George Street Thaikhun is the latest branch in a mini-chain that's represented in Manchester, Aberdeen, Cambridge, Nottingham and Glasgow. The laziest way to describe it is probably as a Thai Wahaca or Turtle Bay. It's a combination of speedy yet thoughtful casual dining, colourful menus (in flavour and design) and intense intentionally-kitsch decór. They've really gone all out on the refit. It's a great space to have as a canvas and it must have cost an absolute fortune. The result is like the Khao San Road on steroids. Every inch of wall, floor, ceiling and non-vital surface is crammed full of street signs, traffic lights, beer crates, parasols, maps, graffiti and fetching portraits of Thai royalty. There's a full blown tuk tuk in the foyer for goodness sake! They've steered with the agility of a rickshaw rider straight through tacky into wacky and fun. You'd quite like your bedroom to look that well curated if you weren't so self-conscious, and also lacked the skill.
Anyway once our eyes had readjusted for the sensory overload on arrival, we were lead to the bar while we waited for a table. It was pretty buzzy for a Wednesday night and we hadn't made a booking, so weren't too worried about having to kill a few minutes. When we were taken downstairs to a table though, we realised the bar thing was a little rouse. They want you to have that extra drink while you wait but frankly we weren't paying good enough attention, didn't order anything and they gave up.
The wait staff are so attentive that we had to ask for a few more minutes of menu perusal when they came over a couple of times with an expectant order pad. This allowed time for our four-pint Singha tower to arrive though, which was extremely exciting, and we immediately got to play with pouring own own half pints from a fire-extinguisher-sized tank, which was for some reason so much more satisfying than if you've ever poured a pint from a bar tap.
There's a great selection of starters so we'd obviously be sharing, as otherwise the food envy would be crippling. And because we probably don't really trust each other to share responsibly, we ordered three starters. Por Pai Gai was a standard pick of deep fried chicken spring rolls with sweet chilli sauce. They're basically fine, though a little bland and a bit too squishy. Also there were three of them; always serve starter elements in even numbers! My dining partner has never knowingly turned down a crispy fried squid starter so the Plamuk Too Prik Kleur was the next easy choice. The salt and peppered thumb sized squid torsos were super crispy, tender and delicious and served with a much more dangerous sweet chilli sauce which worked really well. We struggled a fair bit more before ordering Moo Dad Dedw, honey marinated deep fried pork sprinkled with sesame seeds. There were a lot of other contenders. It came as a bowl full of dense, chewy honey pork, that was pretty good for the first couple of pieces, but soon got quite richly samey. We couldn't finish it; you really wouldn't want it all to yourself.
For mains we went for a pair of classics in the chicken Phad Thai, made to 'Kim's mum's secret recipe' and the Massaman Gai, a thai curry flavoured with cinnamon and star anise, cooked with chicken, potatoes, onion and cashews. They are our respective go-to Thai dishes, and therefore the true barometer. I have to say the Phad Thai was pretty good. The chicken came in big tender chunks and the whole thing was well seasoned, it seemed like it had once seen a chilli across the kitchen but they never quite met. Perfect. The big chunk of fresh lemon on the side just drew everything together beautifully. The Massaman was creamy and warm and really quite enviable. And you didn't have to spend a few rage-inducing extra pounds on the rice to go with it. Ideal.
Personally I didn't miss the absence of a dessert section on the placemat-menu, but it's worth noting, and there's really quite a limited veggie selection tucked away in one corner. The exotic decorative curiosities and cooking fumes spitting from the open kitchen make it a fun place to just sit in, but what's great is that the food is pretty darn good too. While we didn't leave hungry, I think you'd be a bit disappointed if you didn't order starters, as the main sizes are on the slightly old-fashioned side. This obviously pushes the price up a bit, but ours still came to a digestible £52.30 including the beer hydrant. The table next to us were celebrating a birthday, but it'd be ideal for a pre-theatre bite too as the service is super efficient, but they don't rush you out either.