Well, this was an odd one. It was a sunny evening in Southsea, a part of the country I’m not familiar with, and we were looking for spice. Koh seemed to fit the bill. The restaurant is in a pretty impressive building (probably a former bank) in a residential area and when we entered it was to find an equally impressive room with a bar at one end and tables on ground and mezzanine floors.
A hen party lay in one corner of the room and a smattering of other diners populated the rest. We asked the maitre d’ for a table for two? She eyed us suspiciously, ‘Let me have a look’ she said before retiring to a far away computer. Once there she spent five minutes sizing us up like Johnny Wilkinson addressing a difficult 60 yard punt from the left touchline. Then she went to another computer and had a look at that. Perhaps it was linked to the Criminal Records Database. I turned to my son and said, ‘Ok, let’s go’ and just as I turned to leave he tugged my elbow and muttered, ‘She’s coming back!’ So I turned back to find her about a foot from my eyeballs. Apparently she’d managed to locate a spare table. And we’d cleared the security check.
So that wasn’t awkward.
This fitful start out of the way we looked at the menu. Koh does Thai tapas, a nonsense term that could not disguise the fact that the menu was your standard fare such as you’d find listed in pretty much every local Thai joint in the country. We were offered a taster menu but decided to go for a crispy squid and spicy spring rolls up front followed by a red curry for me and stir fried noodles for him. Did we want cocktails? Two for one was tempting so we ordered some prawn crackers to go with them.
My Kohparinha (geddit?) arrived with the crackers. The prawn crackers were legion and excellent. The cocktail on the other hand was a tame beast. The other one (which was better) showed up just about when we’d finished the crackers and I was ready for a beer. Draught Singha being off we had a couple of Koh’s own lager which did the job. I had the feeling that everything was skew-whiff and that there was a gap between what the management thought their restaurant was (an exclusive hip eatery in a buzzy part of the city) and what it actually should be (a friendly local restaurant serving excellent food).
While the drinks were disappointing the food continued to be top class. Spicy spring rolls were genuinely spicy – tight little rolls of fiery veg in a crispy shell. The squid was fluffy battered good stuff with a sweet chilli dip. Then my red curry also delivered a powerful dose of heat but with plenty of flavour to back it up. With a chef like this Koh deserves to be a success whatever shenanigans the front of house team were getting up to. The room remained resolutely half-full throughout our stay and with three people behind the bar and three or four waiting staff it was a mystery as to why the service was so hit and miss. The kitchen deserves better.
To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).