Restaurant review: Elle’s Kitchen, Hertford
A trailblazer nearly 30 years ago, this Hertford Thai restaurant is on the cusp of reinvention
To those who have met her, Elle Thianthong is something of a foodie legend. Her various websites tell how she moved from Bangkok to the UK in 1990 and set about fulfilling an ambition to bring Thai cuisine to a new audience. ‘I love to eat and I love to cook,’ she says. Arriving in Hertford, she quickly established a loyal following with the introduction of Elle’s Thai Kitchen. She has followed up with two more outlets, a new Japanese restaurant called Oishii, also in Hertford, and Khunnai Thai in Stanstead Abbotts.
Having sampled Oishii last year, it was time to move a few doors along and see how the longer-established Elle’s Thai Kitchen is faring, not least because it is now a work in progress as Elle pursues her next plan for a fusion menu featuring Vietnamese and Chinese food as well. The restaurant is still using its original name on the website, but the ‘Thai’ on the front of the building has been removed, the next stage depending apparently on chef availability.
Thai food will still be available after the switch and after I had experienced a succession of different cuisines within a few weeks, that was what appealed on this visit. The current Elle’s Kitchen is a no-frills sort of place, cosy and homely with just enough exotic décor, including bamboo-clad walls, to remind you this is something different. It clearly still enjoys a thriving takeaway trade but manages both that and the sit-down crowd with the same cheerful efficiency.
The food, familiar enough on the UK market now but a novelty when Elle first arrived on the scene, offers the usual variety of tasting experiences from a comprehensive menu that even in this transition phase manages to encompass two soups, five Thai salads and 13 starters, including whole, half or quarter aromatic spicy duck. Then come seven curries and nine stir-fry dishes plus four duck and five seafood plates, four vegetable side dishes, seven noodle dishes and seven rice dishes.
There are also five chef’s specials led by Weeping Tiger (£14.95) – grilled sirloin steak marinated in Thai herbs and served with spicy Thai dipping sauce. Another to catch the eye is Seafood Panang (£10.95) – mixed seafood in a dark panang sauce with kaffir lime leaves and sweet basil. Both appealed, but we elected to leave them for another visit in favour of the more straightforward street-food type of offering we were in the mood for.
Our choices for starters therefore were Thai dumplings (£5.95), with minced chicken, prawns and water chestnuts in wonton pastry steamed and served with sweet and sour dark soy sauce and dried shallot; and chicken satay (£5.95), grilled marinated chicken with peanut sauce. Nothing much to go wrong there, and nothing did.
Main courses were led by chicken mussamun (aka massamam) curry (£7.95), a popular mild dish with potatoes, onions, roasted peanuts and tamarind. Elle’s Kitchen also has beef, lamb, vegetarian and tofu versions available. Our second main, crispy fried fish with curry sauce (£9.95) was the star, the fish topped with a light curry sauce, coconut milk and lime leaves.
To accompany, we chose the ‘Three Musketeers’ vegetables (£5.95) consisting of stir-fried fresh baby corns, mange tout and mushrooms with fragrant mushroom sauce, plus one coconut rice (£3.25) and one sticky rice (£3). Other rice dishes include spicy fried rice with chicken and what is known as ‘holy’ basil or pineapple fried rice with chicken, both at £7.95.
In the mood for something simple but different, we found Elle’s Kitchen basic but enjoyable with tasty dishes and friendly service. The online menu includes a guide to Thai ingredients such as galangal, tamarind and kaffir lime, which is well worth reading before you sample.
The cost of this meal for two was £53.75 including service. This is an independent review of a restaurant selected by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.