It's uncanny. Every time I pass this Newtown institution, it is always full - it's like they know I'm coming by. This is made even more impressive by the fact that it is by no means a small restaurant- it's huge! Complete with two large eating areas full of tables. So when I pass it on any given evening of the week and see it bustling with life (and always at least 75% full), I think there simply has to be something special about it. With that, Mr Tonic and I were resolved that we must try Thai Pothong at once.
In due course, one calm and casual Sunday evening, we decided to make a booking. We enter the warm and inviting space and (true to form) it is 90% full. We are seated all the way out the back - not that I mind, Mr Tonic's face is the only view I need (yes, apologies, we're grossly adorable). The energy is excitingly infectious and we are absolutely famished. As avid Thai tasters, we are pleased to see that many of the favourites we know and love are on the menu and, more than that, the drinks are cheap and plentiful. It seems to be a recipe for success!
However, the trouble began when we ordered the satay skewers (reasoning to ourselves that our safe choice was simply to make sure their staples were up to snuff). As to be expected, it arrived at our table very nicely plated in a small bowl and with some small chopped vegetables to garnish. I had absolutely no qualms with presentation. Unfortunately, the issue came with taste. It was a good thing we tested the usual favourite, because we were more than underwhelmed. Upon taking my first bite, the satay flavour was barely even there, despite the chicken being smothered in sauce. Quite unaccustomed to such a lack of flavour, I took a spoon and simply had a mouthful of the satay (just to make absolutely sure). Sadly, it only confirmed my disappointment. We were not off to a good start.
For our main courses we decided upon the crispy pork and Massaman lamb curry. The first to arrive was the crispy pork and it looked promising. Yet, once again, we were bamboozled by the guise of pretty presentation. The eponymous hero of the dish simply did not live up to his name: crispy, he was not. The dish had more flavour to be sure, (the Chinese broccoli in oyster sauce fast becoming the best part of the dish), but overall it was just a bit soggy and disillusioning. Where was the Thai Pothong magic that brought in hoards of people every night? At this point we only had one dish left and it was holding all of my hopes and dreams for this restaurant.
The Massaman lamb arrived and I was back where I started: a flavour drought. Whenever I order Thai at my usual hotspots, the dishes are always packed with flavour, the spices jump off the plate at you, wafting up so that you're surrounded by an aroma of deliciousness. However, here I was, awaiting that rich Massaman taste and instead of a tidal wave, I received a trickle. Was their usual chef off sick? Their spice rack running out? The lamb was tender and the potatoes soaked up the sauce as they should, but it's not the same without the strong taste. With only a hint of the Massaman really coming through, my experience here was rather akin to the sinking of the Thai-tanic.
Overall, we left feeling a little bit gobsmacked. Although the service was lovely and the alcohol was cheap, the experience did not inspire a return visit. How could such a popular spot be so lacking in Thai essentials? Where had the flavour run off to? Could it be that Newtown simply has a paucity of good Thai places and people accept this as good? Or perhaps we were simply dealt a dodgy dish or two? Whatever it is, it's safe to say that this evening, and for this diner, Thai Pothong was far from Thai-riffic.