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Chaophraya vs Chaophraya

Jonathan Schofield visits Chaophraya Leeds and contrasts and compares with its Manchester sibling

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.


Chaophraya vs Chaophraya

“You shouldn’t compare all the time,” my Gran with her Methodist background would say. “It takes all sorts, you know. You’re always judging.”

Winning form had already been displayed by the goong yang (£6.50), barbecued king prawns rammed down on bamboo skewers and given some jolly, and royally flavoursome, company of pineapple, tomato, pepper and shallot.

True enough, but it’d be a sorry reviewer who couldn’t make his or her mind up. Food reviewers, for instance, are always at it, never off duty, comparing food, drinks, service, prices and decor, with a shifty and malevolent gleam to their eyes.

In venues owned by the same company comparison is a reflex action. For example the Leeds’ Loch Fyne is poor (click here) compared to the new Manchester one in Didsbury which is ok (review soon on Manchester Confidential). Meanwhile the Leeds Restaurant Bar and Grill (click here), knocks spots off the Manchester original.

When restaurants share massively favourable reputations, unlike the chains above, comparison is utterly inevitable. Dining at Chaophraya in Leeds recently I couldn’t stop comparing this, the original, with its Manchester sibling.

After all these are two restaurants which gather in plaudits like British track cyclists collect gold medals. It’s one long love-in. A ranter on these sites not so long ago declared them ‘The best Thai I have eaten outside of Thailand. The quality of the food is excellent and the service is just what you would expect. Excellent value for money.’

First impressions on this visit though puts Leeds second best. Manchester occupies a stately nineteenth century office block, Leeds lies up a long flight of stairs in a modern building made from rejected Barratt Home bricks. The place nudges the rail line to York like a tramp lying on a bench.

The decor is crazy mad as well. Manchester shows more restraint, maybe due to the lessons learned in Leeds and maybe because there’s more room and it just appears less cluttered. Leeds sports a miss-match of tiles, relief sculpture and bamboo in a weird vestibule that opens into an awkwardly-shaped dining room. It calms down from then on but much of it resembles an antiques shop with all the stock on display, a shop where someone has badly over bought on Buddhas. In fact outside it looks a bit like a garden city with lots of Eastern-themed patio accessories.

The service standards are still good. Then again there’s nothing quite like an exquisite, genuflecting, silk clad, Thai lass to make you feel right at home. Yet high though the standards were, there was a slight degree of slipshoddery which was untypical.

Thankfully the food was up to scratch. We had several dishes most of which were damn fine in that trademark exquisite and floaty Chaophraya way.

A succulent success was the ka gae op palow (£13), braised lamb leg prepared with a fragrant smattering of herbs, peppered for extra flavour and beautifully tender. A fraction less good was the khoa pad cha khaew talae (£9). This was made up of fried rice with crab, squid and prawns, then some aromatic green tea worked in and sprinkled with coriander. This was almost there but a tad fudged. Still good however.

Winning form had already been displayed by the goong yang (£6.50), barbecued king prawns rammed down on bamboo skewers and given some jolly, and royally flavoursome, company of pineapple, tomato, pepper and shallot. The khanon jeeb (£6) were bloody good too: fat dumplings of pork, crab and prawn in a sweet soy sauce.

Vegetarian types (truculent, hard-to-please folk) will be delighted here. There must be well-over 20 dedicated dishes: no wonder Chaophraya was recognised by The Times in May as being in the top ten of UK restaurants for veggie botherers. I’m not sure whether there was a special award in that list for not featuring goats cheese, but there should have been.

All in all this was a pleasant dining experience. But overall, not as good as Manchester is delivering. Food was equal or nearly but service was a smidgin down and the ambience was less buzzy with seemingly less customers than over the Pennines. The importance of a clear design and use of an interior in the total restaurant experience was highlighted as well.

Of course given the food, Leeds is still worth regular visits but it does make you wonder about the more upmarket chain idea. It’s fairly simple to replicate Subways and McDonalds, harder to do several Simply Heathcotes. Or Chaophrayas.

Atcharaporn Kaewkraikhot, the proprietor with the best name in the northern food industry, is said to be moving into Liverpool soon. Fair enough but she has to be careful. It’s far easier to spread a cheap and cheerful formulaic model than one based on tip-top service, good food and strong ambience. She should beware spreading ‘the brand’ too thinly as Heathcote did with his eponymous babes.

Trying to provide decent food can evidently be very tiring too.

My companion and I had had a good and long chinwag over lunch. By the time we left the duty manager was so desperate to close for the afternoon he was almost doing a little jig of impatience but couldn’t, being too polite, bring himself to say anything. Still at least he hadn’t fallen asleep across the dining room chairs like two of the kitchen brigade, who were gently snoring under the benign smiles of golden Buddhas.

Rating: 14.5/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4/5 Service
2.5/5 Ambience
Address: Chaophraya
Swinegate
20a First Floor Blayds Court
Leeds
LS1 4AG
0113 244 9339

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