So many Thai restaurants rely on a palate of flavours largely restricted to lemongrass, garlic, chilli and lime so that the food has the aroma and taste of a drunk’s fart in a room that’s been over-sprayed with air freshener.
Flavoursome, authentic Thai food is as an elusive thing – like a wise statement by Donald Trump, or an acceptance by Arsene Wenger that, yes, the referee was fair.
But Sabai Sabai has for many years been raising the bar in Birmingham, for its food is a cut above the rest.
And that is certainly true of the newly-opened restaurant in the city centre – the small, family-run group’s fourth branch, with the original in Moseley, the premises in Harborne and the outpost in Stratford-upon-Avon.
It’s a great addition to a city centre dining scene increasingly dominated by dull chains.
It’s tucked away in the heart of Birmingham’s business district, nestling in former offices between The Cosy Club and the Premier Inn.
Jazz was playing in the background on a mid-week post-festive night when I walked in to find the place surprisingly busy.
The music – which later changed to soul – was appropriate for the new Sabai Sabai has a cool, fashionable vibe.
There’s lot of silver and grey, polished wooden tables, a polished wooden floor and a bit of bare concrete.
Black metal light fittings hang from the ceiling and there are rough-hewn twisted wooden slats on some of the windows.
Many of the artefacts have been imported from Thailand.
More importantly, they’ve been chosen and put together with exquisite good taste.
There’s a bar area that’s more informal than the dining space and a downstairs room suited to functions.
The menu ticks the boxes you’d expect to be ticked in a Thai restaurant.
There are dumplings and tempura, noodles and stir fries, salads and soups.
All, no doubt, prepared with great skill and care if this Sabai Sabai replicates its siblings’ high standards.
But we chose some of the less familiar dishes and I was deeply impressed.
A sharing platter of meat dishes at £12.95 per person isn’t cheap but, bloody heck, it’s good.
Thai spare ribs were as tender as my fellow food writer Richard McComb’s ego and had been marinaded in a mix that imparted sweetness and restrained spice.
Blushing pink lamb chops were equally succulent and flavoured with garlic and pepper and came with refreshing cubes of pineapple.
Chicken wings were sticky, irresistible finger food and crisp duck rolls were glorious things.
This was a starter to savour – delivering an umami whack that had me drooling.
And there were similar hefty notes in my main course – the tweely-named Weeping Tiger.
This was a chunky sirloin steak that arrived sizzling on a metal skillet yet perfectly pink.
Roasted rice powder and Thai herbs that I can’t begin to identify had added fabulous complex flavours.
A sweet and spicy sauce on top lifted the dish and, as the steak disappeared, the sticky residues beneath caused me great joy.
Tender-stem broccoli and carrots provided healthy aspects.
Opposite a sir fry featuring golden-skinned aubergines and various other vegetables was equally well received.
From my side of the table, it looked beautifully judged – the ingredients vibrant and al dente.
We shared a bowl of sticky rice.
Need to know
We paid around £30 a head for two courses each.
Wines kick in at around £18 a bottle.
There are Thai-inspired cocktails.
Vegetarian dishes are available.
Set menus are available.
The place is accessible for disabled people.
Waterloo Street, Birmingham B2 5PG. 0121 448 3850.