Lucky Khao @ Redroaster Café Brighton
Authentic Northern Thai barbecue, cocktails, and beers in a tranquil space in the heart of Brighton’s Kemptown.
My job as a food reviewer for Sussex’s favourite magazine provides me with a lot of opportunities to visit some of the top restaurants in Brighton. I get to hear all about the comings and goings on the foodie scene, to try out new restaurants, updated menus and fresh concepts so I can report back and write all about them for our readers. I am very blessed and it is a lovely position to be in. Every now and then however, something really special and unique comes to my attention. Something which reinvigorates my love for dining out in this wonderful diverse town, and something which excites me and reignites the passion I have for my work. Our recent visit to Lucky Khao at Redroaster café did just that and I simply cannot wait to tell you all about it!
Just entering Redroaster Café feels like you are being transported instantly to a faraway land. This stunning venue simply has to be seen to be believed and is the perfect setting for Lucky Khao Northern Thai barbeque, cocktails and beers. Opulence and tranquillity spring to mind when describing the space, with an abundance of green foliage hanging from the walls and ceiling, neon lighting, gleaming brass fixtures and marble tiling. No expense nor attention to detail has been spared in creating this wonderful setting designed by ‘World Interiors Designer of the Year’ Hana Hakim. Tables are set out along the walls with the option to sit at the huge bar area and enjoy a cocktail or two whilst nibbling on some incredible sounding “beer food” such as mackerel or sweet mango betel wraps or organic barbeque pork skewers with full view of the open plan bar and kitchen area.
We arrive around seven on a Friday and the place is already buzzing. We opt to sit at a table at the rear of the café so we can take it all in. Karen, our waitress for the evening almost immediately brings us a selection of betel leaves scattered with chilli, roasted garlic and nuts along with an assortment of sauces. My wife Sally and I have never been to Northern Thailand and Karen could sense our confusion so she explained that the leaves were to be used to make wraps. This is typical of the region and she then went on to give us the lowdown of how people eat and cook in places such as Chiang Rai and the villages which border Burma and Laos which the menu borrows heavily from, as well as being where the head chef was sent to train for two months before they opened. Karen was incredibly knowledgeable and went through the menu with us, asking if we had any dietary requirements and/or food intolerances, pointing out a comprehensive and easy to follow allergens guide on the back. Neither of us have any allergies, and Sally’s only concern was that she does not like anything too spicy, which considering we were in a restaurant which prides itself on providing an authentic Thai experience, I thought might be a problem. However, Karen was happy to recommend milder dishes for her to try. We ordered a couple of bottles of craft lemongrass beer and some miniature betel wraps and was left alone to consider the menu.
Karen returned and we had demolished the betel wraps, which were incredible. The refreshing zingy sweet and sour flavours awakened our taste buds like nothing before. We were ready to order a feast.
Over excitedly and completely ignoring Karen’s advice to order as we go along due to the food coming out as it is cooked, we got dived straight in and ordered an abundance of dishes. We opted for a selection of “beer food” to share, a bit from the barbeque section and a curry which Karen recommended for Sally.
First out; Chiang Mai style northerner’s hot dog, fermented local pork, topped with pickles, phrik num jam, and served in a crisp toasted brioche role. At first glance these bad-boys looked like regular hot dogs, but take a bite and your mouth is filled with wonderful penetrating spices and surprising textures. The sausage crumbles to release the flavour and the pickles and jam just add an extra dimension to this dish. Sally enjoyed deconstructing the dog and making sausage wraps from the betel leaves and dipping them in the sauces.
Soon after, Karen brought us vegan charcoal Thai aubergine, a not-too-spicy dish which Sally was eager to try. Aubergine is great for absorbing juices and flavours which are released when masticated, not that there is any need to chew. Sticky, gooey and messy to eat, this is a fun dish and delicious to boot.
Note to self – listen to your waitress in future. The food was starting to come out thick and fast now and we were getting swamped with dishes and running out of space. I polished off the last hot dog and Sally made a messy and sticky aubergine wrap to make room on the table for the next dish; Northern Thai charcoal barbeque chicken, another of Karen’s recommendations and a favourite among regular diners. Local free range chicken is marinated with lemongrass, garlic, white pepper and coriander root, then slow roasted over charcoal to give it even more flavour and ensure the juiciest, most tender chicken imaginable. Served with some contrasting spicy jaew sauce and tamarind dipping sauce, everything about this dish was spectacular. We thoroughly enjoyed making wraps and experimenting with the sauces and it all went extremely well with the incredibly moreish lemongrass beer (of which we were now on our third bottle each).
If the mess we had made making all the wraps was any indication as to how much we were enjoying ourselves, we were having the time of our lives! Our final dish ‘Khao soi,’ Chiang Mai style curry noodle dish appeared and we again made some room by polishing off some of the remnants of our previous selections, and watched rather sheepishly, while Karen wiped away some of the crumbs and sauces from the table. The curry was a hearty broth akin to Japanese Ramen, but with homemade Thai spices and coconut milk, packed with shallots, bean sprouts, coriander and pickled mustard greens, and a choice of toppings, either smoked beef brisket, Thai sausage, or tofu and oyster mushrooms. We opted for the beef brisket which was melt in your mouth tender and a great pairing with the rich and hearty broth. Thankfully Sally absolutely loved it, otherwise I do not think I would have managed to finish it myself.
On reflection, slow and steady wins the race at Lucky Khao. There is absolutely no need to order everything at once. Resist temptation, order as you go along, take in the cool atmosphere and surroundings and relax in to the experience.
We still made room for dessert though – albeit one to share between us. We went for Pandan Trifle with ginger sponge, spiced turmeric custard, pandan jelly and topped with toasted coconut marshmallow. This is great fun and innovative twist on a classic pudding, with incredible textures and flavours that, despite how full we were, we completely demolished in less than a minute.
Lucky Khao is as exciting and innovative as it gets. Not only is it one of only a handful of restaurants in the UK to specialise in Northern Thai barbeque, it also feels fresh, invigorating and unique! Whether you have been to Northern Thailand, are in search of some authentic Thai food, or just want to pop in for an incredible bespoke cocktail or two, you’ll enjoy an experience you will not forget in a hurry.