011.

We went last saturday, having not been for a long time and was shocked!once seated and given menus a waiter came over and told us we had to move for a bigger party (he wasn't apologetic!) And then when the food came it may as well have been from yum yums buffet! Really disapointing!

SRedApril 8th 2011.

Went for the first time a few weeks ago at the insistence of a friend. Was completely underwhelmed and begrudged paying £35 for a distinctly average meal. We went on a Wednesday night and it was very busy and I hear on weekends fully booked - why do people enjoy paying over the odds for an average takeaway style meal?

MullyApril 9th 2011.

I agree almost entirely with the article. The food has gone very much downhill over the past two years. Some of the wonderful and subtle dishes are now filled with standard red onions and cherry tomatoes I can pick up from Asda. I can cook better food at home at much less cost. It's a big shame as I used to eat here around twice a week.

Michael WayneApril 9th 2011.

We go once every 2 months to get the flavour burst. It's OK. The only thing we have is the Thai Green or Red Chilli Chicken and rice, a lager and then leave. Service has always been with a smile whether fake or genuine.
Like others, we have been many times to the far east and have learnt not to have great expectations eating here in the UK in themed restaurants.
Therefore you you wont be disappointed. The only place I have ever eaten genuine Thai is in London in a place called Pataya just off Regent Street. Bit pricey but superb and worth every penny .

Pete WoffendenApril 9th 2011.

Little Jon is spot on. Try Thai is a hidden gem that never seems to feature in the restaurant guides. Food and service are invariably top notch. Their set lunch has to be the best deal in town.

debChorltonApril 10th 2011.

The best thai in Manchester by far is Jitrada in Sale , The food is authentic , consistently good and the sunday buffet is different every week ,off menu alot of the time and great value for money! love it :)

JenniferApril 10th 2011.

Agree with this review and the comments of others. This place used to be very good indeed but went rapidly downhill and is now sub-standard.

A few people seem to rate Ning. I thought it was very poor when I ate there :-(

I'm always on the lookout for good Thai food in Manchester. Phetpailin is my favourite at the moment, though it has been a bit variable of late. I must give Try Thai a go again soon...

ElbieApril 11th 2011.

When I last ate here (autumn 2010) it was reasonable... but there were a few issues. Sounds as though it's gone further downhill since.

I think of it as the Thai version of San Carlo - loud, brash and incredibly popular... but lacking some essential qualities (unless you're a celeb the staff recognises, of course).

TONY JAApril 13th 2011.

I always go to chilli banana in wilmslow or liverpool not in city centre but worth the short trip. super authentic, friendly staff and excellent value for money - always get consistently good reviews

AnonymousJuly 11th 2011.

I love thai food. Honestly speaking Chaophraya's food quality is good however over the years- staff have been unfriendly and prices are relatively high. Same goes with Vermillion. I would suggest Thai lovers to go try thai food at Try Thai restaurant! I think it's thai flavours are great. When its Thai-spicy it really is spicy. They probably have the best restaurant lunch deal in the city centre! Also Jitrada in Sale is very good too.
Happy Eating!

AnonymousJuly 11th 2011.

I love thai food. Honestly speaking Chaophraya's food quality is good however over the years- staff have been unfriendly and prices are relatively high. Same goes with Vermillion. I would suggest Thai lovers to go try thai food at Try Thai restaurant! I think it's thai flavours are great. When its Thai-spicy it really is spicy. They probably have the best restaurant lunch deal in the city centre! Also Jitrada in Sale is very good too.
Happy Eating!

GoodfoodfolkApril 23rd 2012.

If you want to overpay for a "show off" place to eat Thai food in Manchester, then Chaophraya is perfect. Most of the staff work hard, it gets busy, but the service seems impersonal and hit and miss. We went for a birthday meal (group of 10 vegetarians), but were not offered drinks whilst we waited downstairs for our table. They would also not bring 2 servings of rice for the group to share. Rather they said we should order 4 portions (each enough for 2 people). Fine. We ended up with 4 bowls of rice...all smaller than a tiny cereal bowl. Why? Considering we spent £200+ they could have tried harder. The main dishes were tasty, but again, portions were small, with low vegetable content and too much sauce. We made the most of it, but came away quite sure that we'd not return. There are much better places to eat Thai in Manchester, both for quality and price (yes, Ning is a more authentic food experience). Disappointing.

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