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Valentine’s Day with a chilli high at Sabai Thai

‘Relationships don’t have to be boring’ said comedienne and social butterfly Mai Titi, offering to show couples how to ‘spice it’ at a three course Valentine’s Day dinner at Gotcha Nyama. A fun evening was promised, with prizes offered for the best dancers, and for the best dressed couples. Over a 500g rump steak from this quality steak house, Mai Titi would ask how well you knew your partner, while discussing relationship issues.

Crispy chicken salad and steamed white rice.

At Meikles Hotel’s La Fontaine Restaurant, couples were treated to sparkling wine, roses and a five star, five course meal. They could dance the night away to the strains of Harare Breeze, the hotel’s resident band, putting aside, for the time being at least, any relationship issues.

Valentine’s Day having got off to a good start at home, with a hot cup of tea and a cream cracker, lunch time approached and choices had to be made. My taste buds craved a spicy, salty, sweet and sour fix, so we decided to go out for a Thai meal.

Luckily, you don’t need to buy an airline ticket to Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya to enjoy an authentic Thai meal. Chang Thai Restaurant in Churchill Avenue, Sabai Thai Restaurant in Stokesay Close, and Pad Thai takeaway in Newlands, are all popular family-run enterprises, where Thai chefs fire up their woks, and use the freshest of ingredients to make some of the world’s favourite dishes.

For a romantic meal celebrating Valentine, the Christian martyr who died for love, I chose Sabai Thai. Tucked away in a secluded close in Ballantyne Park, Sabai Thai Restaurant is surrounded by the trickling fountains, lush ferns and palm trees, and the bright summer flowers of Plant Plan Nursery. Constructed in the style of a Thai beach-front resort, the restaurant combines a holiday atmosphere with spotless and well-ordered table settings, comfortable chairs and efficient and friendly waiter service. To celebrate the occasion, the waiters all wore red tee shirts. Red hearts hung from the ceiling, and tables were decorated with red overlays and red roses.

Golden brown, crispy prawns were the star of the starter platter that George and I shared. Chicken nuggets, coated in a light batter and deep fried, came a close second, while spring rolls and chicken satay on skewers were delicious. Hot, sweet and spicy dipping sauces of fresh red chilli, peanut butter, soy sauce and sweet chilli added extra layers of heat and flavour.

Grilled tilapia in yellow panang curry was mild, yet subtly spicy, blended with coconut and flavoured with coriander, cumin, lemon grass, galangal (similar to ginger), lemon grass, and aromatic Asian Kaffir lime leaves. Zucchini, red bell peppers and bamboo shoots added variety and crunch to the dish. Turmeric, the spice that gives the golden colour to yellow curry, has numerous health benefits, and is said to prevent heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Served with steamed, white rice, this was a winning dish.

Crispy chicken salad, a relatively new addition to the menu, could have been a meal in itself. Super crispy chicken nuggets, crunchy outside and juicy within, were added to a salad of cucumber, lettuce, tomato, red onion and coriander, flavoured with chilli, fish sauce and lime juice.

Chefs Pamwipa and Niang celebrate Valentine’s.

The chilli heat of all dishes can be tempered by requesting either mild, medium or hot on the richter scale. Having read about the health benefits of eating chilli peppers, we consumed large amounts of fresh chilli salsa, and asked for a maximum heat crispy chicken salad.

Banana tempura with vanilla ice cream provided a useful chill factor, and if you have a sweet tooth, sticky jasmine rice with sliced mango is another soothing dessert option.

Chef Ning and Chef Pimwipa, attired in red chef’s jackets in honour of Valentine’s Day, left the kitchen after a busy lunch time session. They could relax for a few hours before the restaurant re-opened in the evening to a full house. Front man Russell Macdonald, married to Chef Ning, seldom takes a break. When he’s not out sourcing seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit and spices, he attends to his patrons and staff, keeping everything running smoothly.

Valentine’s Day is over for another year. Whether you celebrated with Mai Titi at Gotcha Nyama, toasted your loved one with sparkling wine at La Fontaine, or experienced a chilli high at Sabai Thai, you and your partner should be in top form for the next few months.   A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff

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