I’m fond of telling people that it would be impossible to eat at every restaurant in Hong Kong in a lifetime. By that logic, you’d probably need to spend at least a few months in Tai Hang alone.
Why did no-one tell me about Tai Hang before?! A gnat’s sneeze away from the hysterical hustle of Causeway Bay, it’s a relaxed residential area within easy walking distance of Tin Hau and Victoria Park that has an entire winding road dedicated to food. What’s more, in a country where the dining chain is king, the majority are reasonably-priced independent local joints, with more charm going for them than Michael Buble’s eye twinkle. Forget the snooty grandeur of the somewhat similar Happy Valley hood, Tai Hang is where it’s at. Nothing to do with the fact that it’s also within easy walking distance of my home too (when I’m feeling fit that is!)…
It’s easy to get good Thai food in HK. It’s easy to get average Thai food too. I can safely say that Nitaya Thai House is in the former category.
The interior can best be described as homely (estate agent’s word for a bit cramped), with the resulting décor looking like a Thai thrift store sneezed over the premises, scattering its goods willy-nilly on the walls. But with its French window front, charming knick-knacks and convivial atmosphere, it feels like you’ve just wandered into someone’s front room for dinner – except that someone can rustle up a mean Thai feast!
Prices are very reasonable (averaging around $30-40 for most dishes), although portions are on the smaller size. We kicked things off with one of my favourite Thai dishes – clams with chilli paste ($58). Tiny tender morsels swimming in sweet, spicy chilli sauce = heaven. Thai spicy is about the only kind of spicy I can take i.e. mitigated by swathes of sweet coconut milk. The combination of flavours is intense but just right and I love having enough sauce to drench my other dishes in! These things are simply addictive!
Next up, another perennial favourite – Thai-style morning glory (ong choi, $38). I’m used to this being spicier (more ma la chun style); this sauce was actually rather sweet, perhaps due to the kind of fish sauce used or a hefty dose of oyster sauce. Either way, it was still very tasty and the veggies were fresh and tender.
I’m still going through my noodle phase so it was pad thai all the way ($35). This is such an oft poorly executed staple across so many restaurants in HK (not necessarily even Thai ones!) that I’d forgotten how utterly delicious it could be when cooked right. All the vital ingredients were present and correct – egg (not rubbery), bean curd (not rubbery x2), succulent prawns (not rubbery x3), bean sprouts (not masquerading as noodles), heaps of chilli and crushed peanuts (not dumped in a heap in the middle of the dish) and a squeeze of fresh lime juice on the side. The rice noodles were so light, fresh and tasty that they disappeared down our throats without our even noticing (especially once we doused them in that ultra-appetising clam sauce). This portion was barely big enough for two and we soon found ourselves chomping through another!
Finally, we tried Nitaya’s signature dish, which adorns various magazine cuttings presented with your menu and is my banner picture, and their curry steamed prawns ($68) were definitely something a little bit different. Prawns stuffed with what seems to be baby prawn meat mixed with some strong curry spices then drizzled with some soothing coconut milk on top. I’m not sure these were really my bag, as there was too much too thick coconut milk (almost congealed) and I didn’t like the texture of the stuffing (too close to baby food). However, the prawns themselves were delicately sweet, if a little overwhelmed by the somewhat forceful other flavours. A dish worth trying but not really my cup of char.
I’d head to Nitaya again, even though competition in Tai Hang is pretty stiff. Service is friendly, the atmosphere is lively and I haven’t even tried their curry yet! Yup, that settles it… I’ll definitely be back!
Nitaya Thai House, 140 Tong Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang, Hong Kong, 3483 3497