Café Isan is a small Thai restaurant on the waterfront ground level of cluster M, JLT right beside Chawlas². Its interior is a tasteful mix of urban and rural Thai; comfortable being the word which comes to mind most commonly when I think about it. It’s one of these casual, carefree places where you’re happy to drop off your flip-flops and tuck one foot under your bum while eating.
I sat right beside the open kitchen counter to watch the big, meaty Thai chef at work. The Thai girl who greeted me as I came in couldn’t have made me feel more welcome. She was patient when taking my order too, painstakingly talking me through each dish, English quite obviously not her mother tongue. I have so much respect for the brave people who try…unashamedly – well done to her.
I am not big on papaya salad but tried theirs on recommendation of the waitress thinking, if nothing else, I could take it home for my dearest of dears who is a BIG papaya salad fan. It turned out to be the best papaya salad I’ve had in a while lacking only in chili heat which I, myself had asked to be toned down. So I gave it back for them to add a little ‘come on baby, light my fire’ to it. It came back so near perfect I ended up eating all of it. And I’ll tell you why I liked it so much; it’s because it wasn’t too sour. Too many people/restaurants kill their salads with lime. Like Café Isan’s, I think papaya salad needs to be tangy and tart not shudder-inducingly sour.
For my main I ordered the beef noodle soup. Very similar to a Vietnamese Pho, this clear beef stock based soup usually takes a back seat to Thailand’s more famous noodle and curry dishes. Believe me, when done right, it is quite amazing and makes for a lovely, light lunch. Sadly Café Isan’s wasn’t one of the better ones I have had. I felt it was let down by beef pieces which were far from tender and a taste of aniseed which was way too dominant. I say this but I all but licked my bowl dry…and I didn’t splash a drop on my shirt – ha! I am sure it wasn’t a reflection of the true potential of this gem of a restaurant.
As is obvious, I liked this place. It has a believable honesty to it. Much better than the Little Bangkok franchise, it’s something like a toned down version of those mad hatters, Smiling BKK. So, I’m going back. And I’ll take the love of my life along this time.