Stepping through the doors at Koh Thai Tapas in Bournemouth is like stepping into Thailand.

The Thai Tapas eaterie, one of an eightstrong boutique group, founded in Bournemouth and spread throughout Dorset and the South West, is proud of its roots in Bournemouth and is excited to see as it has grown so has the development of the town and its other locally based businesses and offerings. The restaurant not only features authentic Thai decor, with cushions and
statues brought over from Thailand by the team, but also prides itself on its traditional cuisine.

A team of nearly 60 Thai chefs work at its restaurants, headed up by executive chef Nusara Padungwong, known as Sony, who looks after the staff and the kitchen, and her partner Thor, who takes care of menu preparation.

The pair have been working for the group since the first restaurant opened in Boscombe in 2009, having moved to England together in 2001, when they first worked in restaurants in London.
Sony, who learned to cook in her native Thailand, is proud that everything served at Koh (which means “island”) is authentic.

“We do everything original,” she smiles.

“Everything is Thai, but we take care not to go too traditional, as some people don’t understand it. We had chicken wrapped in palm leaves to cook it, but people were trying to eat the palm leaves.
“So although we do change the dishes, the core menu does tend to stay the same. We add things to the menu according to the seasons, but we try to do it more with specials rather than changing the whole menu.”

The group now also has several Koh Noi branches (which translates as “little island”) they are described as bars with food, but the Bournemouth eaterie, which opened in 2011, is more restaurant led.

“Everyone knows Phad Thai and green curry, but we try to promote our Thai tasting so people will try things that are a bit different,” says Sony.

“But all the mains are freshly prepared so if there’s something that they don’t want in there, it’s quite easy to take things out. We also do lunch options and business lunch options.”

Sony, who admits she favours the spicier dishes, explains that, while the restaurant’s meat and fish, and some vegetables, are locally sourced, other ingredients do have to be imported.

“There are certain vegetables that we have to get from Thailand,” she says.

“Certain pastes and ingredients we have to get imported. We have tried getting them here, but they don’t taste the same.”

With each of the restaurants busy seven days a week, it’s clear the Thai tapas concept, where diners can order whatever they want from the menu and are not restricted to a “starter, main, dessert” way of eating, is hugely successful.

But the group is still trying to broaden its market.

“We are going to be doing some more vegetarian dishes,” explains Sony.

“We struggled initially because Thais are not really vegetarian. So a lot of dishes don’t have meat in them, but have chicken stock as a base, or they have a fish sauce in them. Now we’ve found other things we can use and we can have new vegetarian options too.”

Signature Dish – Yellow curry served with spicy noodles
A traditional Thai yellow curry is made with new potatoes and no meat, although meat can be added if required.
Chillies are fried first to release flavours, then the coconut milk is warmed before new potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers and a traditional Thai yellow paste is added.
The taste is altered with different amounts of salt or sugar, and extra chillies can be added according to taste. The ingredients will be cooked, but the curry is left to simmer, not boil in order to keep it a thinner consistency, as with all traditional Thai curries.
Top with crispy, fried shallots and serve with spicy noodles, cooked with onions, bamboo shoots, red and green peppers, Thai herbs, lemongrass, garlic and chilli.