MAXINE GORDON books the best table in York for Thai food with a twist

WE all have a favourite dining spot and one of mine has always been the window seat at the restaurant by Coffee Yard, Grape Lane, that looks down on to Swinegate.

Restaurants, chefs and menus have come and gone over the years, but this window seat has remained constant.

The venue is now called Phranakhon and serves Thai dishes in a tapas style. The owners also founded the excellent Khao San Road in Walmgate and Rice Style in Bishopthorpe Road, which have been pleasing York lovers of Thai food for many years now.

So Phranakhon has some pedigree and that is evident in the appetising menu on offer.

It was my second visit, but a first for my husband, Nick. That worked out well because I was able to re-order some of the favourite plates I'd enjoyed before.

We are all familiar with the concept of tapas from Spain, where small plates of food or snacks are served with drinks, often at the bar.

Phranakhon takes that idea and translates if effortlessly into snack-sized dishes featuring Thai cuisine's greatest hits and superstar ingredients.

There is a selection of Thai curries, from yellow, red and green, but my recommendation is the panaeng: a thick rich curry sauce packed with flavours of coconut milk, fresh chilli and lime leaves. At Khao San Road, I have this with chicken and it can't be faulted. But here the choice is beef (£7.50). We ordered some rice (£2.50) with it to soak up the sauce (which was perfect) but the beef was a bit fatty could have benefited from longer cooking to make it more tender.

Dishes arrive on an ad hoc basis, so make sure you go with someone happy to share.

First up for us was tom kem (£6.95) described as "mackerel stew with onion, ginger, palm sugar and tamarind juice". The word stew is misleading, giving the impression of a hot, wintery dish. This is exactly the opposite. The mackerel is cooked and served warm, but soaked in the most delicious light broth that is sweet, sour and tangy all at the same time, in the best Thai tradition. If there was one complaint, the single fillet was too small a portion. We should have ordered two.

Our next favourite dish was the duck rolls (£6.95), a welcome variant on the usual spring rolls of Asian fare. The deep-fried pastry rolls were generously packed with marinated duck, leeks and chilli and served with a dark and sticky hoi sin sauce.

Miang pla (£6.95) is another one to try. This time, mouthfuls of crispy seabass are served on a leaf of lettuce, topped with desiccated coconut, diced onion, chilli, and ginger, with lime and peanuts, all with tamarind and hoi sin sauce. These are little parcels of loveliness to be eaten street-style, just pick the lettuce leaf up with your fingers and tuck in.There is one snag: the peel is left on the tiny cubes of lime, and would be better removed.

Our last dish was a serving of vegetable tempura (£5.95), a mix of peppers, aubergine, carrot and onion in a crispy batter, with a choice of dips. These were ok, but I have had them in a lighter and airier batter at Khao San Road.

We washed down our meal with one bottle each of Thai Singha beer (£3.50).

I agree with my husband's observation that tapas can be expensive and not very filling. For example, a chicken panaeng curry with rice at Khao San Road costs £11.50 for a main meal, but we had paid £10 for a tapas version of the beef curry at Phranakhon. However, a notice in the window advertises a special offer, three tapas for £12.95, every day from noon til 4pm, which appears good value.

We ordered five dishes in total and one bowl of rice, but could probably have managed some more.

Instead, and for the purposes of the review, we chose desserts: pineapple fritter with vanilla ice-cream for me and the not-so-exotic sounding chocolate fudge cake for Nick, (those were the only choices), along with one cappuccino.

These were a poor relation to the tapas: the fudge cake lukewarm and possibly stale; the ice-cream full of crystals with an odd, spongy texture; the coffee, weak and watery with a flimsy foam.

Service is warm and friendly, but there was no sense that any observations we made on parts of the meal that were unsatisfactory, particularly the desserts, were being fed back to the kitchen, nor reflected in the final bill, which could have given the puddings gratis as a gesture of good will.

In hindsight, we'd have done better filling up on the savoury menu.

One of the great things about tapas is eating in a relaxed style, with dishes ordered throughout the evening as you enjoy a few drinks.

So if you manage to bag that special table with the great view over the comings and goings of York below, make sure you do just that.

Phranakhon Thai Tapas

19 Grape Lane, York, YO1 7HU

T: 01904 636366


Food: Skip desserts 3/5

Service: Good in parts 3/5

Ambience: Cosy 4/5

Value: Bit pricey 3/5