Sweet Basil Restaurant: The sweetest Thai food in Copenhagen?

By: Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

Once you’ve had a great Phad Thai – the classic of classic Thai (noodle) dishes - there’s no going back.

Personally, as a consequence of some travels in Southest Asia and an extended stay in Shanghai last year - home of a number of excellent Thai restaurants – I’ve been left craving a certain and specific version of Phad Thai that has proven rather challenging to find in Copenhagen. One with a certain and elusive combination of flavours, texture and spiciness.

That is, until a recent visit to Sweet Basil (danish link) in the center of Copenhagen (Grønnegade 33, tel: 33151565).

There are a fair number of Thai restaurants in Copenhagen, and some of them are quite good. In true Thai street food fashion, the best of them I've tried are actually take-out joints.

Probably Lai-Thai (Toldbodgade 2 - at the bottom of Nyhavn) would be the best, with a fairly close second place going to Thaiherb 2 (Fiolstraede 30, near Norreport). For something more leisurely then take-away, a few of my friends can’t seem to get enough of the Phad Thai at Thai Esan (just off Istedgade close to the main station).

Before I go further, allow me a brief Phad Thai digression.

Although every respectable Thai restaurant has a version of Phad Thai on the menu, there is no such thing as a ‘correct’ or ‘perfect’ Phad Thai. Each and every Thai cook, each and every Thai restaurant, and for that matter each and every Thai street stall - whether in Bangkok, elsewhere in Thailand, or someplace else in the world - make it just a little bit differently. Which is why Phad Thai - amongst countless classic national dishes in the world - is such an endlessly fascinating dish to taste at countless Thai restaurants. Each has their own take on the combination of hot, sour, salty and sweet - the fundamental four elements of Thai dishes - that should be used in it.

And hence why, if you are a person with an appreciation for Thai food, finding just the right version of your favourite Thai dishes to suit your tastes can be quite a preoccupation.

Sometimes Phad Thai can be outright spicy, still other times it can be rather sweet. Sometimes it’s made with thick rice noodles, sometimes thin ones (yes, in Thailand there are specific names for each of these dishes, but Thai restaurants outside of Thailand don’t typically get down to such specifics).

Though it isn’t always, Phad Thai should be served with a slice of lime - which when drizzled over top of a steaming Phad Thai brings the flavourful ingredients to life on your tongue, as few things can. To their credit, at Sweet Basil they did. I’ve seen Phad Thai served with a small bowl of sugar and a small bowl of dried crushed chillis, useful if you prefer your food on the slightly picante side, as I often do. As it was at Sweet Basil, it’s also often served with some uncooked sprouts on the side and a bowl of crushed cashew nuts, both of which, when mixed in, add that extra and highly satisfying crunch that is characteristic of so many great Thai dishes.

Indeed, the food at Sweet Basil was outstanding, though the service was not quite so.

Our waitress was lovely, pleasant and somewhat hopeless. When you pay 75 kroner for a premium beer, and it arrives just a notch below room temperature, as a waitress the way to resolve this situation is to offer another beer immediately (making sure it is really cold). It is NOT to say, ‘but it came from the same fridge as all the others – it’s been their since yesterday’. Because clearly it hadn’t, we noted as she wandered away.

But the outstanding food, which took quite some time to arrive, quickly outshone the issues we had with the lousy service, and left us in a rather forgiving mood. The other dishes ordered, classic Thai curries and spring rolls, were equally commendable.

'Thai minimalism' - minimalism with a touch of kitsch

Thai restaurants are normally rather distinct in appearance, and often for all the wrong reasons. The word ‘kitsch’ springs to mind. Budda’s and colourful junk everywhere, along with vegetation not unlike a forest floor.

Sweet Basil is different, much to the owner's credit, apparently espousing an esthetic which could perhaps be termed ‘Thai minimalism’. In other words, not quite minimal, as some tacky adornments are allowed to remain, but they are kept fairly scarce in quantity.

But how wonderful to discover there is another Thai restaurant in Copenhagen serving authentic Thai food worthy of it's hallowed and well-deserved international stature. We shall certainly return.

2 Response to "Sweet Basil Restaurant: The sweetest Thai food in Copenhagen?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Oooooh, this sounds divine and it looks very cozy! Kai and I will have to check it out. How much do main dishes run?

    Anonymous says:

    But, as the review says, they do have a service problem. We made a reservation, but they didn't have it when we arrived. When we ordered, they apparently lost our order. A table across the restaurant seemed to have some kind of problem that had one woman quite animated. She ended up standing at the door to the kitchen saying something quite emphatically (couldn't make it out, but she was clearly unhappy).

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