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REVIEW: Siam Smiles, Chinatown

Lucy Tomlinson on Thai food, Rooney custard and effusive reviews

Written by . Published on October 20th 2014.


REVIEW: Siam Smiles, Chinatown
 

THERE were two reasons I’ve been looking forward to visiting Siam Smiles.

There are few frills here, unless you count Wayne Rooney-branded custard as a frill, which I certainly do.

The first is this radiantly effusive (someone less kind than me might even say histrionic) review in The Guardian.

The second is that this street food outlet (‘restaurant’ is not the appropriate term here. In fact ‘cafe’ is probably a little over-formal for Siam Smiles) resides within a Thai supermarket that used to belong to the family of my partner’s first girlfriend. Apparently he was not looked upon favourably as a potential son-in-law. So I was hoping for an amusing afternoon of excruciating trips down memory lane along with some superlative Thai food.

What more piquant sauce to garnish one’s noodle soup than tales of another’s romantic agony?

But the best I got from him when I asked for memories of his first love was the enigmatic phrase 'pork wool'. Was this referring to the girlfriend or the establishment? For those of you who worry a bizarre lovelorn nostalgia had got the better of him, it’s a savoury version of candy floss sold in Thai and other Asian supermarkets. 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any pork wool at Siam Smiles, which has been sold by the disapproving Mr and Mrs Kim to new owners who hit upon the bright idea of serving simple dishes to customers seated on a few basic tables and chairs. And basic is the word. There are few frills here, unless you count Wayne Rooney-branded custard as a frill, which I certainly do.

Siam Smiles, George Street, ChinatownSiam Smiles, George Street, Chinatown

Belly porkKow Moo Krob - Belly pork

The supermarket-chic is all part of the fun. It’s amusing to casually saunter over to the fridge and pluck out a can of Fanta or bottle of lychee pop whenever you feel like it, at least the first couple of times. But this is minimalism so extreme I never even found out if there was a toilet.

It doesn’t surprise me that critics have been effusive. It must seem so real and down-to-earth after all the freeze-dried this and edible twigs that and waistcoat-clad servers who call their customers 'guys' in a super-casual waiters’ version of Tourettes. I think suddenly encountering this radical normality has skewed perceptions somewhat. This is good but not mindblowing Thai street food. No perfumed or overly coconutty curries to be found, just plenty of unrefined (in a good way) noodles, salads and soups.

So with little to distract us, let’s talk about the food. Our first choice dish Kow Moo Dang (£5.95) is described on the menu as ‘a roast red BBQ red pork serve with rice and topping with red pork sauce on top’ - it wasn’t all that rosy and probably didn’t need three 'red's in the descriptor. The other main of Kow Moo Krob (£5.95) - crispy belly pork served with rice and pork sauce - was ordered in a panic after another dish was off.

They were incredibly similar in look and flavour, the most salient difference being the yummy melty fat of the belly pork and the scarlet dye job of t’other. For both the meat was good and tasted exactly like pork (by which I mean not covered up with lashings of lemongrass or other typical Thai flavours). The rice and sauce were pretty standard. Solid dishes but not standouts.

Siam SmilesSiam Smiles

Siam saladSom Tam Thai - salad

Lucky then that we also ordered Som Tam Thai (£5.50), a green papaya, peanut and beansprout salad sprinkled with dried shrimp, a plate of fruity, fresh, salty, sweet and palate-punching heat. It provided a great contrast to the pork dishes which were pretty subdued in comparison, though I couldn’t eat the whole thing for fear my eyeballs would fully liquidise.

The most visually intriguing of the dishes was the Kuai Tiew Yen Ta Fo (£5.50, main image), a vivid pink bowl of flat noodles, tofu and fish balls in soup, garnished with coriander and morning glory (which is also known as water spinach, don’t try this with regular morning glory, the plant type or otherwise). The cherry pink broth gets its colour and sweet taste from fermented bean curd, making this the dish that probably conforms most to what many western palates expect from Thai food.

Though our ordering was somewhat haphazard, the combination of unfussy meat dish, fragrant soupy noodles and explosive salad was a nice balance. This meant ordering two main dishes per person - we shared the soup and salad - plus factoring in a few cans of pop and a couple of sickly-sweet packets of Pocky swiped from the shelves for afters (if you haven’t encountered Pocky before, they are Japanese biscuit sticks in revoltingly fake banana or strawberry flavours. I love them). This came to around £15 for lunch per head. Not expensive by any means, but definitely starting to push it out of the realm of regular lunch-hour outing.

That said, it’s a great occasional midday option. The food is robust and interesting and lord knows there can never be too many alternatives to the array of coffee chains and burger places nearby. It would be a toss-up between here and Yuzu if I happened to be feeling peckish in this neck of the woods.

Will you enter a fugue-like state of flavour-based rapture if you dine here? I’m afraid not. Will you get a decent lunch? Yes, if you order well and/or luckily. Will you savour again the bittersweet taste of first love? It’s possible. Failing that, you could always ask them to order in some pork wool.

ALL OUR SCORED FOOD REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL. REVIEW VISITS ARE UNANNOUNCED AND COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT OF ANY COMMERICAL RELATIONSHIP.

Siam Smiles, 48a George Street, Chinatown, Manchester, M1 4HF

Rating 10.5 or 14.5/20

Food: 6.5/10 (pork belly 7, red bbq pork 6, yom tam 6, fish soup 7)

Ambience: 1 or 5/5 - it really depends whether eating in a supermarket (and not in the Waitrose cafe sense) is your idea of an authentic experience or a brightly-lit Formica hell.

Service: 3/5 - very friendly when there wasn’t price labelling to be done.

PLEASE NOTE: 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, 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

Rooney custardRooney custard

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

SquirrelitoOctober 20th 2014.

Will be giving this a go, if only to get me a tinsel pineapple. Looks more interesting than Thaikhun, which I've found distinctly meh twice.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 10th 2014.

Thaikun is overpriced Farang food.

Aisha Chomphoo RahmanOctober 20th 2014.

it's good but make sure you know the prices of what you ordered and I have been there a few times and was over charged twice.... thought it didn't put me off going there to sample their cuisine as I found it more interesting than the other THAI restaurants in the city which seems to catered for "FARANG" tastes

Hero
GordoOctober 21st 2014.

review of the year

3 Responses: Reply To This...
avoOctober 21st 2014.

I just had a dream last night that you and Roscoe turned up at my dad's off licence shit faced. Spooky.

Hero
GordoOctober 21st 2014.

was it wet?

avoOctober 21st 2014.

Far from it. Roscoe reduces me to tears whenever I see him.

Harry TranghOctober 21st 2014.

I was there last weekend based on some favourable reviews. We both had soup noodle dishes. They tasted very nice and we would return but for the fact that the portion sizes were miserly. In fact, I would not be exaggerating if I said that you get no more than HALF the amount you would normally expect from any other restaurants serving similar dishes. So, the prices were indeed a false economy and a normal person would need two servings to be satisfied. Think about those economy instant noodles you get from tesco for 12p. Yep .. you get less noodles than one of those packets in your bowl. I was very disappointed with that and will be putting that on my blog to warn off people expecting to get a cheap filling meal from this place. Such a shame as it was certainly an opportunity missed.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
CKRISGOctober 21st 2014.

Have to agree, its thai street portions, but the difference is a bowl of noodles is 30p in Bangkok and £5+ here. Go next door to Pho and get a massive bowl

AnonymousOctober 21st 2014.

Maybe there is a reason Thai people are not fat gits! Normal portion sizes. I ate here quite happily at lunch and didn't feel gross and heavy the rest of the afternoon.

rinkydinkOctober 21st 2014.

Wasn't it Kim's Thai Food Store? Your partner went out with one of their daughters? I know them!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 21st 2014.

amazing, thanks 'Rinkydink'. Who else do you know?

rinkydinkOctober 22nd 2014.

You should be on stage. A proper comedian, anonymarse

AnonymousOctober 22nd 2014.

I ate here following a ravve review in the Guardian and thought it was terrible. Just dreadful. I'm not sure if the places know when "food critics" will be in and give them different food, but it was truely one of the worst places I have ever had the misfortune to eat. Check out the reviews on tripadvisor, the first review posted was by me, but it would appear I'm not alone in my opinions. Give it a wide berth. Shocking!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mod GodNovember 20th 2014.

Clearly a fake review, anonymous here and no other posts on TripAdvisor - jealous rival I guess 55555

pollolocoOctober 23rd 2014.

This is a great place serving simple, authentic Thai food. The tripadvisor reviews display an asotonishing ignorance of thai food & culture.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 23rd 2014.

TripAdvisor reviews often display an astonishing ignorance of pretty much everything.

AnonymousOctober 25th 2014.

My, what sweeing comments. I wrote the first review of this place on TripAdvisor (SunnySalfordGirl), and if you care to look at some of the reviews I have written, you will see that I am widely travelled and consider myself to be fairly cultured. The review I wrote of this place is the only one star rating I have ever given as the food I was served was terrible. I have been to Thailand and eaten authentic Thai food~ this was not served to me at Siam Smiles. However I would not be as presumptious as to imply that you are wrong, simply that we have had different experiences.

Mister PurpleOctober 26th 2014.

To be fair, your TripAdvisor reviews include one of Cote Brasserie where you liked it because the waiter smiled at you a lot and gave you a birthday candle in your ice cream. (I know, miaoww...) The reviews of Siam Smiles on TripAdvisor (and some comments here) are made by people who don't seem to know much about Thai food. The traditional Thai meal is made up of several small dishes to be shared - almost like tapas. So comments about "small portions" miss the point. Most UK Thai restaurants adapt this and present typical western "starter" and "main" dishes, but Siam Smiles keeps the traditional Thai meal format.

5 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousOctober 26th 2014.

Guilty as charged, I like pleasant service with a smile. However I also like Thai food with flavour, maybe some chilli, garlic, lemongrass, coriander or perhaps some fish sauce; none of which were present in the dishes I was served at Siam Smiles...

PeterOctober 29th 2014.

I posted a review on TripAdvisor and the point that I think you have missed is that the portions are very small for the cost. In any case I would not have appreciated large portions because the standard of the food was poor. This is based on my experience of visting Thailand (North, South, Bangkok etc) many times over many years. As someone else has suggested maybe Siam Smiles are upping the standard of their food when they know they have a professional reviewer at their table.

AnonymousNovember 10th 2014.

It does not compare favourably on value, ambience etc. to my favourite Thai restaurant. I have many years experience of Thai food, this sadly does not cut it.

Mod GodNovember 20th 2014.

Correct, someone who understands!

Mod GodNovember 20th 2014.

Absolute nonsense again from Anonymous who I guess has never been out of Salford - no chilli, garlic or lemongrass??? LOL - the food is packed with flavour and the spiciest and most authentic Thai food in Mcr, and I'm Thai - suggest people try it and make their own minds up rather than listen to rubbish from hidden people with an agenda... have a couple of dishes each plus a salad to share... it's the most tasty and true taste Thai food I've had in 20 years in Mcr.

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Mod God

Absolute nonsense again from Anonymous who I guess has never been out of Salford - no chilli,…

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Mod God

Correct, someone who understands!

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Mod God

Clearly a fake review, anonymous here and no other posts on TripAdvisor - jealous rival I guess…

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Anonymous

Thaikun is overpriced Farang food.

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