What do you eat when you go shopping and what do you think of the new wave of food courts? If you’re a resident of the North East and you’ve indulged in a little retail therapy recently (willingly or less so), you’ll know the food offerings at Intu MetroCentre have been undergoing a bit of a revamp. I was recently invited to the launch night of one of the new residents, Thaikun, so while planning a review of this colourful new ‘street food’ stop, I’ve found myself musing about the food culture in shopping centres generally. Consequently this post is partly a review of the very jazzy new Thaikun at the Metro Centre and a bit of a personal ponder about the ideal fuel for shopping trips.
Memories of the Metro Centre
Truth be told, I have few memories of eating in the MetroCentre as a child – we ate in the zone with the old Mediterranean vibe where the independents once were vary rarely when I was a kid. The only fast food I can ever remember eating as a child was my first ever Burger King aged approximately 11 and that was on Northumberland Street when my brother and I went to see the Fenwicks’ Christmas window display with my dad, I’m pretty sure he told us not to tell Mam we’d eaten there either. We had double cheeseburgers FYI.
I’m pretty open about the fact I’ve always had mixed feelings about chain restaurants, I’ve had some great nights in Pizza Express and Las Iguanas with my friends and I recognise how useful they are when it comes to pleasing a crowd and eating cheaply. I like to support local but I recognise chains employ people and give them opportunities too. Mix this all up together and I’m not sure how I feel about the MetroCentres new food court and the fact it’s all chains (although it does have some smaller ones – Thaikun for instance only has eight branches).
What’s the ideal shopping centre food set up?
When I visit my former home of Leeds, I’m always impressed by the mix of places to eat in the Leeds Trinity shopping centre, which includes Trinity Kitchen where various independents take up rotating pop up slots. There are also some familiar high street chains in there, some less familiar ones and some posher places to eat too. There was a good amount of controversy when this shopping centre opened and shortly after its opening many questioned whether it contributed to the closure of some other restaurants in the city centre. That said, in Trinity Kitchen I think they’ve successfully harnessed a relaxed, casual eating vibe – the sort of vibe Thaikun is clearly aiming at with its street food offering.
First things first, eating at Thaikun was a very fun experience – the staff put a lot of effort into entertaining us with singing and shots – though as I’m currently up the duff I wasn’t under the influence for the review. There definitely seems to be a certain formula new chains are following at the moment – the loud and proud decor of the surprisingly large restaurant takes all the sights of Bangkok and amplifies them times a million, a lot like the Caribbean influenced deco of Turtle Bay. That’s more an observation than a criticism.
Thaikun is owned by the Chaophraya chain (which I’ve previously visited in Leeds) and boasts a chef director who had her own restuarant in Bangkok in the past. This shows in the menu through some lesser spotted dishes that don’t show up at every Thai restaurant. For example, I was delighted to see khao soi guy on the menu, which I learnt to cook while I was in Thailand. I was unable to sample it on this occasion as we were served a set menu at the launch event but it’s top of my list of things to try next. Here’s what myself and my dining partner Hannah shared:
The shared platter of starters were good finger food and little nibbles are always a good way to introduce little ones to trying new things. I did miss the usual array of Thai condiments while I was eating these – I would have liked to have add some spice with some Nampla Prik or a little sugar but was pleased by the presence of Sriracha and a serving of two chilli sauces. I enjoyed the salty squid (this was super salty) but found the squid a bit overdone. The sticky pork was the star of the starters while I’d liked to have tasted a bit more spice in the fish cakes and corn cakes. I think perhaps they’re relying on customers to spice to their own taste. Apologies for the poor photography – ambient lighting and a lack of editing time make for yellower than average snaps!
Main courses covered the traditional Thai favourites with green thai curry, pad thai, a sticky pork and a spiced mince. The latter was actually my favourite overall dish and the one I’d consider to be the most authentic tasting based on my own experience of food in Thailand. It reminded me of a lovely dish I ate in Chiang Mai, which has a lot of Burmese food influences.
The green curry was nice – quite heavy on the basil mind and the pad thai had plenty of juicy prawns, though it didn’t quite have the balance of flavours of those straight off the Bangkok streets. Those around me seemed to be enjoying some cute cocktails served in Takeaway boxes but as I wasn’t drinking I asked to see the drinks menu and was pleased to see a totally calorific but very moreish Thai tea on the menu (very sugary but I may well be popping in for these to takeaway while shopping). Even as a hungry pregnant momma-to-be, myself and my dining partner Hannah didn’t quite manage to finish this feast.
We had a lovely time at Thaikun and though it’s authenticity didn’t totally ring true for me I’m keen to try more dishes on the menu next time I’m shopping with friends (and I’ll post an update then). I like the idea of introducing kids to new cuisines on unavoidable family shopping trips, so from this perspective this fun concept gets a thumbs up.
Have you been to Thaikun yet? What do you think of the new food court offerings in the MetroCentre? Have you eaten at any of the other new places and do you miss the independents?