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  • Writer's pictureHunger Leads

CAFE ISAN | Thai Streetfood

Having won “Best Budget” and been shortlisted for “Best Thai” in the Time Out Awards 2017 and won 2020, we had high expectations for Cafe Isan, on the waterfront of JLT. It’s touted as an authentic Thai experience on a budget, and we’re no strangers to authentic Thai cuisine having been frequent visitors to many different regions of Thailand over the years. Unfortunately, the experience did not match up to the hype, with dishes being on the bland side and poorly prepared. While the ingredients were authentic, it simply matched restaurants we’d been to in Thailand that just weren’t very good. And despite the “Best Budget” accolade, we didn’t find the dishes to be any cheaper to other restaurants we had visited.

The menu offers visuals of all its dishes and they all look fantastic. However, when the food arrived, the appearances were quite different. When I ordered the Bamboo Salad I was asked if I was sure I wanted it as it had a very pungent flavour to it. Isn’t that the whole point? Authentic Thai flavours are what we so crave, and this remark made us wonder what we were in for. This turned out to be the one dish we had ordered that accentuated all its flavours with its boiled bamboo strips, mixed Thai herbs, fermented fish sauce, roasted rice, chilli powder, mint and lemon. This dish stood out as the only one of the experience to provide any excitement.

We also ordered the Chicken and Cashew Nuts in sweet and sour sauce which was highly disappointing. The dish was lukewarm, the batter on the chicken soggy, the chicken dry and chewy, and the sauce bland and uninspired. The Beef Strips, deep-fried and topped with some crispy garlic, were also dry and chewy, resembling a poor attempt at jerky.

The Hustler – a wok fried chicken dish with a vibrant sunny-side-up fried egg on top (according to the image on the menu, anyway), I sent back as the egg was over cooked to the point of rubberization, there was no yolk in sight and I wanted it as seen on the menu’s photo to mix into all the rice underneath. Second egg attempt still had no runny yolk. We ordered our food medium spicy (rather than Thai spicy) and there wasn’t a hint of spice at all, except in the bamboo salad. And then there was the Pad Mee Noodles, supposedly wrapped in an egg parcel. It had an overdone omelette placed on top and tasted of nothing at all.

We didn’t bother with dessert. This was a very expensive meal for such a mediocre experience, and we’re perplexed at its Time Out acclaim. With a wealth of choice in Dubai, we can name several Thai restaurants off the top of our heads that are more deserving of these awards!

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