Jai Thai, together with its Thai counterparts E-Sarn and Thai Noodle House, belong to a breed of small, family-run, Thai eateries hidden deep within private residential enclaves. These eateries don't cater to the mass market, because of their inaccessible locales, but they do well enough by catering to its immediate hinterland. Jai Thai, like E-Sarn, has a chain of 4 eateries. However, it does distinguish itself from E-Sarn in 2 aspects. The prices are a notch cheaper, and the ambience is consequently a lot more basic and rustic. In fact, it's even cheaper than Thai Noodle House, even though both eateries are equally rustic.
Prices here at Jai Thai are ridiculously cheap, which explains the prevalence of cash-strapped school-going boys from the nearby Raffles Institution. One of the most value-for-money Thai restaurants ever. The restaurant is starkly decorated (if you can even call it decorating) with harsh fluorescent lighting, white-washed walls and coffee shop-styled furniture providing the basic props. The floor's half done in granite and half tiled, it's like a contractor gave up halfway through tiling the floor. Clearly, the focus is on the food. At Jai Thai, you get rustic, homestyled cooking, like what you'd eat if you visited your Thai penpal's home for dinner.
Because Jai Thai is run entirely by Thais, you get Thai music blaring out of the made-in-China 1970's stereo as your dinner accompaniment. Don't worry, the always crowded eatery will drown out the music with the constant chatter of the diners. We were there at 5.50pm on a weekday, and they were completely occupied by 6.15pm. P.S. They open at 6pm. Reservations are advised and so is car-pooling (Jai Thai is a few doors down from Rubato so they both have the same parking woes).
Jai Thai's Deep Fried Seabass with Pepper & Garlic ($18) is possibly the cheapest fried fish ever. This was surprisingly fresh (especially in light of its price), and well fried, with crisp skin and moist flesh. Chopped garlic cured with lime and soy and interspersed with pepper provided the barest of seasoning. We'd much prefer the fried-to-a-golden-crisp type of garlic seasoning, but this wasn't half bad. Because the garlic was cured with lime, its characteristic sharp pungency was removed.
Don't let the fiery red hues of this soup fool you, the Tom Yum Soup with Prawns ($6) isn't as spicy as it looks. The tom yum spice paste is very thick though, so you get lots of pounded spice bits stuck between your teeth. This was also a tad too oily for our liking, even if the heads-on but shells-off prawns were sweet and fresh.
The Fried Chicken with Basil Leaf ($5) was lightly spiced and fragrant, with the use of basil. Although chicken breast meat was used, they were moist and tender.
The Fried Mixed Vegetable ($4) was a simple, no fuss dish. A medley of cabbage, kailan, carrots and straw mushrooms were lightly sauteed in soy and oyster sauce.
The Mango Glutinous Rice ($4) with juicy ripe sweet mangoes and soft sticky glutinous rice further sweetened by warm coconut milk, was very good, exactly like what you'd get in Thailand.
I always order this if it's available on the menu, Tako ($2), a cool chestnut-based Thai pudding. This is like the Thais version of our Nonya and Malay kuehs,
The top layer is a creamy sweet coconut-milk and rice flour concoction, while the bottom layer is a water chestnut and corn kernel interspersed sticky clear rice flour pudding. Sweet, creamy and soft, while at times crunchy, this was a refreshingly delicious treat to end the meal.
The Thai Iced Tea ($4) is thick and frothy but lacking a teensy weensy bit in richness of depth. Passable but not outstanding.
Jai Thai Restaurant
7 Clover Way
Tel: 6258 0228
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11am to 3pm for lunch; daily from 6pm to 9pm for dinner