Warning: This article may trigger saliva glands to cause an uncontrollable burning craving for Thai food.
This evening got off to a good start. To begin with, it was exciting to see all the lights and buzz of Bugibba, since I hadn't been to this part of the island for a while. Following that, I was pleasantly surprised to walk into Chang Thai after being warned that "it's not a fine dining kind of place". I mistook the comment as an implication that it was a dive, but I was very happy to discover that it wasn't that at all, but rather a cosy restaurant with character, chock-full of locals. Always a good sign!
The restaurant is run by a husband and wife team, with him on the floor taking care of service, while she (who is Thai) is in the kitchen, presiding over the food. The set-up works because the service is personalised and earnest, while the food is prepared with the right agenda.
The restaurant is actually bigger than it appears at first sight, retaining its cosiness through bamboo partitions. There are various rooms at the back, which must be reserved for busier times or private functions.
While we looked at the wine list (which offers a decently priced and fair selection), little things began to make us feel more welcome by the minute. Prawn crackers with a sweet hot sauce were brought to the table while menu musing ensued. A warming tray was set between us, which somehow helped with the anticipation of what was to come. A small tray housing little details, such as our wine bucket and lemons for water sat beside our table. The maitre d' noticed that our starter plates weren't warm enough and brought us new ones. It's this lovely attention to detail in a casual dining environment which is really comforting, and precisely what eating out at this level is all about.
My dining companion started with the pork and shrimp steamed dumplings with a soy dip (Kanom Jeeb), but the Tung Thong was accidentally initially brought to us instead (crisp dumplings stuffed with cream cheese, crab, herbs, and Thai spices served with plum sauce). To be honest, this looked pretty good, so we were tempted to keep it, but figured it wasn't fair on some other poor souls who were counting the minutes to get their dumplings!
Crisp dumplings stuffed with cream cheese, crab, herbs, and Thai spices served with plum sauce
Eventually, the pork and shrimp steamed dumplings got to our table alongside the crispy duck salad with kaffir lime leaf (Larb Ped Tod) I had ordered to open with. The salad hit the balance of salty and hot extremely well, which was great to whet my appetite. This, complemented by the sweet-noted Hugel Gewurztraminer wine that we ordered, was the perfect catalyst to get my taste buds to begin orchestrating.
Crispy duck spicy and salad with kaffir lime leaf (Larb Ped Tod)
It wasn't long before the mains arrived; crispy fried squid stir-fried with black pepper and garlic (Pla Meak Tod Kathiem Pik Thai), pork stir fry with Thai sweet red chilli paste with onions, bell peppers, mushroom & coconut milk (Moo Pik Paw), and vegetarian Thai fried noodles with spring onions, bean sprouts, egg and peanuts (Pad Thai Jay).
Now, while I was positively delighted with all that was on the table, I have to confess that I've never visited Thailand. So apart from frequenting the Blue Elephant and a few Thai eateries in London, I have no real basis for judging Thai food's authenticity. I was told by my dining companion that the fried squid and the pork stir fry were more Chinese in character, and lacking in the obvious fresh palette that is so typical of Thai food. This may be true, but my logic is that most patrons are probably like me; more interested in whether their dinner is tasty, rather than its spuriousness. I also figure the chef must think the same, as she is authentically Thai and probably cooks to cater for the tastes of the vast majority of her customers. That may make me mainstream, but I'm old enough to be okay with that.
We didn't opt for dessert because we had to take half of what we had ordered home. There was positively zero room for more.
Would I go back or recommend it? Most definitely both - with the caveat that this is not a fine dining Thai restaurant. This is a casual and comfortable restaurant which hits that Thai-craving spot at good value for money.