GIANNI Versace, Saddam Hussein, Roman Abramovich. If I was a panellist (alongside Eve Pollard) on popular Eighties telly programme Through the Keyhole, and Loyd Grossman showed me a video clip of Chaophraya’s interior, and before Sir David Frost asked, “Well, Gaby, who lives in a house like this?” those would be my guesses.
No key-shaped trophy for me, but then, this is nobody’s luxury mansion. It’s Europe’s biggest chain restaurant, situated in the monolithic Townhouse building, which was built in 1909 to house the Glasgow Liberal Club, then the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Now, space for 400 covers is spread over four floors which, as well as a couple of private dining rooms and a whisky vault, also houses its glam Palm Sugar bar.
The carpets are like thickets, the cornices are wrapped in gold leaf, and cherubim are moulded into royal-icingesque plasterwork. It’s fabulosity by numbers.
We were seated alongside a cabinet full of Moët & Chandon bottles, topped by a spiky flower display that looked like the Dunmore Pineapple.
The à la carte menu is extensive, with familiar staples such as Thai fish cakes (£7.55), alongside Sco-Thai fusion dishes such as scallops and black pudding with mango, red peppers and chilli (£9.95).
We started with one of the chef’s signature dishes – jaew horn ta-lay, or Thai fisherman’s soup (£10.95). We had been prewarned, but this soapy-coloured broth was nose-leakingly hot, with crimson loops of chilli floating on its surface. Its other contents included scallops, cod and whole, face-on prawns, all of which were rather overboiled. On its surface were two giant green-lipped mussels, shaded by a sprig of coriander, like obese albino crocodiles under a riverbank.
Overall, an addictive mixture, but I preferred the kanom jeeb (£7.95) – six simple steamed wontons, with tails like comets. Each of these contained either minced prawn, crab or chicken, with a sprinkling of fried garlic and crushed peanuts on top, and a side dish of sweet soy sauce. Oh yes siree.
For mains, I went for another of the signature dishes. This time it was a classic massaman lamb curry (£10.95), which will appeal to anyone who can eat smooth peanut butter straight out of the jar. This stoat-coloured mixture was mildly spiced, cinnamony, suitably nutty and coconut milk-spiked, with solid content including whole new potatoes, shallots and plenty of tender meat.
The sauce did lack a certain depth of flavour, and was rather watery. Bar that, it was an impressive production for a chain restaurant that bangs out food for the masses, like a catering van for the funeral scene in Ghandi.
However, I wasn’t crazy about my side dish of coconut rice (£3.95), which tasted sugary rather than cossetingly sweet. And jasmine rice (£2.95) seemed to be the plain variety.
Our other main – pork belly with Thai basil (£9.95) – featured three huge wads of meat, in a puddle of garlicky-sweet jus, as well as green beans and hot basil, all topped by coils of chewy crackling. It was okay, but my dining partner gave up after developing the meat sweats.
For pudding, the chocolate and coconut balls (£5.75) had sounded pretty repulsive, but we dared ourselves to order them, as none of the other dessert options was any more appealing.
Two deep-fried Panko-crumb-encrusted chocolate spheres, resembling silicone breast implants, each contained a liquid heart of melted ice-cream, with a drizzle of fruit coulis over the top. Just wrong.
The Thai pancakes (£6.95) consisted of two floury, raw-dough pancakes stuffed with a green pandan leaf paste, as well as a stale pastry cylinder, swaddling a dry coconut and rice mixture. Horrid. But there’s probably not much call for pud here.
The savoury options make it worth a visit, and the prices are decent, considering the blimp-sized portions.
And you’ve got to see the inside of this building.
If you’re a Russian oligarch, you might even want to move in.
The Townhouse, Nelson Mandela Place, Glasgow (0141-332 0041, www.chaophraya.co.uk)
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £59.40