Eating at a restaurant should not be an endurance test. Eating at Cambo Thai in Kowloon City was a seriously traumatising experience.
As the next phase of my education on "local" cuisine, I decided to try to make myself a little less island-centric, something which my friend N., who lives out in Kowloon Tong, was only too happy to help with. We'd both read good things about Cambo Thai and judging by the massive crowd of people hanging around outside waiting for a table, so had everyone else. Perfect, I thought - an small, authentic "local" Thai / Vietnamese restaurant.
Could I be more wrong?
Before I get carried away with everything that was wrong (and it's a long list so get comfy), I should probably look at the plus sides. Umm.... Well, it was very very cheap. To be honest though, I'm not sure the trauma levels were really worth the saving. Another plus: the menu came in English and had pictures in case you weren't familiar with something. Ok, now I'm really scraping at the barrel...
Many things are forgivable if the food is great. We should have known it was going downhill when the couple next door, when asked what they'd had, said that it was ok but they'd expected their Thai red curry to have had a little more kick to it - they described it as "canto-fied". We ordered tiger prawns in butter which came seriously over-cooked and not at all fresh tasting - although that may have had something to do with the fact that when they said it was 'in butter' they meant it was drowning in a whole tub of butter, somewhat masking the flavour of the prawn. The Thai green curry was, to its credit, perfectly flavoursome although it was supposed to be Thai, not Vietnamese, and yet it came with French bread and without any 'bite' whatsoever. The fried squid, mussel, shrimp and mixed vegetables was ok although the shrimps were overcooked and the mussels didn't look that appealing. The final dish we ordered was the fried water spinach with Malay paste. Interesting translation because 'paste' it was not. Had it said 'in heavily corn-flowered gravy' i'd have thought that rather more accurate.
The food was pretty uninspiring but the service (if you can even call it that) was what made the experience traumatising. The man standing outside dealing with bookings was clearly stressed. Still, we had bothered to book and were happy to wait for a table. There is simply no need as the front-of-house 'receptionist' to be so terse and unwelcoming. When we were allocated a table, the waitress, who didn't smile once during the entire meal, pointed at a table and left, without bringing any menus whatsoever. After waiting 15 minutes, my friend went up to cashier area to grab some menus. Noticing this, the couple on the table next door, looking stressed, said that they'd asked for the bill five times and that they'd had a similar experience throughout the meal. Everything was just too much effort for the waiting staff and they made that very clear, not just to us but to other customers too.
So, if you like being crammed into a tiny restaurant with oily, overcooked food and unbelievably rude and unwelcoming service, this is your place. Perhaps, it is the case of a restaurant that has become too popular and has lost the need to try and make effort - after all, the chain has been so successful that it is now made up of three restaurants in a row, each with the same menu. Maybe, I'm just not that knowledgeable about Thai / Vietnamese cuisine and this is actually "authentic" but, frankly, give me Nha Trang any day.
G/F, 15 Nga Tsin Long Rd
Tel: 2716 7318.