THAI restaurants are at a premium on Wearside. Fans of delicately-flavoured South East Asian cuisine are not exactly spoilt for choice.
So Echo buddy Katy Wheeler and I were delighted to hear about Palm Sugar opening in Durham.
The beautiful Grade II-listed building in the city’s historic Claypath ensured first impressions were good.
Once we could tear ourselves away from the interior, we were equally transfixed with the menu, which offers a whopping 85 choices of dishes.
If it all looks familiar, it probably is – the manager and staff are from Sunderland’s sadly-missed Thai Manor restaurant.
We’d both been regular diners there, so were eager to see how Palm Sugar compared.
Palm Sugar styles itself – as many do – under the ubiquitous catch-all of Pan Asian dining.
For me, this often sadly means skimming the surface of continents’ cuisine without mastering any.
But Palm Sugar plays to its strengths with a largely Thai menu, which is itself a mix of Asian flavours, blended together by centuries of neighbouring borders and immigration.
Alongside classics like pad Thai and red curry, there were also unusual additions like jumbo king prawn choo-chee, massaman lamb – plus Japanese favourites katsu curry and teriyaki mackerel.
For non-meat eaters, there was also an extensive selection of vegetarian options.
For starters, I chose a traditional tom yum prawn soup, a mainstay of Thai dining.
Katy veered across Asia to Japan, for some chicken gyoza dumplings.
They arrived beautifully presented in a steaming wicker basket and were equally delightful to eat – light, fluffy and perfectly cooked.
My soup was a perfect balance of creamy coconut milk and hot spices, with generous chunks of mushrooms and fat pink prawns, blended with the distinctive flavours of Thai herbs galangal and lemongrass.
With so much choice for our main courses, I went for one I simply liked the sound of – drunken seafood – a favourite of Thai street food stalls - with fresh chilli, bamboo shoots, green beans, garlic and holy basil. It was an amazing blend, with plentiful helpings of squid and prawns, combined with the fragrant Thai herb and bursts of tongue-tingling chilli.
Katy chose a stir-fry of beef in oyster sauce.
All too often this dish can be disappointingly greasy, overshadowing the beef. Not so here, the sauce was on just the right side of rich, allowing the flavour of the tender strips of meat to shine.
Elegant and colourful in traditional Thai dresses, the waiting staff couldn’t have been more helpful.
We had their devoted attention for most of the meal, as it was early evening and sadly we were the only people there.
Offering authentic food in beautiful surroundings and close to Durham’s Gala Theatre, hopefully Palm Sugar will start attracting more diners.
Dinner for two came to just under £38, with drinks and a coffee tipping the total to £51.50.