I must admit I weary of the identicalness of Thai menus in this city. And in many Thai restaurants I find the offerings have fallen into the doldrums. (A scoop of green curry paste, a glug of coconut milk, bits of tough chicken, and a tin of bamboo shoots do not a memorable gaeng kiaw wan make.) But Som Tum Thai on Nepean Street has always flashed some charm in its pretty space, spread upstairs and down, a parade of little rooms in a smartly painted house in Centretown. I also appreciate that Som Tum doesn’t cater too rigidly to wimpy Western palates. Order a Thai salad (yum) or curry and you’ll find the spicing pretty bold.
You won’t want to drop in without a booking, though. Particularly at lunch when the noon-to-one crowd is dense and the specials are what folks have flocked here for.
At my midweek lunch the flavours were bright and fresh, the service rushed but kind and the portions generous. I had one of the two ‘Lunch Special Combos’ on offer, in harmony with pretty much every other table around me. Though things tended to run into each other on the plate, I didn’t find that troubling, and the presentation was thoughtful — notwithstanding the leeching of curry sauce into a garlicky stir fry, a bit of sweet chilli sauce oozing into the curry — with a tidy mound of rice topped with crackling onion, a little carved carrot, a refreshing mango salad.
On the plate, a crunchy-fried chicken dumpling; red curry featuring shrimp, Thai basil, and Kaffir lime leaves, filled in with peas, orange peppers, and snow peas; a glass noodle stir fry threaded with bean sprouts, peppers, pak choi and egg; a simple iceberg and mango salad with chopped peanut, red onion, and cilantro; and a moulded round of rice. A pot of lemongrass tea worked well with all of it.
Open: Monday to Friday for lunch; daily for dinner
Som Tum Thai Restaurant, 260 Nepean St., 613-781-8424