Remember that beach in Thailand? Sand under your tanned toes, longtail boats bobbing lackadaisically under a setting sun? Forget it. Have Chiang Mai Kitchen's coconut soup and save yourself the air fare, carbon footprint and ill-advised tattoo.
Simple, fragrant, filling and refreshingly (but not exclusively so) veggie friendly - I had forgotten how startlingly popular Chiang Mai Kitchen is and foolishly, I'd forgotten to add a 'please seat us upstairs' to my booking. An error clearly, with the downstairs tables being a little more cramped and a steady stream of toilet-goers edging politely past our chairs. CMK are forgiven however, with the whole back page of the menu reserved for enough meat-free delights to get even the most carnivorous of our party salivating.
Once we had (finally) decided on our courses, the starters arrived promptly and very prettily on pristine white plates embellished with fresh fuchsia flowers. The king prawns (I'm assured) were perfectly cooked, soft in their shell of crispy batter and there were certainly enough of them, piled high on a liberally garnished platter. I myself had the (aforementioned) coconut and mushroom soup. Next time I will order this again, only twice. Topped with a healthy dose of coriander; chunks of oriental ginger, lemongrass and spring onion were slowly excavated from the bottom of the bowl as everyone at the table couldn't help but taste it.
With no sense of being rushed, our plates were whisked away as soon as the last prawn was gone, to be replaced with Khoa Krati (chicken coconut curry), Ganeng Phet Lychee (red curry) and a raw vegetable salad with a spicy peanut sauce. The curries were, once again, beautifully presented but lacked something of the aromatic simplicity of the starter courses. The lychee curry, ordered for its surprising and surprisingly spice-friendly fruity ingredient, had a 'one chilli' rating with a soft fiery undercurrent that was easily calmed by some coconut rice (£3.50 and more than enough to share). The chicken arrived luke warm but the dish was lauded as flavoursome nonetheless and I once again lost more of my dinner to eager triers of my satisfyingly crunchy peanut dip.
While waiting for our desserts, an ebullient member of staff kept us entertained with tales of his mother's haggling for his shirt (shiny, stripy, very purple). This same smiling waiter was later heard uttering a string of very colourful expletives as he rushed downstairs. 'It's the new coffee machine', a waitress added with a knowing glance at the kitchen door. 'It's got everyone on edge. So many buttons.'
The desserts themselves were presented in glass goblets and the sorbet, served in a large frozen lemon, resembled something of an ice sculpture. And while the non-alcoholic drinks selection is disappointingly a little sparse, the newly printed menus boast Chang beer on every page - do not be fooled, it really isn't that nice. The restaurant could do with sprucing up their floral decorations in a similar fashion - the one underneath the ancient fireplace looked a little tired, all the more so in contrast with the sparkly elephant tapestry that shields the facilities.
Sadly not a coconut shake in sight, but otherwise as authentic and tasty a selection of Thai cuisine as I've had this side of Bangkok - and at only 1000 baht each.