For anyone who says they don't like Thai food, it's probably because all they've seen is bottled DIY green curry gloop and limp spring rolls. The diversity of the menu at Thai Emerald will please all but the most Philistine of customers: dishes are organised into different meats, seafood, curries and sides. Vegetarians in particular are well served: firstly, for once the veggie options aren't endless repetitions of the beetroot/walnut/goat's cheese kind, there's a lot more choice than in most other regular restaurants and this is the kind of food where tofu doesn't feel like a second-rate substitute for flesh.
Before starters arrive, an intricate plate-warmer is put on the table between you. Now that fondues and flambé are dead, this feels suitably dramatic and has the added bonus of a) keeping your plates warm and b) not wasting decent alcohol. Ped tod (duck with honey sesame sauce and beansprouts) was powerful and deeply savoury. the umami and spice working together as well as the yielding duck and crunchy beansprout. Khanom pang na moo (minced pork with Thai herbs, deep fried on toast) was just as impressive: not seen in your usual supermarket Thai section, as crispy and lively as you like and reliant on serious amounts of holy basil, ginger and garlic to get past the fried bread base. Both dishes worked on the Thai sweet/sour/salt elements and being fragrant, rather than just crazy hot. That said, the pork came with heavy-duty chilli sauce so you can hijack the heat level if the mood (or Singha beer, £3.25 per half pint) takes you. The drinks list is largely unspectacular, but why go to a restaurant for their drinks? There was, however, some Thai wines from Monsoon Valley at an affordable £14.95 a bottle. I personally don't order drinks just because they come from the country whose food I go for, but for those who do or who just want to chalk up another unusual drink, knock yourself out. It can't be worse than the talcum powder and lemon juice mix that passes for house white in places today.
Sizzling dishes are usually found in cheap Chineses. Usually. A gai lao daeng (chicken with a sweet-sticky Thai liqueur marinade) was feisty, buzzing and served on a griddle pan so screamingly hot that I genuinely worried about the amount of alcohol we'd drunk. Eaten with nothing other than the slivers of raw carrot and onion it was garnished with and jasmine rice done properly, the grains distinct and with a backnote of their own flavour, it was really moreish, if a little sweet. Still, that's nothing that can't be cured by an enthusiastic squeeze of lime juice to taste: I won't blame the Thai chefs in a Thai restaurant for producing food for the Thai palate. Pla sahm ros (deep fried monkfish with chilli and lime leaves) delivered zesty fire with every crisp mouthful, the ingredients undeniably fresh and without the almost fibrous texture of overcooked firm-fleshed fish.
Don't think of Thai Emerald as a room where you eat crappy Asian takeaway, with all the massive portions and pre-prepared nightmares that come with it. Yes, the food has all the freshness and vitality you'd expect from Thailand, but it also has a wonderful, get-stuck-in satisfaction and all at a price that isn't too far above what you'd be charged for the takeaway. The whole thing, from staff to food to the building itself is a cut above, and ideal for family meals, to kick off a night out with friends or as a single customer looking for Thai food in a Thai atmosphere with Thai staff. The Thai Emerald rocks.