To talk of eating my way across England might be a bit of an exaggeration. I’m actually not very well-travelled. In fact, Birmingham, Cambridge, Coventry and Edinburgh are the only places I’ve been to in the UK that are north of the Watford Gap (unless Oxford also counts? I’ve never been much of a geographer). So I’m really quite the Southern fairy at heart, and as you can imagine I’ve sampled a fair few of its gastronomic delights. My 10-day trip to England last week was full of culinary wonder just by itself.

However, as you will see from this first wave of restaurant reviews, not very much of the food I consumed this week was very ‘British’ at all. Sure, there were goodly amounts of Jammy Dodgers, fruit crumbles, Waitrose sandwiches and whathaveyou (and certainly there will be a few reviews from this trip of outlets selling British food), but perhaps reflective of Britain’s culinary diversity, plenty of it wasn’t.

And so we arrive at our first review: THE THAI ORCHID, located in Maidenhead, a fairly middle-class suburb about 40 minutes west of London. I had visited once before, and the restaurant is a general family favourite. Part of this is probably the fact that it’s less than 15 minutes’ walk from the family seat, meaning that everyone can drink as much as they want. But there’s more to it than this. If you can ignore the restaurant’s proximity to a petrol station and main road, and look the other way, the fact that it’s opposite the Thames (with a nicely picturesque bridge to boot) means it does actually have a rather prettier setting than it first might appear.

Then, of course, there’s the restaurant exterior and interior.

The elephants got nicked, sadly. (You know I said Maidenhead was middle-class? Well, it is – as perhaps evidenced by the copious numbers of flash cars, leafy estates, and brand new yuppie apartment complex round the corner from the Orchid – but it also has a considerable population of chavs.) You also can’t really see it, but to the left there’s also a pretty water feature, which is at its best seen at night. Indoors, you can look forward to sumptuously traditional Thai interiors, including extremely detailed wood carvings on the walls and tables.

The restaurant is always busy, and the night I went was no exception. The restaurant is extremely popular in the area (while this is partly down to the excellent service it provides, it’s also perhaps due to the lack of Thai competition in the area. Chinese and Italian restaurants abound, but this place is more unusual and this is likely recognised by its clientele) and you are advised to book a table in advance. However, this does not seem to affect the rapidity of the service, with waiters and waitresses being attentive, friendly, accurate and speedy.

Speediness in a restaurant is not always a good thing; chances are there’s something wrong with a place that can dish up a risotto in five minutes flat. At the Thai Orchid, though, the quality of the food is definitely not compromised in any way: while no vegetarian food was ordered on this occasion, pork, seafood and chicken were all deemed excellent. The starter plate is perfect for sharing, shows excellent portion control, combines vegetarian and meat dishes effectively, and is beautifully presented. The main courses were kept warm successfully on the table throughout the entire meal and there was enough to go around, but again, portion control was very good: we were satisfied, but not stuffed to bursting and not in a situation where we were leaving a lot of food on the plate.

This left only two things – dessert and wine – and these both carried small disappointments in one way and another. While the wine list was comprehensive, on the occasion that we visited they were unfortunately all out of Thai wine (so it was to the good old faithful Pinot Grigio for us, which, even though it complemented the meals well and was wonderfully cooling and fresh against the spices used, is not exactly authentic). Equally, the desserts trolley is always impressive, providing everything from fruit salad to Crunchie cake (yes, really), this lacks authenticity, and the restaurant would benefit from adding a few more traditional desserts to its trolley (such as coconut ice cream).

After that a few of us had mint tea, which was adequate, but ultimately did not have a patch on the mint tea served in good Moroccan restaurants.

Nevertheless, the Thai Orchid offered a pleasing experience all round – and, of course, living so close meant that we were able to walk off at least a few of the calories we’d just consumed.

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Address: 2 Ray Mead Road, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 8NJ
Tel: 01628 77755 (you might need to stick a 6 in front of that first 7, though)

Average cost per person: £31 (excluding drinks, taxes and tips, as calculated by http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk)

Website: http://www.thaigroup.co.uk

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