I used to like Thai food but have slightly come off it because 1) I’ve not found a Thai restaurant in London that I genuinely love and b) the good ones seem a bit of a trek. There are days, however, when I would crave the cuisine like a thirsty man in the Sahara. On those days, I would head off to Rosa’s Thai Cafe on Carnaby Street. It’s quick, easy, and quite frankly, reliable.
From humble beginnings of a street stall on Brick Lane to seven branches all over town, Rosa’s Thai embodies the big street food dream. The Carnaby branch is cute and cosy and there’s almost always a queue outside the door. Celebrating classic favourites from the Land of Smiles, the restaurant menu is pretty straightforward.
Salads and Starters
I like me a good som tum (£9). Rosa’s papaya salad comes in a generous portion and the flavours are just as big and bold. There’s a good amount of heat that complements the freshness of the raw papaya, long beans, and toms. I also like the odd salty mouthful you get from dried shrimp and cashew.
The Peek Kai Tod (£6.50) is delicious. So many Asian restaurants get fried chicken wings wrong but these were simply seasoned, fried and delightfully non-greasy. I’d eat them by the bucket because they’re absolutely finger-lickin’ good.
Larb gai (minced chicken, £8.50) can sometimes be a bit of a hit or miss. Rosa’s offering comes in abundance and as with the papaya salad, it’s a play on texture with toasted nuts, red onion and pan-fried chicken mince. It’s light and served with fresh herb dressing which I found slightly on the weak side. I’ve had better, but this was substantial and I liked the spicy kick.
Any Asian spicy beef salad (£12) is something I would go for, but I wasn’t quite a fan of Rosa’s version, primarily due to the sirloin being too thick and overcooked, which put me off it completely.
To be fair, their pad Thai game is quite good (£10 with parwns, £9 with chicken). I’ve had this thrice now and have not been disappointed each time. The sauce is well proportioned and is not overly sweet and the noodles have a good bouncy bite.
From the specials board, I tried the rice noodles with Thai gravy (£13 with seafood). Despite the dish being doused in this Thai gravy business, I’m still not sure what it consists of. The dish fell as flat as its noodles, which were rather soggy as well. I think with a bit of refinement this could be a good dish.
I do like Rosa’s guay tiew pad kee mao with beef (£9.50). Noodles have a good bite and there’s also a good amount of meat and veg in it and the flavour reminds me of absolute comfort.
First of the curries I’ve tried was Rosa’s green curry (£11). Served with aubergine, bamboo, sweet basil and chicken, I thought this was an alright version of the dish. The sauce I thought was ever so slightly sweet, but it was rather nice to have with coconut rice.
Classic chicken red curry (£10.50) is always a bestseller and Rosa’s offering is no exception. I quite like how the sauce is creamy and thick. I like that there’s a lot of protein and sauce, which makes it a bargain with its price point. It’s also actually delicious and I much prefer it to the yellow curry.
Beef massaman (£11) isn’t usually something I’d go for because I prefer hotter curries but I genuinely enjoyed Rosa’s and is possibly my favourite out of the ones I’ve tried. The yellow curry sauce had a nice sweetness to it but the depth of silk road spices made it very palatable. The meat is also rather tender and I loved the amount of cashew it had.
Overall, I like Rosa’s Thai Cafe. The food is decent and service is as warm as South East Asia. I think some dishes could’ve packed a bit more heat but I get that restaurants here adapt to what masses are used to. Frankly, I’m sure there are more authentic or cutting-edge Thai restaurants out there (everyone I know has been raving about SomSaa so that’s on my hitlist) but Rosa’s is one of those places you can easily go to for a straightforward meal and leave with a satisfied appetite. It’s reliable and it really does the trick.