Thai Edge, one of Taste of Birmingham’s stalwarts, is preparing for another festival of food, writes Richard McComb .
Tuesdays are never one of the greatest nights of the week for restaurants but Thai Edge is rammed.
Orders for green and red curries are flying out of the kitchen. Hot plates, spicy plates, fragrant plates. Waitresses in pretty purple dresses buzz around the dining room.
A couple on a nearby table are enjoying a dish of sea bass, staring into each other’s eyes as they nibble their aromatic Pla Pae Sa. Maybe they’ve already had Sex on the Beach (that’s one of Thai Edge’s cocktails).
We also order the bass and bowls of yellow chicken curry and stir-fried chicken, all zinging with lemon grass, coriander, ginger, garlic and chillies.
They follow on well from the street-food vibe of crispy spring rolls – stuffed with minced chicken, vermicelli and white cabbage – gooey Thai-style grilled spare ribs and chargrilled pork steak served with a potent chilli dipping sauce.
Head chef Jeensanthai Mit, affectionately known as Taiman, has cooked in Hong Kong and leads the all-Thai kitchen. The food is big on flavours and it’s not hard to see why the place is packed.
In a couple of weeks’ time, Thai Edge will be cooking for the masses at Taste of Birmingham. People will get a chance to see why sports stars such as Andrew Flintoff and Maria Sharapova have been attracted by the food.
The Indian cricket team has also dined here and when West Bromwich Albion won promotion back to the Premiership this year they took over the whole place.
Thai Edge was one of the very first restaurants to move into the embryonic Brindleyplace in 2000. The decision to open somewhere specialising in south-east Asian cuisine – then a little known concept in Birmingham – was a calculated gamble.
But it has more than paid off. As the popular Thai celebrates its 10th birthday, its bosses, husband and wife team Harish and Nancy Nathwani, find themselves at the helm of an ever-expanding restaurant empire with restaurants in Leeds, Cardiff and Bristol.
It is an outstanding achievement for a couple who came into the catering and hospitality business with virtually no experience. If the secret to unlocking commercial restaurant success is all about knowing the market, delivering food of a consistent quality and meeting customers’ demands for good service, then Nancy and Harish hold the key.
Nancy, like her husband, is hugely driven, which explains why you will find her most nights front of house at Thai Edge. The mother-of-two’s 50th birthday looms but you wouldn’t guess it.
With the success of the Mandarin Corporation, which controls the group’s restaurants, including The Oriental at the Mailbox, I suggest Nancy probably doesn’t need to work at Thai Edge, hanging on late at night to wish the last customers a pleasant evening.
“I don’t have to,” she says. “But there are little things I have to make sure about. I think the drive in me is to make sure everything is perfect and I enjoy the job. Everybody needs to do some sort of job. I could go shopping all day but after a while I would be broke – and Harish would be broke!”
That wouldn’t be good, I say. “No,” she replies. “And you have to do something to keep your brain active.”
Nancy, one of seven children, was born in Kenya to Indian parents but grew up in Sandwell after her family moved to the UK in 1968. Other than good home cooking, there was no commercial food tradition in the family.
Nancy was employed by the Inland Revue, doing rates assessments, and later worked in a bank while Harish, who she first met when she was 17, had a watch business.
Moving into the food business represented a big departure. She and Harish had helped to set up another restaurant in Brindleyplace and decided to take a punt on their own place when the unit came up.
Back then, there were two or three restaurants in Brindleyplace. Now there are well over a dozen with another, Carluccio’s, on the way.
Nancy says: “Competition is there and it is a challenge. We like to reinvent ourselves and put something different on the menus.
“It is very important to keep on top of standards of service. Everybody gets treated here the best way ever. That is my job really. I make sure the standard of service never slips. I think that is why we are still here today. It is up to me to make sure every dish coming out of the kitchen is a good standard.”
Thai Edge, always a regular at Taste of Birmingham, will set up stall along with 14 other city restaurants in Cannon Hill Park, offering taster portions of its cuisine from July 16-18. Its menu features a mixed starter platter, prawn Pad Thai noodles and a chicken Penang curry with jasmine rice.
Nancy is a great supporter of the festival. “Taste of Birmingham is good for us as a business,” she says.
“It is good to be in the public eye. For some people, it is a good opportunity to try Thai food for the first time and we do get new customers to the restaurant on the back of it.”
* Thai Edge is at 7 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace. T: 0121 643 3993
* For more details about Taste of Birmingham, go to http://taste.visitbirmingham.com