Located near Angel Station in Islington, London, Naamyaa Cafe is a new Thai dining experience that is well worth the trip. Billing itself as ‘An all day dining modern Bangkok cafe’, there are a few missteps on the menu here, but if you stay on the right track, you can come away quite satisfied.
Setting up shop directly across from a competing restaurant (the Southeast Asian-themed BananaTree) was perhaps a bold move, but so far each one seems to be doing alright. Naamyaa definitely looks more upscale by comparison, however. The interior is well-designed, with golden Buddha statues, colourful upholstery, and ceiling fans twirling overhead despite the frigid weather outside the large windows. The lighting is neither too bright nor too dim, and the music is semi-tropical in mood, if not authentically Thai. The kitchen is largely open to view. Staff were friendly and helped with any questions we had.
They also have a large drink menu with exotic cocktails and teas, and you can even order a hamburger and chips here too (personally, I don’t see why anyone would go to a Thai restaurant and order a burger, but perhaps if you have children with sensitive taste buds, this could be a viable option).
Having visited here on more than one occasion, I can inform you that not all dishes are created equal. The first time around, I ordered one of their Naamyaa Sets, which basically consist of a bowl of curry, noodles for dipping, and some veggies and a hard-boiled egg on the side. My partner and I both agreed that the portion size was too small, especially considering the price (nearing a tenner). Perhaps if they doubled the noodles, we might have reacted differently. The other main we ordered, chicken laksa, was fairly tasty, but was much thicker than the laksa we were used to. The dessert – something involving pineapple – is better left unmentioned.
Although our taste buds were not exactly tantalised on the first go around, we were willing to try Naamyaa once more as there were quite a few options on the menu that looked promising. Good thing we returned, as the second time was a big improvement.
The cashew nut appetizer was scrumptious. Warm, crispy nuts with a spicy bite, mixed with red chili slices, dried holy basil leaves and small fried onions. Our main courses this time – Isaan chicken and Shiitake noodle soup – also managed to hit the spot. The chicken was fairly crispy, sans bones, with a lovely curry flavour. It was accompanied by a refreshing green papaya salad, sticky rice that came in a bamboo sleeve, three chili sauces, and a spicy clear soup that was a decent palate-cleanser. My partner’s noodle soup was a vegetarian’s dream – filled with healthy stuff like bok choy, baby corn, and fried tofu. The broth was hearty enough, and the noodles themselves were not too thin nor too thick.
Finishing off with another dessert, this time we chose the tapioca pudding. When you first see it, it may remind you of bubble tea. In fact, they use the same tapioca bubbles in this dessert. But other than that, the texture is quite different; very creamy. They also garnish it with pomegranate seeds, toasted sesame, and fresh coconut. It’s certainly one of the stranger desserts I’ve had in a while, and I doubt you would find this in a real cafe in Thailand, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected.
In the end, you might be better off making a visit to BananaTree across the road if you want something a little easier on your wallet, but if you are looking for something a little trendier that actually takes some risks with the standard Thai menu, Naamyaa is a great choice.
Average amount spent: £ 30 for two, not including drinks or service.
407 St. John St
Open 7 days a week, hours vary
By Tim Holm