Basant Lok Market was, till the 90s, one of South Delhi’s most popular places to hang out—and then stand-alone cinemas gave way to multiplexes. Priya Cinema, the main attraction in the market, suddenly found itself (despite a plush new look) with a depleted audience. And Basant Lok, earlier buzzing with life and home to lots of fairly good restaurants, went rather dead. It still continues in the same vein: restaurants open, and close inexplicably a few months down the line.
We were in Basant Lok and wanted to eat at an old favourite—Izakaya—but discovered that, in the two months we hadn’t visited, Izakaya had downed shutters. Looking around for an alternative restaurant for lunch, we spotted Soi Thai, and decided to give it a try.
While Soi Thai has a few tables and chairs (all fuss-free, no-frills) on the pavement outside, the restaurant itself is inside, and up two flights of stairs. Inside, potted palms, wooden furniture with faux peeling paint, brightly coloured cushions, and paintings (which, interestingly, are for sale) form the décor. One side has windows that look out onto the pavement below. The restaurant was empty, even though it was lunchtime. On the tables below, at street level, there were a few diners.
A waitress brought us the menu as soon we’d sat down. This, to our surprise, had a little note about Soi Thai’s cooks: they’re home chefs (or, to be more accurate, were home chefs, I guess, considering they’ve now gone into business). The menu is primarily—as the name of the restaurant suggests—Thai, with everything from fish cakes to tom yum to curries and noodles. There’s a sizeable vegetarian range of vegetarian offerings, and the non-veg options consist of lamb (goat’s meat, to be precise), chicken, fish, and prawn, no pork or beef.
We decided to share a starter—fish cakes with sweet chilli dipping sauce—and follow it up with pad thai as a main course. The waitress who took our order said that one portion of pad thai would be enough for two people, if we ordered a stir-fry alongside it. We opted for a chicken and basil stir-fry. Though Soi Thai doesn’t serve alcohol, it offers soft drinks (including mocktails); we, however, decided to pass these up and restrict ourselves to the food.
The fish cakes arrived after about ten minutes, four deep-fried, browned cakes, served with a small bowl of a proprietary sweet chilli dipping sauce mixed with chopped onions and coriander. The fish cakes were crisp (though beginning to turn a wee bit chewy) on the outside, rather dense on the inside. Not the perfect texture, but both my husband and I loved the flavours: the fish was obviously good and fresh and didn’t smell fishy; the finely chopped spring onions, kaffir lime leaves, and coriander—plus an array of other ingredients blended into the mixture—combined to make this delicious. Especially eaten with the dipping sauce, tart and sweet and hot.
We had to wait for a few minutes for our main course to arrive, but in the meantime our waitress cleared away the soiled plates, brought us fresh cutlery and dinner plates, and got us two condiments in tiny jars on a small ceramic tray. One was fish sauce (mixed with slivers of garlic and fresh red chillies). The other was a lethal- and jammy-looking red chilli paste, which both of us were too wimpy to taste.
I am a sucker for pad thai, so this was, in particular, something I’d been looking forward to. While the flat noodles—stir-fried with strips of chicken, pak choy, red chillies, and lots of peanuts—were the right texture, there was a tad too much sweetness here. My husband, in an attempt to cut the sweetness, added some fish sauce to the noodles, but this didn’t help much. A pity, really, because barring the too-liberal use of (palm?) sugar, this was actually quite a good dish.
What was a good dish—a very good dish, in fact—was the chicken and basil stir-fry. Besides the chicken (good and succulent) and the basil leaves (abundant), this had pieces of broccoli and baby corn. It was perfectly seasoned, redolent with the fragrance of the basil, and a dish I’d gladly order again.
Our bill at Soi Thai was Rs 1,510, including all taxes and service charges. It’s no particularly cheap, but it’s not exorbitantly expensive, either. And, considering the fact that we had a filling and enjoyable meal (despite that less-than-perfect pad thai), I’d call this good value for money. It’s not the most happening place in town (or even in Basant Lok Market), but the food, from what we had of it, is decent enough.
38, 1st Floor
Basant Lok Market
New Delhi – 110057
Tel: 918860010774, 011-46040222