Half-hidden off the slopes that run up High Street towards Bastion Street on Athlone’s left bank at Abbey Lane, Kin Khao is one of Westmeath’s, if not Ireland’s, most striking restaurants. From the outside the eatery is predominantly bright yellow with red window and door trimming and signage to match with a high black porch over the entrance. It’s a vision that’s as much a phantasm of colour as it is a curiosity waiting to be explored.
Inside, the restaurant is set over two floors upstairs in what is essentially as warm as any old Irish ‘teach’ that has kept much of its ambience, notwithstanding the Thai twists and makeover that give it its own unique feel, from the red-painted ceiling to eclectic light shades, paintings, and southeast Asia apparel. It’s also a versatile restaurant that’s as much about a space suitable for couples by the Irish-cottage windows as it is about filling the more sociable tables away from the natural light that can easily entertain bigger parties, particularly if you’re doing it the Thai way and sharing a meal among friends or loved ones.
The menu is obviously Thai with the ‘express lunch’ starter and main course served together. According to the waiter John Myint, “We had a longer lunch menu but realised that many people only had an hour for lunch and were much more interested in something served quickly and tasty”. As it is, it’s excellent value, offering a choice of starter, main, and rice dish for €9.95. The starters include satay chicken served with peanut sauce, deep-fried pork spare ribs sautéed in sauce, vegetarian spring rolls served with sweet chilli sauce, and marinated chicken wings. All of the sauces, incidentally, are homemade. For mains, the choice includes chicken breast, Irish beef, or vegetarian option served with a number of sauces such as: green curry made with a paste of fresh green chillies, galangal and lemongrass with bamboo shoots, peas, mixed peppers, and fresh basil cooked in coconut milk; red curry from dried red chillies with bamboo shoots, capsicum and coconut milk; and a yellow curry made from a blend of turmeric, spices, potato, onion, and fried shallots. Prawns or mixed seafood with this option carries a supplement of €1.50 to €2. Staying with mains, there are also stir-fry healthy choices that include: deep-fried cod fillets with garlic and white pepper served with mixed vegetables; Tom Yum soup with chicken, fresh lemongrass, lime leaves, galangal, fresh lime juice and chilli; and roast duck in three flavour sauce (a blend of chilli, garlic, and palm sugar ) with seasonal vegetables and Thai herbs. Rice or egg-fried rice is served in accompaniment with egg noodles or deep fried potatoes carrying a supplement.
While all the dishes are enticing, the vegetarian spring rolls served with sweet chilli sauce followed by stir-fry roast duck is particularly memorable and comes served with the fluffiest of rices.
The dessert menu is a lot shorter and consists of banana fritters, banana with hot coconut cream, tapioca and coconut custard, and sweet pumpkin in coconut cream. However, if you’re looking for something to stay with you for weeks, try the sticky rice with Thai coconut custard and mango sauce with a dollop or two of the restaurant’s homemade mango and vanilla ice cream, which to this palate is just simply divine.
As for the wines, the list by-the-glass is impressive with Luc Lapeyre’s L’Amourier (€7.50 ) or Paddy Borthwick Pinot Noir (€10 ) two to look out for on the reds, while on the whites you shouldn’t be shy about asking for the Weingut Steininger Pfaffenberg Gruner Veltliner (€7 ) or Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis (€9.75 ).
For all that’s authentic about the best cuisine Thailand has to offer, on your doorstep, this is one yellow painted restaurant that needs to be explored.
Kin Khao, Abbey Lane, Athlone, is open Monday to Saturday from 5.30pm for dinner, and from 12.30pm until 2.30pm for lunch Wednesday to Friday. It is also open on Sunday from 1pm until closing. Early bird is served from 5.30pm until 7.30pm on weekdays, and until 7pm on Friday and Saturday. Contact (090 ) 6498805 for bookings.