It’s the eating out fan dance we have all done … “I fancy Chinese” … “I prefer Indian” … “How about Thai then?”
In our household it’s the sort of conversation that ends with us giving up and seeing what’s in the freezer.
There is, however, a solution courtesy of Pan Asia.
The clue being in the name, it does all of the above and not in that hit-or-miss, how much can you stuff in your face buffet style of some eateries.
Nope, this is a proper place with a proper menu that just happens to take in a fair bit of food under the Asian umbrella.
When we walked through the door of this new kid on the Bridge Street block our first reaction was “gosh”.
As in, gosh who would have though an interior this swanky – all brick and wood and light – could be sitting on the, let’s be honest here, scruffy environs of Bridge Street.
We declined a window seat offered by the super friendly waiter, preferring to look at the surroundings than the traffic.
And then on to that menu with its smorgasbord of Asian delights.
I always reckon if you’re trying a new place you should try a new dish.
Since I had never heard of gobhi Manchurian and since it was billed as a chef’s special, I thought that would do.
This despite my fervent belief that cauliflower, its main ingredient, is the blandest food known to man.
That may be, but when you cook it in a rich melange of garlic, onion and ginger, toss in some Chinese spices of the musky variety, you have a dish that makes you want to lick the plate clean.
I wasn’t the only one going “oh, that’s really good”.
Mrs B had chosen a Thai soup, Tom Kha, to kick off.
Usually I don’t suffer food envy but in this case I did.
While my cauliflower dish was great, her soup was spectacular.
Perfectly cooked pieces of chicken lolled in coconut broth shot through with mushroom, carrot, peppers and little chunks of intensely flavoured galangal.
There were chilli notes, lime hits, lemon citrus highlights and it was all as fresh as if it had come off a farm that morning.
It’s not often a bowl of soup alone is worth visiting a place for.
Barely a pause and the mains arrived.
Mrs B had shifted cuisine, going with a lamb saag.
It was another rewarding dish.
On the mild side, but billed as such, it had a real depth of flavour, spicy and tangy with the spinach adding gloss and earthy notes, with plenty of basmati rice (included in the price) to soak it all up.
The lamb itself was a bit mixed, some chunks melt-in-the-mouth tender, others needing a bit of jaw work.
Meanwhile I was staring down the barrel of the “spiciest noodle dish on the menu” – phad kee mao.
It was a seafood riot, with tender squid, massive, sweet king prawn and perfectly cooked mussels waiting to be teased out their shells.
Joining the party was a fistful of chilli, spring onions and hunners of green beans for crunch.
Twirling the tender noodles round my fork, the first impression was rich soy.
Wait though, what’s this? A chilli kick to knock you into next Tuesday … but without overwhelming the subtle seafood. Now that’s a neat trick.
Both our dishes had that freshest ingredients going taste which is clearly a hallmark of Pan Asia. It works.
As does its pricing. All that food plus a beer for £35.45. There’s another “gosh”.
Often a place that draws on different cuisines can be a bit “jack of all trades”, but Pan Asia is master of them all.
Seek it out and thank me later.