Benja’s inconspicuous location on a quiet stretch of Beak Street only adds to its intimate feel. The ground level at this Thai restaurant boasts around five tables for lunchtime dining. Come evening time Benja expands, housing diners and drinkers in its basement bar and first floor level. Black tables, wooden floors and wooden screened ceilings give this Thai eatery a tranquil atmosphere, easing away the chaotic pace of London life.
The set lunch is a simple menu at Benja, with a choice of five or six starters and the same number of main dishes on offer. We opted for the papaya salad and chicken tom yum soup to start and sat back to admire the huge porcelain fish hanging from the walls, in bold red and blue hues.
Soon enough our starters arrived, the soup proving to be full of zesty lime and fiery heat. The clear broth worked its nourishing magic and came with plenty of flavour, with good-sized strips of ginger adding even more of a kick. The papaya salad came clothed in a chilli and garlic dressing, with plenty of crushed peanuts to add texture and slivers of what we presumed were papaya but tasted less so. Moreish nonetheless, even the beetroot garnish was consumed and as we scraped our bowls clean, they were deftly whisked away.
A few sips of jasmine tea ensued (poured from the most beautifully intricate, gold-edged porcelain teapot), and before we knew it our main meals had arrived. Now, normally this would bother me a little, as I’d be inclined to think a microwave may have assisted this speedy feat, but I suspect the kitchen had presumed we’d finish our starters sooner than we did and had already got cooking with the second course. We came to such a conclusion, because the food was simply delightful. Without a microwave nuking in sight, our sea bass and duck curry arrived looking freshly prepared and smelling suitably fragrant. The fish had the lightest batter covering it, which hadn’t been mentioned on the menu, but tasted fantastic, whilst the duck curry, complete with lychee and coconut milk had a delicately sweet and unusual flavour to it.
The great thing about Benja is its efficiency. Although there were no cacophonous sounds from the kitchen, or stressed out staff swooshing about the place, our dishes were served up well within 40 minutes, making it an ideal place for lunchtime respite during the working week. The hushed service made us forget about the madness of Regent Street not so far away, although it took a while to get someone’s attention for the dessert list. Once we did cast an eye over the menu, there was nothing that could tempt us into bursting our seams, so we decided to finish satisfied and mobile enough to walk back to the office. With a main dish coming to around £6.95, and a two-course set menu on offer at £9.99, you’d be hard pushed to find reasonably priced, high quality Thai food served up any faster.
Benja: 17, Beak St, London, W1F 9RW.
Tel: 020 7287 0555
Reviewer: Helenka Bednar