With a dozen restaurants now open across the capital, Rosa’s Thai Cafe has established itself as a London favourite in no time at all.
South West Londoner visited their newest location on Tooting Broadway and spoke to co-owner Alex Moore to find out the secrets behind its success.
“Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re in Thailand. If you didn’t look out of the window and see the red buses going past, anyway!”
Alex Moore is a proud man and rightly so. He’s also absolutely correct.
Not many restaurants in London have a backstory quite like Rosa’s Thai Cafe, which recently opened its 12th location in Tooting.
Alex owned a digital marketing business and was working in Hong Kong in 2001 when he met Saiphin, a full-time Thai mum enjoying a holiday there.
“I only planned to go to Asia for one year, but after 17 years I came back and I felt like an alien in my own country,” explained Alex.
“We were really disappointed by Thai restaurants we went to. What an English person thought a Thai restaurant was like was a recreation of a Thailand that doesn’t exist. It was Anglicised versions of the food.”
They set up their first cafe in Spitalfields a decade ago, keeping the original name on the door partly out of respect, partly out of financial necessity, and have since grown into one of the best places to enjoy an authentic Thai meal across the capital.
“I’ve been the finance manager, the marketing man, the dish washer, the waiter and the HR manager,” said Alex
“Balham was oversupplied but Tooting reminded me of Spitalfields in 2008 – it had that edge and vibe with an interesting mix of people. There’s not an abundance of chains, it’s on the up, I think Rosa’s will do well here.
“Forces of the universe can sometimes conspire in your way as somebody said about this place. We had a look at the end of last year, signed the lease in February. It’s been pretty quick.”
Think modern-day London entwined with modern-day Bangkok and you’re not too far off.
Proceedings start with Rosa’s Boozy Thai Iced Tea, a punchy lemon iced tea with a double shot of Mekhong, Thailand’s famous spirit — technically a rum, conventionally accepted as a whisky.
The prawn crackers provided a taster of what was to come. A well-known appetiser accompanied with Thai sweet chilli and peanut sauces got the juices flowing and it didn’t take long for the array of starters to arrive.
Definitely stick to the seafood starters. Although the tofu and pork skewers were pleasant and provided the first touch of true Thai spice, the crispy prawns and Thai calamari (below) were sensational.
They were delicately prepared, real pride taken in them, and provided strong flavours and succulent textures. A go to.
As for the mains, the variety on offer makes selection somewhat difficult but the Massaman beef curry cannot be ignored and is complimented well by rice, whether that be Rosa’s fried rice, sticky rice or the earthy, natural jasmine rice, all work well.
Alex, though, has his own favourites: “The stir-fried aubergine is lovely and the pumpkin curry is really lovely, a mild spiciness but really good. They are unique to Rosa’s.”
A refreshing bottle of Chang lager slips down effortlessly alongside the various flavours on the plates.
Be sure to order a salad, such as the delicious larb chicken or papaya, to complete the main but ensure room is left for mango with sticky rice and coconut ice cream for afters, they don’t disappoint.
Alex and Saiphin are keen to create unique menus at each location, with Thai chefs able to really experiment and create with the flavours and traditions from the regions they grew up in.
Alex added: “As we get bigger, I want to get better. We intend to have a specials menu specific to each restaurant.
“This would be tied to a specific skill the chef has. In Soho we had a southern Thailand menu because the chef came from south Thailand.”
Alex is aware of the necessity to establish the Tooting cafe first before introducing specialist menus but, with location number 13 opening in Ealing at the end of May, these are certainly exciting times for Rosa’s.
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