Leeds is a pretty good place to be a Thai food addict – there are so many fantastic restaurants both in Leeds city centre and in the surrounding suburbs that you could go out for Thai every night for several weeks and never visit the same place twice (or have a bad meal!). But out of all of them, Zaap Thai might just be my new undisputed favourite. After a fairly average first visit I gave the place a second chance and am so glad I did, because now the food seems to get better every time I visit. I particularly love their starters – so much so that I am now more likely to order a tapas-style banquet of chicken satay, fish cakes and dumplings for my meal instead of a main.
However the food isn’t the only reason I love Zaap. For me the thing that really sets it apart is the decor and the atmosphere – as soon as I step through the door I feel like I’ve been transported back to my time in Bangkok, perching at a kerbside table with a curry and a beer that cost me less than £1, simultaneously disorientated and intoxicated by the choreographed chaos going on around me. Unfortunately the prices at Zaap aren’t quite as low, but they’re as good as you’ll get in Leeds and the rest of the experience is fairly close.
Zaap isn’t the first Thai restaurant to embrace the no-frills style of eatery – Leeds stalwarts like Thai Aroy Dee, Jino’s Thai Cafe and Thai Sabai were doing it long before Zaap was even thought up, and MyThai’s super informal Wade Lane branch that opened last year beats them all on price. But Zaap has definitely brought something new to the game. They are of course created by the same minds behind Sukhothai, who with their gold Buddha statues and flawlessly white tablecloths belong at the high end of the Thai dining scale along with the likes of Chaophraya and Thai Edge.
Maybe that’s how Zaap has arrived at this glorious middle ground between the two – the owners have taken the bare bones Thai restaurant template, added the noise and chaos of a Bangkok street, and then in true Sukhothai style thrown the kitchen sink at it. The result is a huge open kitchen built out of street food carts, booths designed to look like tuk-tuks, and a random mass of trinkets that include lanterns, Chang beer memorabilia and 7-Eleven signs. Their seating process is as brilliantly unceremonious as in Thailand; no bookings, you’re seated as you arrive (usually within arm’s reach of the people at the next table), you eat your food off cheap plastic plates and when you’re finished you down your drink and vacate the table so everyone can get on with their night – true Bangkok style. Every time I walk in to Zaap I smell the food, hear the clangs of the kitchen, and I’m back in the Thai capital, filled with memories that are 3 years old and yet suddenly feel like I made them just yesterday. That’s what sets Zaap Thai apart, and what makes it my favourite Thai restaurant in Leeds.