The buzz of Bangkok hits you at this latest addition to the Metrocentre’s restaurant offering.
Forget the grey skies of Gateshead, Thaikhun transports you to the hustle and bustle of Thailand’s streets with its decor that practically pulsates with vibrancy.
It can be difficult to create atmosphere in a shopping centre eatery, which can often be soulless, but Thaikhun delivers it in spades.
My eyes didn’t know where to look next, darting from neon-lit signs suspended from the ceiling to the splash of colourful Thai film posters plastered on the walls to the steam of the open kitchen and back to the authentic Thai market trinkets which pepper the fixtures. Not forgetting the lively staff wielding trays of shots and chants for birthday boys and girls - and anyone else who looks up for a laugh.
It’s a busy ambience that recreates the hullabaloo of bars and restaurants from the foods’ birthplace.
The menu is equally colourful and offers a kaleidoscope of soups, Thai salads, curries, stir fries, rice and noodles and grills.
There’s a substantial list of street food starters to salivate over that will be familiar to anyone who’s visited Thailand, including deep fried pork strips with palm sugar, coriander, pepper and soy sauce (£5.50) to sweetcorn cakes, flavoured with red curry paste and kaffir lime leaves (£4.50).
We couldn’t decide on just one so ordered a platter to share, which start from £7 per person.
It was pick ‘n’ mix of Oriental treats to tuck into. My favourite was the succulent swirls of pork which were given extra crunch with sesame seeds. But they faced some stiff competition from the crispy squid which was given an added level of flavour with pots of dunking sauce.
As this is a place which prides itself on its authenticity, it seemed only right to try the Thai green curry (£9) for mains. The joint owner Kim Kaewkraikhot started off cooking on the streets of Bangkok and went on to become an award-winning chef thanks to her pad Thai, so we had to give that a try too.
The curry certainly looked pretty, its soothing green hue balanced against the louder Thai postcards that have been used in the tabletops, with a large basil leaf floating over the lustrous curry. It hit just the right balance of fragrant and creamy, without being sickeningly so, with a lip-tingling after taste.
The pad Thai had been given some hype and it deserved it. I wasn’t sure how authentic a large restaurant could be with so many diners to cater for, but this version of the national dish was as good as I’ve had anywhere else, with plenty of plump prawns punctuating the springy noodles.
Many of the dishes have a fiery bite, but there’s an extensive drinks list here to cool your palate. Highlights include Thai beers, such as bottles of Chang (£3.95) and Singha on draught (£4.75 a pint). For the brave, there’s even a four pint beer tower (£18), to really put you in a holiday mood whatever the weather outside.
The cocktails are also worth a punt, if only for their playful presentation in retro takeaway cartons - don’t ask me how the paper doesn’t disintegrate, I couldn’t work it out. Though bars aren’t normally associated with an out-of-town shopping centre, this one had us wanting to stay all night and take the lively staff up on their shots offer.
Thaikhun, the first in the North East of a national chain, is part of the former Mediterranean village which has been redeveloped as part of the mall’s Qube.
It’s one in a host of new restaurants offering a slice of food from around the globe including Barburrito Mexican restaurant, Byron burger, Five Guys and Coast to Coast American restaurant.
It may be in a shopping centre Qube, but this taste of the Orient is anything but square.