The Pad Thai That Won’t Kill Your Student Budget
September 15, 2012
By: Ingrid Elle
I set out to find the best Pad Thai on a student budget in the hip areas around City University London. Whether you’re new to Pad Thai or a veteran in the department, you might learn about a new place to enjoy this heavenly piece of cuisine.
As a true Pad Thai enthusiast, I believe in finding the best possible version of this exotic meal from the far away country of Thailand. I travelled wide and far, within reasonable walking distance of my student flat, of course, to find the leading place for a delicious taste of Asia on a student budget.
Pad Thai or Phat Thai, is a stir-fried rice noodles dish with eggs, tamarind juice, fish sauce, red chili pepper, bean sprouts, and any combination of shrimp, chicken, or tofu, decorated with crushed peanuts, coriander and lime.
The meal has been popular in Thailand for centuries. However, its worldwide fame appeared after the country’s prime minister introduced Pad Thai as a national dish in the 1930s. In recent years, as many westerners have got the economy to travel further, there has been a food revolution internationally, especially with Thai cuisine. Being recognised as healthier options compared to, for example, Italian dough-and-pasta-based dishes, Thai restaurants are springing up everywhere.
A Pad Thai in Hoxton Square’s own exotic piece of Asia, Yelo Thai Canteen, costs no more than £6.25. You may choose between chicken, prawns or the vegetarian option. You get a good-sized portion and there are extra sauces and toppings on the table to add your personal twist. The Pad Thai looks and feels freshly made and the meat is quality.
The atmosphere in Yelo is typical of East London, relaxed, cool and easy-going. The service is always brilliant. The quirky restaurant is not part of a chain and a bit hidden away from the tourists deep inside Hoxton Square. It’s, therefore, never over-crowded. Even though it’s decorated with long canteen style tables, the atmosphere is still private and relaxed; a perfect place to catch up with friends or for a romantic night out with your date.
The more expensive Thai Thai Restaurant on not so exotic Old Street, has more versions of the Pad Thai than any with a vegetable option £7.95, chicken or beef £8.50, prawns £9.50, seafood £12.95 and grilled river prawns £14.95. However, I was slightly disappointed with my chicken Pad Thai as I expected more quality and taste for this price.
Thai Thai is a classy looking restaurant placed in the middle of busy, shabby Old Street, west of Old Street roundabout. As you enter the open spaced seating area with exotic Thai ornaments all around, you almost get a feel of being in Thailand. It whisks you far away for a moment, but as the Pad Thai arrives, you’re brought right back to London.
The restaurant has a pricier look and feel, so if you are thinking of impressing your date without spending your entire week’s food budget, this place will do the trick. However, their Pad Thai is not better in quality or tastier than in the cheaper Yelo.
Miso Noodle Bar on Upper Street in Islington is part of a chain, which usually means they are able to allow good prices. The Pad Thai here costs £7.95 and, even though the menu says prawns, you may ask for chicken instead. They are happy to arrange this for you. They serve a huge portion, which in my case, usually lasts for lunch the next day as well.
Restaurant-wise Miso Islington neither feels expensive like Thai Thai nor does it have the same relaxed atmosphere as Yelo. However, it is great if you’re in a hurry as they serve your meal within minutes. Even though the portion is well sized and quite tasteful, it doesn’t take away the prize for best Pad Thai out of these three options.
City University student and uncertified Pad Thai expert Helen Trattles, 22, said: “I prefer going to Yelo for my Pad Thai due to the simple fact that I think their Pad Thai is tastier, the portion is just right and the atmosphere is cool. You can relax, almost like at home and enjoy your meal. Last but not least, it’s the cheapest place in the area for my favourite, chicken Pad Thai, which suits my student budget perfectly.”