Alistair Houghton relives Thai food memories at Allerton Road’s Chaba Chaba
I’VE long had a soft spot for Thai restaurants, thanks largely to the Thai House restaurant in my former home city of Hull.
It was friendly, opened late, and – crucially for M – offered a great range of vegetarian dishes. Most mains were available as a vegetable or tofu option.
So why it took me so long to get to newish Allerton Road eaterie Chaba Chaba, I have no idea. But it shares many of those characteristics and was worth the wait.
Say the name Chaba Chaba, I’ve discovered, and it’s enough to get most people of a certain age thinking of 90s popster Shabba Ranks, and the cry “Shabba!” featured on his then-omnipresent hit, Mr Loverman.
But actually Chaba Chaba, which opened just over a year ago, is named after the Thai hibiscus flower.
It sits in the former La Scala restaurant, where Allerton Road ducks behind Allerton Library and becomes a backwater, so close and yet worlds away from the noisier strip towards Queens Drive.
It’s a clean, modern space, with just a few Thai ornaments and a giant picture of those hibiscus flowers on the red back wall. M and I settled down in our window seats, looking out towards Mather Avenue beyond, and ordered drinks – green tea in M’s case, and Singha beer in mine.
We always started our Hull Thai meals with a vegetarian starter platter, and did the same at Chaba Chaba.
I wolfed my half down rather quickly, I’m afraid. All I’d had for lunch that day was a Pepperami Firestick and some Home and Bargain’s fig rolls.
But I made some tasting notes as I was shovelling it down.
The fresh vegetable rolls were so light and crisp they were as refreshing as a cool drink – and a holy basil leaf tucked inside each roll added a sharply fragrant touch.
The spring rolls were rich and tasty dipped in either of the chilli sauces offered, while the sweetcorn cakes were more fritter batter than corn and so deliciously chewy.
But the best, for me, was the tempura sweet potato. Rather than the usual thick slices of sweet spud in a transparent batter, these were thin batons in a batter of almost chip shop thickness. They were sweet, tasty, and despite being deep-fried, not at all greasy.
Speaking of deep-fried fish, my trawl of the menu led me to the chilli and garlic crispy sea bass for my main.
Again, it tapped into a subconscious memory of Hull’s Thai House. Because my favourite main there was haddock pieces in sauce – a cross, almost, between that city’s traditional fish suppers and a Thai main course.
My sauce at Chaba Chaba was like a spicy version of a sweet and sour sauce, whose intensity built and built as I ate until I was gasping for my Singha beer at the end.
And the fish was “crispy” in that it came in a crispy batter. But again, it was a far cry from the chip shop, with the battered fish sliding off its skin and into its rich and spicy sauce.
M, meanwhile, enjoyed her crispy tofu with holy basil and chilli. The spicy dish, which she said was deliciously balanced between savoury and sour, was a flavourful mix of green beans, flat wide wok-fried noodles and a generous amount of tofu.
I still had space for dessert, even after digging into M’s main course, so I grabbed the attention of one of Chaba Chaba’s helpful team of waiting staff and requested a dessert menu.
I wanted something to cool my palate. And Cheshire Farm Ice Cream, while delicious, didn’t seem Thai enough, somehow.
So I went for the homemade coconut ice cream, topped with coconut and – a first for me – jackfruit.
The wonderful thing about it was that, perhaps oddly for an ice-cream dish, it wasn’t too sweet. Refreshing, and with a sweetness too it, yes, but not syrupy. Coconut isn’t naturally tooth-tinglingly sweet, of course, it’s just always sugared. So this ice cream was a chilled change.
And jackfruit? Mango meets banana, it turns out.
M, meanwhile, went for the crispy pancake with vanilla ice cream, with a sugary sweet syrup. It was, she assured me, “just the right amount of sweet after a rich, flavourful meal.”
And so, after the perfect conclusion to a flavourful meal, we wandered home, dodging crowds of drinkers and diners elsewhere in Allerton Road.
Chaba Chaba is a quality addition to South Liverpool’s dining scene, and to Liverpool’s collection of Thai eateries.
If you’re not a fan of Thai food, perhaps Chaba Chaba won’t convert you. But if you are, then this new slice of south Liverpool spice could be just the ticket.