Upon learning that the French guys behind Cuivre were opening a Thai restaurant, we were as optimistic as when we heard a Shanghainese team was doing tapas. However, here, our fears were unfounded. T for Thai isn’t the usual attempt by a pompous laowai to “reimagine” Thai food alla uninspired fusion, but a tribute to the cuisine and country owner Michael Wendling fell in love with. Not all the flavors are pitch perfect, and the prices are unfortunately the one French aspect of T for Thai, but the passion shines through.
This can be attributed to Wendling’s time spent in legendary Bangkok institutions like Bo.Lan and countless hours exploring the city’s labyrinthine food streets.
A little like a Thai restaurant spliced with a Natural History Museum’s rainforest exhibit. You walk up the stairs through a dark hallway plastered with luminous photos of jungle vegetation. We half-expected to hear recordings of Rhesus monkey calls, and bucket at the end in which to drop your headsets.
A Tuk Tuk juts out of the wall at the top of the stairs, and swaying wicker chairs hang from the ceiling. The bar follows the lead of the hallway; it’s completely camouflaged with iridescent pics of jungle foliage.
The Siamese decor is juxtaposed with linens and minimalist white tableware. Oh, and the menu entails an album of slides on an iPad. Swanky, but not any more practical than ink on paper. They could’ve saved a couple yuan here.
Green papaya salad
Larbs, pad thai, tom yum soup, red and green curries, all the familiar faces. Prime your palate with a green papaya salad (som tam gung sod), slivers of green papaya tangled with chills and peanuts and lubricated with fish sauce and lime (78RMB).
Their version tasted crisp with a vibrant, citrusy punch. Perhaps a tad too citrusy. The intense zest camouflaged the funk of the fish sauce. They could’ve scaled back the lime a bit. But all in all, one of the better renditions in town.
The tiger prawn satays (30RMB a piece), are another safe, if pricey, bet. Plump, sweet, with a hint of char-grill, they hit the spot. We especially liked the plucky peanut sauce it came with, and found ourself slathering it over the jasmine rice.
Also don’t miss their scrumptious pad thai (78RMB), which comes in what looks a pod chair from A Clockwork Orange.
The meal took a nosedive when we ordered the sea salt-encrusted grilled sea bass with pounded lemon, lemongrass, dill and lime. I can’t for the life of me understand why anybody would ruin perfectly delicious fish skin by peppering it with insoluble hail-sized salt granules (different from salt baking). The servers tried to rip the skin off before bringing it to the table but only ended up mutilating it. The flesh itself harbored some flakiness, but not 168RMB worth, and there were enough lemongrass stalks inside to deter a swarm of midges. We recommend sticking with the steamed version at Urban Thai down the road.
Tiger prawn satay
T for Thai is a sincere, if slightly sloppy love letter to Thai cuisine. We just wish the damage was in line with Thai tradition as well.
T for Thai – 2/F, 1502 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu (淮海中路1502号2楼,
近乌鲁木齐路). (0)21-6437-9633. Hours: 6pm-10:30pm Mon-Sun, closed Tuesdays.
See a complete list of our reviews here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].