Restaurant Review: Isarn, N1

Jon Dean tucks into some luxury Thai cuisine

Some restaurants like to take food and run with it. Not literally of course, but by adapting a well known cuisine and to creating a blend all their own. Isarn, in Upper Street, is such an establishment and has extrapolated Thai favourites with some contemporary stylings to very pleasing effect.

From the moment you walk in the door, signs are good that this is going to be a happy evening. The staff are very friendly, constantly smiling and offering to help without being intrusive.

The comfy chairs are lined with faux-cow skin and although the place was small and busy, it felt quite private, not too bustling. There is also a lovely outside space, complete with heaters for the inclement autumn weather.

As we sat down, I was assured a traditional Isarn tipple was a Bellini, so we ordered a couple of the raspberry variety, which whet our appetites perfectly.

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The menu is an extensive mixture of traditional Thai dishes, salads, seafood and meat. To get thing moving, we asked for the fried garlic prawns and the chargrilled chicken satay with spicy peanut sauce. The prawns were cooked beautifully, though not as flavoursome as I hoped. In contrast, satay was a rich, nutty pleasure smothering the tender chicken.

The salads had also been recommend to us, so we felt honour bound to try one - specifically the crispy duck with lemongrass chilli lime dressing. The vinigrette was a fantastically tart and crisp compliment to the meat and green leaves.

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With our palettes duly freshened, we tackled the main courses. An ample helping of succulent lobster tail came with a kunchai stir fry in yellow curry and was an oasis of mellow flavour among some of the stronger tastes on the table.

The Char-grilled sirloin with chilli and garlic, on the other hand, had enough flavour to stun and mule and was a delightfully different way to eat a juicy cut of meat.

In the interest of a balanced diet, we accompanied all this protein with the phad mee (noodles with chicken, prawn, shiitake and beansprout), which was a meal in itself, fragrant jasmine rice and a spicy butternut squash stir fry.

Just in case we were still able to walk after that lot, we had a superfluous raspberry and chocolate dessert with ice cream, which was a deeply satisfying way to end the meal.

Later, as we nursed a ferociously strong Thai whiskey and listened to the pleasant burble of the restaurant, we reflected on the meal. While Isarn is more expensive than a typical Thai, the ambience, breadth of choice and subtlety of the flavours make it significantly more special than most too.

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