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An angel falls to earth

Forty years ago the Angel Islington was just a crossroads. Upper Street came in from the East and St. John Street led off towards the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Then came the redevelopment of the tube station. Somehow the little businesses hang on, the Angel Café still sells buns and coffee to school kids . The crimson neon sign at Red Lion – and theatre – still burns brightly. Some building projects take so long that the armies of workmen become a part of the locale and when the vast Angel Building finally opened for business it came as a surprise to everyone who had mentally filed this spot under building site. Then, with suitable fanfares, Jamie’s Italian, the Hummingbird Bakery and Naamyaa slipped into place.
Everything about the Angel Building is brand new and shiny. Jamie’s Italian is enormous, a series of interconnecting bars and dining areas that looks to be about 60 metres long. Wonder of wonders, it’s busy enough to look busy even with the customers are spread thinly across those rolling acres. The Naamyaa Bangkok Café is slightly smaller and quite a lot odder. As one of the “early doors” reviewers put it, you would be very foolish to second guess Alan Yau’s genius for pleasing the restaurant going masses – his roll of honour stretches from Wagamama to Hakkasan, Busaba Eathai, Yauatcha and Cha Cha Moon – but Naamyaa looks strange; some of the dishes are quirky ; and it makes the cynics wonder whether it isn’t just a new spin on Busaba.
There is a wall of red and white tiles. There’s a wall that seems to be undressed, rustic brickwork. There is a wall with a hundred or so small gold statues. The kitchen is central and open. There are plenty of waiting staff. All of whom are cheerful and helpful. Ceiling fans turn and bars of neon glow dimly. The drinks list runs from cocktails
to a flower vase of a glass hollding a pint of Meantime I.P.A. The food takes some time to arrive. The menu has those naff colour photos of the finished dishes. From the “small plates” section the “Chicken wings, deep fried with Thai garlic” (£4.50) are pretty good, dry, crisp, small wings plenty of flavour. The “Jasmine tea smoked baby back pork ribs” (£8.50) are delicious with sticky meat that falls from the bone. The “Fried calamari with curry spice, Thai garlic and coriander” (£6.50) shows off the skills of the frying chefs – very dry outer perfectly cooked inner. The menu is complicated and the lack of structure makes it hard to find your way around. There are grills (£10.50 to £12.50). There are salads (£8 to £9.50) - including “salade Niçoise” which includes seared Yellow Fin tuna. There are noodle dishes (£8.50 to £9.70). There are rice dishes (£8.50 to £10.30) and curries (£8.50 to £10.50). Or perhaps a chilli dog (£8.50) or a bacon burger (£9.50) appeals?
The food is strangely familiar, we have all become used to chilli hot dishes with the tang of pea aubergines. The red beef curry may have been somewhat low on beef but came with ample noodles and a small side plate of extras. The beef Laksa is the usual treasure trove of lumps of tofu, a poached egg, peanuts, rice noodles plus a little beef. There’s enough chilli around to make you sniff.
Good strong flavours, friendly place, charging much the same as every other Thai establishment, Naamyaa will do fine, but Jamie’s Italian will do 5 times as much business. It’s all a question of pitching the kind of food that people want to eat.

Naamyaa, 407 St. John Street, Islington, London EC1V 4AB (020 3122 0988 ) naamyaa.com

Charles Campion - Sunday 7th April 2013

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