Last Friday was ‘Mad Friday’, when drink-fuelled chaos and perturbation would roam the land, at least according to BBC News. It struck me that the only thing affecting the moods of people I saw was the healthy happiness of enjoying company of people they like. This was particularly true for Editor Daniel and me as we finished the evening with one of the best Thai meals of our lives at The Bangkok Brasserie here in Winchester. The only madness was the massed ranks of fun-police’s needless scaremongering.
If you want to skip my rant and get down to the meal review scroll down the page or just know that, when visiting the Bangkok Brasserie, all you need to do is say to the boss Miff, “David Strange tells me it’s best to put myself in your hands and let you satisfy me. I know I’ll be immensely gratified by everything you serve.” It is, he will and you will be. But that wonderful end to the evening, and all that preceded it, illuminate a wider point and I will expand upon that first.
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My first words to Editor Daniel on Friday morning were, “Shut that utter crap up!” I could hear him in the next room watching the news that was referring to the hideous woes of ‘Mad Friday’. Ambulance services would be overwhelmed, field hospitals were being set up in ‘a number’ of cities, extra booze-bus services were being drafted in to ferry the hordes of incapable to hospital. I knew from the Hampshire Chronicle that Winchester would be deploying it’s crack team of street pastors to deal with the limitless disorder; although I’d have thought a quick chat about what a nice chap Jesus was would lead to more, not less vomit splattering the streets.
In a life dedicated to excess with much time spent fun-hunting in ‘up-and-coming’ and even distinctly ‘vibrant’ localities my experience is generally that on these busy nights of Christmas parties and the like all that happens is people drink a little more than usual. I will admit on one particularly enthusiastic evening had the horrific result of a flat mate mistaking the sink for the toilet when throwing up in the early hours of the morning. Inconvenient when I had to go and brush my teeth in the kitchen the next morning, but soon afterward he cleared it up with only minimal whining.
This is why I recognised the news report as a pack of lies being spread by a supine news organisation only to happy to regurgitate the sanctimonious moralising of some unelected crap-merchant who think themselves uniquely entitled to dictate how everyone behaves by denormalising and demonising mundane and safe activities.
I hate these neo-fascist meddlers who think, just because they have a view on something, everyone should not only take them seriously but be legally obliged to do as they say. I may like and suggest people buy good Grand Cru Burgundy, but I don’t demand money from the government to lobby them to enact laws obliging everyone to have the legally enforced allowance of Domaine Dujac Clos Saint Denis every night. If you think I am overstating what these people try then you’ll be as appalled as I was to read about this loathsome piece of sub-human detritus and his nauseatingly warped views.
So the day started with me being irked by the BBC’s detestable scaremongering and after a Full English it, alas, continued with another anxiety-raising appointment. It was my initial assessment appointment with the local community mental health team. From the very start the appointment was far easier than any in London and ended with, as I’m sure you can imagine, the assessment apparently being ‘I’m a really lovely chap who we should probably meet for a drink one day soon’.
However, the basic nature of the appointment was that I had to explain how I’ve been affected by paranoid schizophrenia in the past and how shoddily I’ve been treated by too many people just because they don’t think they have to be reasonable to easy targets like nutters. Understandably, this is nerve-racking and I got somewhat anxious and wound up. I saw my GP afterward for news about my gall-stone operation; he’s a lovely fellow who has soothed my nerves at every meeting in the past. He commented on my way out, as I tripped over the chair I’d been sitting in, that I seemed ‘turned up to a higher notch than usual’.
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So when heading out for the evening’s larks and capers my equilibrium was a little disturbed. I was almost worried some of the ‘Mad Friday’ lies might contain an approximation of truth and I’d have to walk past as many as several drunk people who might look at me funny. Unsurprisingly, there was no mayhem on the streets and Editor Daniel arrived at our destination unmolested and quite prepared to yell “He’s behind you!” repeatedly. Before dinner we were attending the local pantomime: I can highly recommend them for children and silly people in their late 30s who like an excuse to be less uptight and shout “Oh no he isn’t!” louder than any six year old in earshot. We were in high spirits when we left it, just at a loss as to how to kill the half hour until our dinner booking.
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The first pub we encountered on our quiet and relaxed amble toward the restaurant was a J D Wetherspoon establishment. For those who don’t know these boozers they are normally characterised in wholly negative terms as soulless dives filled with the uncouth getting newscasted on cheap lager with the occasional pause to be violent or sexist. At nine in the evening on Mad Friday it was pretty busy, filled with the students and junior management of Winchester behaving so badly that all looked to be quite happy to have a few drinks whilst chatting with people from work. I wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.
At the bar they had seven real ales on offer and, even on the busiest evening of the year, the barman had the time to give the chap in front of us a couple of tastes of them and suggest a good one. The bloke didn’t seem surprised to get decent service and commented what good condition the beer was in. Our cider was also in top nick, clocked in at 7.3% and cost £2.55 a pint. Wehay! We chose a quiet corner and, like it seemed everyone present was doing, we enjoyed a talk over a decent and well-priced drink. The time for our restaurant reservation galloped toward us and the walk there was once again relaxed but even quieter as there were fewer streams of excited children being taken home.
The Bangkok Brasserie’s stunning Thai banquet
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The Bangkok Brasserie was full when we arrived. Miff fought his way between the crowded tables, apologised that our table was running a few minutes late and offered us a drink on the house whilst we waited. Excellent service from the very start. Miff also suggested we might try their Thai banquet for our meal as it would showcase the best food from where their chefs learned to cook. Sounded fine to us.
As we waited for our table then waited for our food we took careful note of the other diners in the restaurant. Certainly, there were a few florid visages, but the general mood was one of merry-making rather than incoherence. The restaurant wasn’t simply being used as an excuse to get drunk somewhere other than in a pub, the real pleasure people were taking from having a good meal with their friends at a festive time of year was transparently clear.
When our food arrived it was abundantly clear there would be an oil tanker-load of pleasure for us to revel in. From the very start it was clear this was extremely high quality food. In my last review I suggested that some of the dishes lacked a bit of fire – we’d simply chosen badly. Whilst lots of the dishes we ate were of global thermonuclear war intensity they never lacked harmony and balance with all their flavours. I’ve commented that really fine wines have a slightly unhinged intensity, a hint of terror in their makeup. If the same applies to food, and I feel it does, then the hint of panic that the food induced from time to time showed this was a truly great meal.
Let’s not mess around, everything was wizard weasel quality with not a single suggestion of slight disappointment. The harmony of flavours in all the dishes was perfect; painful or placid all the complex flavours one seeks in Thai food were clearly expressed. As I mentioned in my last review, they aren’t afraid of using rather a lot of ginger which, until visiting the Bangkok Brasserie, I used to hate. The skilful integration of even this powerful flavour was impressive and showed the care put into perfecting the recipes.
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Every single dish deserves a rapturous write-up, but rather than drag you through the whole belly-bulging meal I’ll just tell you about four of the dishes that particularly stimulated my sensitive bits. I’ll start with crispy rice salad which does sound a little unadventurous. Not a bit of it! It was charged with chilli heat, the rice had an amazing texture: crispy (unsurprisingly) and agglomerated into little nuggets with peanuts and red onion to further enhance the complexity. I just kept repeating that rice is not supposed to be that interesting.
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Prawn lemongrass salad is a type of dish that I often seek out at Thai restaurants and this one was a cracker. The lemongrass was carefully prepared so it wasn’t just lumps of woody hardness, the powerful flavour it imparted was highly delightful. Strong chilli, fish sauce and lime flavours were there as well but I really want to know where the Bangkok Brasserie get their prawns and also steal the person who cooked them to chain to my cooker. They were extremely flavoursome and yieldingly tender. This was an extremely, throbbingly good prawn salad.
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Miff’s wife’s granny provided the recipe for gaeng som seabass – seabass stewed up in a gingery, stock-rich, winningly savoury sauce. This one wasn’t infused with napalm and the fish was in corking condition – with so many other thing to cook in the stew broth it would have been easy to ruin the seabass but it’s texture seemed spot on to me. Miff’s wife’s granny knew her onions and I’m terribly pleased she told Miff’s wife about them.
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The spicy noodles, or pad kee mao, with prawns were mind-blowing – both in the sense of being incredibly tasty and also charged with more fresh green peppercorns than all but the supremely skilled and considerably confident would even dare to think of using. There is no denying this was painful, but it had brimstone in a different way to just chilli. The fresh peppercorns gave a vivacious, intense and lingering burn that had me swilling Singha long after the chilli flavours had subsided. It hurt, it was great, pain can be great. I will never tire of eating this but I imagine I’ll continue to sweat rather a lot when I do so. Power up!
Daniel and I got through ten dishes during our meal so you might understand that we slowed down a bit toward the end. The increasingly long pauses between more massive measures of food gave time to see what was happening as the restaurant emptied toward the end of the night. Everybody left happy, that much is sure. Most people went around thanking the waiting staff and Miff’s hand received a lot of appreciative shakes. A couple of fellows, so demonstrative they cannot have been English, gave Miff hugs whilst enthusiastically telling him of all the fun they’d had that night. And so had we. Sure, it may have been an evening of some excess, but there was nothing self-destructive about it and like everyone there we simply enjoyed an enormously good meal in the company of those we wished to be with.
It was chucking-out time at the boozers as we strolled back to Elitistreview Towers so by now I’m sure you can guess how many drunken thugs were menacing the street pastors: too bloody few! None, in fact. A few people remained sitting at tables outside pubs and some were milling around trying to score taxis but, speaking as someone who was terrified of my little cat shaking his head just as I went to bed last night, it was all very peaceful and calm with nothing to be scared of and certainly no general mayhem. Certainly, not everywhere is as peaceful as this on such evenings, but even in wilder locales most people are simply looking to have a bit of fun with their friends. The misanthropic meddlers scaremongering about what’s reasonable and normal was the only appalling behaviour I observed on Mad Friday.
Bangkok Brasserie, 33 Jewry Street, Winchester SO23 8RY