Review: Kala Thai, Bournemouth


Offering authentic Thai food with a beautiful aesthetic, some of the loveliest staff you could ever hope to meet and a surprisingly thoughtful list of tunes to decorate the hushed background noise, Kala Thai is a great restaurant that has amazing potential once it becomes more established. This is perhaps only because our visit was somewhat marred by its fetal opening.

At first, we weren’t entirely sure whether Kala Thai was open. On the walk up, you’re greeted by a beautiful looking restaurant that stands out on the corner of a crossroads and is surrounded by grey buildings and the odd dotting of trees. This works in Kala Thai’s favour though as it helps to grab anyone’s attention by juxtaposing from the surrounding architecture by being a beautifully authentic building that the restaurant’s interior and food try to replicate. The scream of a buzzsaw being used in the wooden canopy gave a sense that the restaurant wasn’t ready to open yet, but it is unlikely that will still be the case.

The outdoor seating area with a view of the high street. Credit: Sam Pegg.

Walking into Kala Thai, we immediately fell in love with the décor. As the outside suggested, the inside also had a sense of authenticity that mixed beautifully with more westernised notions, such as the bar displaying a huge array of alcohol. The interior was a barrage of different shades of brown, while also expertly mitigated with the odd pop of colour that gives the restaurant a homely feel. This, of course, is all accompanied by some subdued alternative music in the background which at first felt strange but quickly became one of the things that helped make Kala Thai memorable.

It mixes elements of Thailand with aspects of the Western World that interconnect perfectly to become something quite unique. It was only a shame to notice the cracks in Kala Thai’s appearance, like the odd puddles on a floor, unfinished ceilings, and paper towels on the bathroom floor because there was no wastebasket. It really enforced a sense of incompletion to the restaurant and was a let-down when the feeling of the place has something so hopeful about it. They were small issues but frequently cropped-up throughout the restaurant and lessened the impact of Kala Thai’s authenticity.

Traditional and effective decor. Credit: Sam Pegg.

After walking in, a host was quick to sit us down at the booth we chose before being handed a paper menu. We had a small issue with our PR reservation, but the staff were truly lovely. They were understanding and aimed to accommodate us in any way they could despite a very awkward situation. We wouldn’t say we were tricky customers, but there was a fair whack of backwards and forwards shuffling between our table as the staff tried to solve the issues we had presented them. However, the staff handled everything very well and left us hopeful for them dealing with even the trickiest of customers.

The lunchtime menu we were offered was sadly a bit small and are the only options for an afternoon meal; it has a choice of four starters and five mains. While it’s understandable to offer a reduced menu for lunch, when the dinner time menu is nearly ten times the size of the lunch menu, it feels very restrained. There was a good selection on the menu (although only one vegetarian starter and one vegetarian main), but we had anticipated much more and would have liked more choice, even if the two courses came to a great value of £9.95.

Sam enjoying his Tom Kla. Credit: Emily Dennis.

Our starters were the Chicken Satay and the Tom Kla (Tofu Mixed Vegetables). As the only vegetarian option, the inevitable Tom Kla wasn’t horrible by any standards, but the Tofu did little to elevate the dish in a meaningful way and the vegetables were far too few. Granted the dish is a soup, but it’s aroma was quite off-putting and hampered by an incredible saltiness. The Chicken Satay, on the other hand, was well seasoned and flavourful, but the peanut sauce was very thick and difficult to add to the chicken. When we had finished them, it was a relief to have them taken away as we eagerly hoped for a better main.

Chicken Satay Starter. Credit: Sam Pegg.

Happily, I can report the main was better than the starter. With both of us having Pad Thai (one with chicken and one with Tofu), we were soon greeted by steaming hot plates with measurable portions. They looked incredible and the side nuts and fresh lemon wedge to squeeze over the top was an added bonus that helped enhance the dish. The issue was that although the Pad Thai was favourable, it was also surprisingly oily. While complementing the flavours, there was the feeling of a layer grease beginning to coat inside the mouth, and this quickly spurned a finished feeling and a stomach gurgle in response. For both us, the tofu and chicken weren’t particularly flavourful or desiring. We both ended up leaving the tofu or chicken and making a crack at just the noodles and vegetables instead which was still a pleasurable and filling meal in itself.

Not a huge fan of Tofu after all. Credit: Emily Dennis.
A nice balance of flavours. Credit: Sam Pegg.

When we left the restaurant to go exploring again, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed with our time at Kala Thai. It has a lot of potential especially in its design and feeling and it’s a shame the lunchtime menu was so sparse (though this would not be the case during an evening meal). Pad Thai at the best of times can sometimes feel oily so it was a shame there was not a different vegetarian option. Unfortunately, we’re left to judge as it is and as it stands, we would perhaps rather wait until its renovations are finished and certainly for a dinner service. A shame really but somewhere we will give a second go in the future because of its potential.

Kala Thai, 127 Old Christchurch Rd, Bournemouth BH1 1EP (01202 096357)


An English Literature student pessimistically fascinated with the world.

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