“I BELIEVE food is art” - says the owner of Mantra.
And this is certainly a dining experience which painted our palates with a colourful explosion of flavours.
I’ve passed this eaterie umpteen times on the Metro, it’s hard to miss with its distinctive pagoda roof which stands in juxtaposition to the high rise buildings that are shooting up around it.
Once the Waterside Palace, a favourite with the Toon’s endless conveyor belt of stag and hen parties, it’s now got a more up market look and menu.
Like any Thai place worth its salt, the building has a serene feel. Staff are cool and collected and led us through a vast restaurant to our table for two. The decor is stylish with hints of the Far East in splashes of burnt orange and carved wooden chairs, while trendy lighting features create an air of sophistication.
Like most Thai menus, there’s a large selection to navigate your way through. Our attentive waiter asked if we’d like to try a Thai cocktail to aid our deliberations. It’s not a style of drink I’ve had before, but I’ll try any tipple once. Called the Thai Tham (meaning Made By Thai), it tasted like the Orient in a glass: a zesty, light, refreshing yet boozy green concoction with hints of coconut and lemongrass.
Food-wise, we were still stumped by the exotic array of menu choices, so to start we chose a pick’n’mix platter (£9.95).
Designed to share, you can pick your way through chicken satay skewers, king prawn tempura, vegetable spring rolls, pork spare ribs and crispy duck salad.
The spare ribs were particularly lip-smacking. Dressed in a tangy BBQ sauce, they were finger licking good as we devoured them through sticky digits.
With the advise of our waiter, I chose a traditional Thai dish for mains - the lamb shank in panang curry (£15.95).
This meat had been slow cooked to perfection and fell from the bone with the lightest of touches. It was smothered in a lusciously thick sauce, which managed to be both sweet and fiery thanks to a rich blend of coconut milk and red chillis. My mouth was flush for flavour and though the portion was verging on the gargantuan, I couldn’t resist going back for more.
If this dish was a painting, it would be a Picasso: not what you expect, but beautifully executed with flair.