Cape Town, South Africa
A Vegetarian Dining Review

South Africaby Mandy J Watson
Posted: 28 February 2007

Chai-Yo, a Thai restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa, is the perfect restaurant to visit with a group of friends on a laid-back Friday evening in order to wind down after a hectic work week.

Chai-Yo, Cape Town, South AfricaChai-Yo is a popular Thai restaurant situated in the southern suburbs of Cape Town, and one of my favourite restaurants. Since I hadn't been there in a while I thought it might be the perfect place for my Anonymous Dining Companion (personal joke - please excuse it) and I to visit one Friday night. This is one of those restaurants that you linger in for an entire evening, trying a number of courses, rather than rushing through just a main meal and then departing quickly to catch a movie, and therefore you should be advised that any one portion is slightly smaller than I, certainly, would like.

My intention had been to order a starter that I had had the last time I was at the restaurant, which was, admittedly, a few years ago, but found that it was no longer on the menu. The starter comprised about four mushrooms that had been placed on a skewer and cooked lightly, served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, and I found it to be an excellent way to start a meal. I'm sure that if you asked the restaurant would happily prepare it even though it's no longer listed but, in anticipation of writing this review, I decided to choose dishes that were on the menu. Therefore, for a starter (or "Ar Harn Wang" - "Appetisers") I chose spinach cones (Meang Khum; R39 [?]). The only other vegetarian starter is vegetarian spring rolls (Po Pia Taud; R22 [?]), which are served with a plum or sweet chilli sauce. Additionally, you can order soup ("Nam Geang") - there are four items on the menu and all come with a vegetarian option - but there are only three salads ("Yum") on the menu, and, surprisingly, none are vegetarian, although I'm sure the restaurant would easily accommodate a request for one.

Chai-Yo: spinach conesThe spinach cones are quite an experience and one that I don't regret trying but will probably avoid in future as it's just too much effort, especially if you're hungry. The dish comprises a bowl of fresh, washed spinach leaves and a second bowl with a selection of Thai ingredients: peanuts, roasted coconut, chillis, freshly-cut lemon pieces, ginger, onion, and lemongrass. Your masochistic task is to assemble your own spinach cones: you place a selection of the ingredients on a leaf, drizzle palm sugar sauce on top and then roll the leaf into a cone and eat it. After a few attempts you will probably master the art of making the cones and the starter is surprisingly filling but it's still a bit of a messy experience and can be frustrating.

My dining companion chose not to order a starter and instead amused himself by watching me struggle with mine.

The menu is large and caters for all tastes. It has sections devoted to seafood ("Ruam-Mitre Talay"), beef ("Nua"), poultry ("Gai" and "Ped", or "Chicken" and "Duck"), and curry ("Geang"), and there is also a page that lists eight dishes that are suitable for vegetarians, which are divided into vegetable ("Phak") and noodle ("Kywe-Teow") options. (Some of the noodle dishes also have a meat and/or seafood alternative.) Over the years I have tried almost all of the vegetarian dishes and yet to find one that I haven't enjoyed, so it made it even more difficult for me to make a decision this time. In the end I opted for vegetable green curry (Geang Khew-Wan Je; R46 [?]), which comprises vegetables and tofu in a green curry. If you order curry you have the option of mild, medium, or hot, and I opted for medium, which has enough zing to make it exciting but not enough for me to find it unpleasant. My dining companion ordered Panang chicken curry (Panang Gai; R55[?]), "a full-bodied, semi-sweet chicken curry" that is blended with coconut milk, Thai herbs, and spices in a reduced sauce, and also asked for medium curry. To accompany our dishes we ordered a serving of egg-fried jasmine rice (Khao Pad Kai; R14 [?]) to share. (Alternatively, you can order a helping of steamed jasmine rice, Khao Suey, for R6 [?].) I would especially recommend rice for dishes that are served in a sauce, and one serving is usually enough for two people, unless you are particularly hungry (but then you won't have room for dessert!).

Chai-Yo: vegetable curry and Panang chicken curryThe vegetables in my vegetable curry, which included onion, red and green pepper, and mushrooms, were stir-fried to perfection - crisp, but still soft, and with slight resistance to the bite, and all still with their distinct flavours - and the curry sauce just pulled the whole dish together, especially in combination with the rice (you are supposed to dish a portion of your meal onto your plate, along with a portion of rice, eat it, and then dish up more portions of your meal and the rice until you have finished the meal; you don't eat the curry straight from the bowl in which it is served). I thoroughly enjoyed the dish and my only complaint is that I wish there was more of it, as the serving was a little small.

My dining companion liked his Panang Gai too. It was perfectly cooked and the curry sauce was also superb. Besides the chicken the dish included green beans, fennel, and red and green pepper and he said it was quite good and he would happily order it again.

When I placed my order for the vegetable curry our waitress, Sonia, who did not know that I am a vegetarian, asked if I ate fish and I replied that I didn't. Just to confirm how my order should be prepared she then said: "So, no fish sauce or oyster sauce?" and I replied that that was correct. I found this to be particularly superb service, especially since last time I ate at Chai-Yo I asked the waitress exactly what sauce or sauces would be used in the dish that I had ordered, and whether they would definitely be vegetarian (considering how often fish and oyster sauce is used in Thai cooking and how this is often not reflected on the menu), and, well, I'm still waiting for her reply.

In contrast, Sonia's service was attentive, without being disruptive or overbearing, throughout the meal. Although the restaurant was very busy and she had a number of tables to attend to, she always seemed to appear at just the right time to remove a plate or ask if we wanted to order anything else, while carefully attempting to wait until there was a pause in our conversation so as not to interrupt us unnecessarily. I was suitably impressed, as I haven't had service as good as this in Cape Town in years.

The restaurant didn't have a printed dessert menu but Sonia told us what was available, all priced at R20 [?], and I opted for the three scoops of sorbet. The available flavours were mango, litchi, and lemon and, although I'm not really a fan of mango or litchi, I decided to try one scoop of each flavour rather than be safe and just have three scoops of lemon. During the course of the meal my dining companion remembered that Chai-Yo has, in the past, served deep-fried bananas with sesame seeds and honey-and-coconut ice-cream and that he really enjoyed it. Chai-Yo still serves this dish so he ordered it and we both also ordered cappuccinos (R10.50 [?]) [read the Cappuccino Quest entry] to round off the meal.

The best sorbet that I've ever had was served to me in a little pizza and pasta restaurant in Paris about six months ago while I was on holiday, and I still daydream about it, pining away for this magnificent dessert that available only on the other side of the world, so Chai-Yo had a mammoth task ahead of it to impress me with its offering. The consistency wasn't as compact and the flavour wasn't as intense, but it still made for a pretty good dessert and I will probably order it again. Of course, a cappuccino doesn't really complement sorbet but I tried the dessert before I had my coffee to make sure that my experience was not tainted. In contrast, a cappuccino apparently complements deep-fried bananas beautifully, and my dining companion was exceptionally happy with his choice.

Chai-Yo: sorbet and deep-fried bananas

Our dining experience was exceptionally pleasant, the food was very good, the service was excellent, and I would have no hesitation in recommending the restaurant.

As the restaurant is very popular, especially over weekends, it is recommended that you book a few days beforehand. Comments Opinion
Key Facts
Restaurant: Chai-Yo
Cuisine Style: Thai
65 Durban Road
Cape Town
South Africa
Phone: +27 21 689 6156
Hours: n/a
Price Range:
  • Appetisers: R22.00-R38.00 [?]
  • Accompaniments: Salads: R46.00-R55.00 [?]
  • Accompaniments: Soup: R25.00-R29.00 [?]
  • Main: Beef: R55.00 [?]
  • Main: Curry: R55.00-R75.00 [?]
  • Main: Noodle: R14.00-R55.00 [?]
  • Main: Poultry: R53.00-R79.00 [?]
  • Main: Seafood: R67.00-R69.00 [?]
  • Main: Vegetable: R44.00-R46.00 [?]
  • Dessert: R20.00 [?]
  • Drinks: R8.00-R22.090 [?]
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Vegan Options: Limited
Smoking Section: Yes
Child Friendly: Yes
Wheelchair Friendly: Once inside (there are a few steps leading into the building and the door is a bit wonky)
Dress: Casual
Reservations: Recommended
*Prices are correct at time of posting.
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