It’s hard to underestimate the challenges that local restaurants have been working on over the past 16 months.
Ever since the Prime Minister got to a rostrum and told people that restaurants can stay open but we shouldn’t go, the industry has been in free fall. There are not enough staff. The industry once depended on a huge quota of foreign labor, especially from Europe, most of whom now live in France, Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe. Thin. I haven’t thought about it.
Worse, of course, has been Covid. While Rishi Sunak’s leave program has saved many businesses from the brink, others have been less fortunate. Rent must always be paid, as do overheads and contributions to the vacation plan. Businesses that had no money in the bank were caught off guard.
Those who are still standing are the small independents, who have shown flexibility, have continued to serve their local communities and have the support of the regulars.
Thai Arts in Bridgnorth is one such restaurant. Well regarded locally, the restaurant serves an important function in the city.
Bridgnorth has a decent casual dining scene with a really good Chinese restaurant, a wide selection of Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants, more than its fair share of fish and chip shops, and good Thai. On the outskirts of town, there is Stuart Phillips’ Hundred House, which caters to those who wish to celebrate a special occasion.
Throughout the pandemic, like other restaurants in Bridgnorth, Thai Arts continued to trade when regulations permitted. He made the adaptations that were deemed necessary, installing clear plastic screens between the tables, making sure people log in and providing their contact details, ensuring that the application’s tracking and traceability of the NHS is used whenever possible.
And although the staff have been masked throughout, they impart warmth and friendliness in the absence of a full smile.
I made a last minute reservation for dinner. Maybe there was something else going on elsewhere that meant the restaurants were quiet, I don’t know, something to do with football. Was there a match this week?
The streets of Bridgnorth were adorned with the flag of St George and children who must have all been 15 marched through the picturesque streets of the town singing songs on ‘Coming Home’.
In summer Bridgnorth is the prettiest place. The river is low, the architecture spectacular as it basks in the early evening light, while there is a sense of history to the place. It is well maintained, there are manicured gardens and green spaces; no wonder it is a prime location for visitors from all over the Black Country and Shropshire. If only there were enough places to park.
Thai Arts is a far cry from St Marys Street, a narrow, historic street designed long before cars were popularized.
Like so many buildings in Bridgnorth, the one that houses Thai arts has been around for many generations. It would be misleading to say that it has received a modern makeover from those who run the restaurant.
Instead, it feels a bit retro, with lots of adornments in the window, gold patterns on the walls, and red and gold wallpaper that has seen more dinners than he would like to remember.
The staff are warm and friendly. During my visit, a table was stolen within minutes. Even in today’s era of the need to book in advance, it is possible to make a last minute reservation, especially when the rest of the city is at home or in a bar watching England conquer Germany. Two-draw.
The menu is simple. Currently, people are given a photocopy and a pen, so they can fill in a checkbox and avoid cross-contamination. The menus are then recycled; fewer hands on a menu means less risk of infection.
I started with a combo platter, consisting of a chewy and tender chicken satay with a small pot of lightly spicy liquid satay sauce. The chicken had been gently cooked and the sauce was tasty and quickly devoured.
A shrimp on toast was nice enough, with the chopped shrimp being well seasoned with ground pepper and salt before being topped with white sesame seeds. A jar of sweet and sticky hot sauce was the perfect accompaniment. A vegetable spring roll was a bit too heavy in dough, with barely enough room for the vegetables, while a honey prime rib was delicious, having been well cooked so the meat fell off the bone. and it was devoid of fat or tendon.
The platter was elegantly presented, with grated and sculpted vegetables bringing crunch and refreshing freshness against the hot starters.
The main course was delicious. A generous serving of sticky rice accompanied by a number of sweet and sour chicken. The chicken had been lightly breaded and was well done again, retaining its natural moisture and tenderness; compliments to the chef. It was dipped in a thick, sticky and tangy sauce with thin slices of green and red bell peppers, onion, pineapple, tomato and carrot. The sauce was fabulous, home made by the chef and full of flavor. The rice provided the perfect mop for this and I greedily emptied the plate.
Service was good, if not necessarily from a distance.
We continue to live in strange times and even when the restrictions are lifted on July 19, many will feel more comfortable with some form of regulation in place.
Although a large number of people have been vaccinated, the virus continues to spread widely and until this stops people will be happy to take extra precautions to alleviate the infection.
It’s far from easy to run a restaurant at the moment and those who need our support. Certainly, other Thai Arts customers have expressed their support. Many spoke of their dedication to this, citing high standards, consistency and warm greetings from the staff. It clearly has a place in the hearts of the inhabitants, and for good reason.
In these difficult times, she continues to put a smile on her customers’ faces by serving well-priced, good-quality food. May it last a long time.
Thai Arts, 69 St Marys Street, Bridgnorth WV16 4DR