“You’re moving where?!”
I’ll never forget the looks on faces of friends and family as we broke the news that we were relocating to north Tenerife.
Having spent the last ten years travelling to some of the globe’s most exotic locations and returning filled with tales of mystic Chinese rivers, villas on stilts in the Andaman Sea and secret lagoons hidden above limestone cliffs, I doubt we could have shocked them more if we’d said we were moving to Benidorm.
I admit, we were quite shocked ourselves, having always had our hearts set on Sri Lanka or Thailand, but then we found the Real Tenerife and the rest, as they say… But despite loving our adopted island in the Atlantic, we have never stopped yearning for Thai food which is, we recently decided, our favourite food in the world.
Sitting in The Oriental restaurant of Hotel Botánico last week, watching palm trees silhouetted against a crimson sky as fragrant soup flavoured with galangal and coconut slipped silkily down our throats, for the first time in many years we were transported back to Thailand.
Everything about The Oriental restaurant flooded our senses with memories of Thailand – the scent of jasmine and orange blossom; fruits and vegetables hand carved into elaborate floral displays; a bronze Buddha with flowers in his hands and the distinctive aroma of coconut milk and Thai curry that set our taste buds tingling.
Exuding the Thai qualities of warmth, impeccable customer service and attention to detail, there’s an air of gentle sophistication about The Oriental. It’s certainly not the sort of place you’re likely to find a hen party or a kiddie’s birthday party in full swing but neither is it akin to eating in a library – one of my pet hates. Around me I heard Spanish, German and English accents and there was a relaxed and informal atmosphere.
To augment our gastronomic trip down memory lane, while trying hard not to eat all the prawn crackers with their soy, chilli and sweet and sour sauces, we gave the wine list a miss, ordered a couple of Singha beers and sat back to watch the sunset. That’s when the soup arrived.
I breathed in the aroma of the hot and perfumed chicken and mushroom soup in coconut milk flavoured with galangal and finished with a sprinkling of fresh coriander leaves and instantly I knew I was about to taste the real thing. The soup was delicate yet spicy, its creamy coconut and citrus flavour sending my taste buds into overdrive and then giving them a sly back heel. Suddenly I was no longer in Tenerife, I was on a carved wooden terrace overlooking Railay Beach where longboats were moored up for the night.
Next to arrive was crispy prawn croquettes in Japanese breadcrumbs. Once again I was struck by the elegant simplicity of the presentation. Three golden croquettes lay on a plain white plate alongside a small bed of salad and an orderly row of tomato wedges which added a flash of red. Alongside was a small bowl of clear syrup.
“Ciruela” said our waiter, “home made, naturally.”
The croquettes on their own were succulent and flavoursome, the outer coating of Japanese breadcrumbs crisp, dry and light while the prawn filling was soft and moist, but with the addition of the plum sauce they reached a whole new level of nirvana. Sweet but not sickly and possessing the power to transport me to an orchard on a summer’s afternoon, the plum sauce was sensational.
Like drinking Singha beer, for us an authentic Thai meal has to include curry. Opting for the hotter, green vegetable curry while Jack chose the yellow, our colourful dishes of vegetables in an aromatic curry sauce arrived accompanied by a steaming bowl of perfumed Thai rice.
Lightly sauteed, tender, and as fresh as if they were still in soil, carrots, bamboo shoots, aubergine, mushrooms, cauliflower, green beans, spinach, broccoli and peppers filled the bowl. There were so many vegetables I didn’t have room to add any rice and had to eat a few to create space. The spicy curry sauce in creamy coconut had just the right amount of kick to it and didn’t overpower the individual tastes of the vegetables.
Now sated, both on food and on nostalgia, I decided to quit while I was ahead, giving a wide berth to the creamy tapioca in coconut with kumquats and sweetcorn. I’ve never been a fan of rice puddings and I wanted to savour the green curry flavour for as long as I could.
I often feel a yearning to live in Thailand and I’m fairly sure that’s what I’ll do one day. But for now, if I feel the need to find Thailand in Tenerife, I know where to go.
The Oriental serves Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese and Japanese cuisine and is open to non-residents from 7pm-11pm (closed for July). Reservations recommended on (0034) 922 381 400
We were guests of the Hotel Botánico at The Oriental restaurant but my taste buds are my own and nobody tells them what to like 🙂
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+