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Restaurant review: A celebration of food to lift flagging spirits at Dundee’s Rama Thai

Rama Thai's pineapple chicken curry.
Rama Thai's pineapple chicken curry.

Rama Thai is that rare find – a genuinely happy place, somewhere you can depend upon to lift your spirits, no matter how hard the rain might be cracking down outside.

If you want to see this as a metaphor for war, Brexit, Covid, and governmental incompetence then I won’t stand in your way, mainly because my spirit has now been so crushed that I barely have the energy to reach for a Valium or a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso to temporarily tuck the pain of 2022 away.

As the world increasingly feels like the site of a permanent winter, I take some comfort in the fact that March is at least the beginning of the hot season in Thailand, in the same way I can now rationalise opening a bottle of wine at 5pm because, somewhere in the world, the sun is finally going over that damn yardarm.

Also, the clocks have changed, and we can at last see small signs of renewal in our daily lives. Every little bit helps!

Starters sai oua sausage and coconut soup with mains, chicken kapprow and pineapple chicken curry.

In confused and confusing times such as these, the eye has to travel and I now often find myself hurtling down a mental time tunnel to sunnier and happier climes, which might also explain why the genial owner of Rama Thai was off to that beautiful country a few days after we dined at his joyful venue in Dundee.

I’m pretty sure I asked him to take me with him, despite the fact we had only just met.

Rama is wonderful and joins a small list of Dundee restaurants who are valiantly attempting to improve the general standard and breadth of food offered in the city. I love it and thank Buddha or Thai goddess Nang Kwak that it exists.

This is somewhere that makes you feel good, a happy place in a world of fear and anger – a bit like a holiday in Thailand itself.

A celebration of food and travel

Happy places are so important in life, and of course many of mine happen to be restaurants and hotels. This is quite something from a person who didn’t get on a plane until he was 26, because our very occasional family holidays were always at Butlin’s holiday camp in Ayr.

Mum used to pay for these holidays weekly at Napper Thomson’s shop in Lochee, from where the coaches would finally depart to take we working classes to the land of chairoplanes, chalets, discos playing T.Rex, stentorian tannoy announcements and hopeless attempts to get a snog with that girl from Glasgow before the lights went out.

Hi-de-Hi! was the Savoy in comparison. The food at Butlin’s was dire – British canteen cuisine at its worst. That it was served in sittings did nothing to dispel the idea that this was less a holiday and more an exercise in mass observance and obeyance.

To this day I run a mile from any holiday that bills itself as all-inclusive, a place where you need never leave the resort to experience life in all its messy glory.

Inside Rama Thai.

I was a late developer in drifting off to see the world. The first time I ever flew was when EMI Records sent me to America with a journalist and I had to ask him how to fasten the seatbelt. At 26 I was at least too old to be embarrassed, even if my companion was incredulous at my naivete, especially since my primary reason for being on that plane was as his chaperone.

I now feel so blessed that my job allowed me to travel the world for decades before we were all so cruelly grounded; unlike Albert Camus, I did actually think I could reinvent myself in every country I visited.

And, although my all-time happy place was the original Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles – the smell of wood-smoke coming from each bougainvillea-swathed pink villa at 6pm as you walked past the azure pool that Marilyn Monroe once swam in, was hugely intoxicating – it was holidays in the Far East that proved the most transformative to this born-again world traveller.

Much of that was due to the food and the culture around it.

The interior.

If you’ve ever had even a simple meal in Thailand or Bali you will know exactly what I mean.

There, the celebration of food is almost performative – the exact opposite of food as fuel that is so pervasive in Western culture.

What was revelatory about foreign travel to we pasty Brits experiencing world food for the first time wasn’t just the vast array of unfamiliar produce, it was the way those disparate elements were combined and presented.

It was, quite literally, a new world, and one that I wanted a huge bite of.

Much of Western food is a one-note symphony – two if you’re lucky; as such, it’s often the equivalent of a composition by Steve Reich or Harold Budd. Yes, it’s often beautiful and it’s also often deeply felt but the tonal variations in taste and texture don’t seem quite as alchemical as they do in food from distant lands.

Thai food is a very good example of precision, innovation and balance.

David Thompson

Before going to eat at Rama I had coincidentally been engrossed once more in that seminal book of Thai cooking – Thai Food, by David Thompson.

I think I have quoted from this book each time I’ve written about Thai food and there’s a reason for that. Quite simply I haven’t found another reference which provides such an expansive, exhaustive exploration of this amazing cuisine.

That the book was published in 2002 and remains a textbook today says it all. Some 20 years after publication it remains an essential companion to anyone wishing to explore the culture of Thai food, as well as how to cook it.

I could quote here from so much of this weighty volume, not least from the fascinating section which explores the cycle of rice and calendar of festivals, but here is David Thompson explaining the fundamentals of Thai cooking:

“Thai cooking is the opposite of Western cuisine, where two or three flavours are blended in an elegant way to arrive at a distillation of the requisite flavours. Thai food creates a locus of flavours within each dish, through its components, producing a complexity that can be dazzling.

“Recipes can be simplified and adapted but, in order to do so without debasing the cuisine, one must have a full appreciation of what is to be altered before it can be adapted successfully.

“Thus, the recipes should become a starting point, the beginning of possibilities, a departure.”

I love this concise explanation because it acknowledges the importance of getting the basics right while appreciating that food and recipes are moving feasts (I apologise for the laboured pun, but it’s true).

Elsewhere in the book, Thompson explains that Thai cookbooks themselves are comparatively recent and that the first one was published in the late 19th Century.

Before that recipes were handed down orally from generation to generation.

Sai oua sausage starter.

Knowing stuff like this makes a trip to a good Thai restaurant even more rewarding. And, make no mistake, Rama Thai is a very good Thai restaurant.

Rama Thai

Thai places in the UK quite often fall within two visual archetypes, the first being the bare room, devoid of much decoration, and almost monk-like in the Zen approach to design and comfort.

Rama is not that. Rama is what you get when you transport the ostentation of a Thai temple to a space in Dock Street, Dundee. Minimalist it is not.

Whenever I go to Rama I’m always struck by the exuberance of the place and the fact that it attracts a real cross-section of the dining public. There are the visitors from local hotels. The arts gang from DJCAD and the V&A.

Chicken Kapprow.

The regular patrons who know their Thai food so well they barely have to look at the exhaustive menu. The families sharing a banquet. All of life is here, and there’s a certain knowingness to the place that encourages that.

Is it the location? The fact that you have to seek it out even though it’s right in the middle of town (nearby parking is free at night, of course).

It certainly is the warmth of the welcome, which is genuine and effusive. Once through these doors you feel transported to another world, which is exactly how it should be.

The food

The food is ace and you could happily come here once or twice a week and never get bored of the menu.

Their takeaway menu is also excellent and I only wish they had the capacity to deliver over here to Fife. Standout dishes for me on our most recent visit were both recommended by the owner and both were perfection. My starter of sai oua (£5.95) was a gorgeous dish of homemade pork sausages with lemongrass, coriander and chilli, served with a choice of sweet chilli sauce or “a taste surprise”.

Go for the surprise because there’s enough sweet chilli in your life already. Also, you really do want to put all five components of this dish in your mouth and let your salivary glands get to work, because the taste explosion is a joy – like a cracker going off in your mouth five times, if that doesn’t sound too bizarre.

Coconut soup starter.

My main course of pad kraprao (£12.95) was also the business, a classic spicy Isaan dish of fresh spur chillies, with sweet basil and vegetables, it was both pungent and subtle within the same forkful. I took the recommendation to have a fried egg on top (don’t judge me, Ian the owner advised this, and he was right) and I’d urge you to do the same.

Incidentally there is a recipe for deep fried eggs in David Thompson’s book in which he recommends dressing the eggs with sweetened fish sauce.

Vegetarians are well catered for here and David was very happy with his Tom Kah soup (£4.95) and vegetable and pineapple red curry with tofu (£10.95). Coconut rice (£3.50) was perfectly cooked.

We didn’t have dessert this time but I can vouch that the banana fritter (£4.95) is worth the waistline angst and that the coconut delight (coconut ice cream served in a brandy basket and topped with fresh fruit) sounds just the ticket, marked £5.95.

The verdict

Rama is a delight. Great food, brilliant service and a location that is both transformative and uplifting. These people care about the food they’re serving and they care about your enjoyment of it. A gem in the middle of Dundee.


Address: 32/34 Dock Street, Dundee, DD1 3DR

T: 01382 223366

Price: Starters from £4.95, mains from £10.95, dessert from £4.95


  • Food 5/5
  • Service 5/5
  • Surroundings 5/5

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