Saturday, March 29, 2014
I truly admire people who do things they love in life. There is a clear difference between those people and the people who do something in order to make money or to prove something to someone else. Oli's Thai in Oxford is such a love. Run by husband and wife team Ru (Rufus) and Ladd (Laddawan) Thurston, Oli being their son, Oli's Thai is nothing short of brilliant. Not far from Oxford town center, Oli's Thai is a "neighborhood Thai restaurant" as Ru explained to me. He and his wife had been looking for the perfect premises for more than three years. They wanted it to be off the beaten path and located in a residential area, outside the center. They had a vision of creating a Thai cafe where the neighborhood locals could come and hang out and eat great Thai food. They have done just that!
It took me several weeks to finally get a table at Oli's Thai. Not because they were booked up weeks in advance, but because I kept going at the wrong times. Oli's is not open on Monday and they open at 5pm for dinner. It is a "hole in the wall" joint, for lack of a better phrase. Some could even call it cramped. But that is exactly what the owners wanted. I really appreciate chefs that keep it small. Heston had that same vision when he created The Fat Duck. He only wanted to serve a certain amount of covers a night and doing so meant he could keep the quality high. Oli's Thai is the same.
The menu is very small (as are the seats, which Ru restored from discarded school chairs). There are only 11 items on the whole menu, not including drinks. When you see the kitchen you understand why. Ladd pretty much singlehandedly runs it. Whizzing around the, barely larger than a prison cell, kitchen, with expert dexterity and grace. She manages to put food on a plate, or in a bowl, that is more complex, more interesting and more flavorful than any other Thai restaurant I've ever been to.
Take for instance: my Confit Duck Panang Curry. The Duck simply fell off my fork and the Panang Curry sauce was concentrated, deep and delicious. As were all the dishes. The Aubergine Curry, the Slow Cooked Belly of Pork with Oli's Sauce, an awe inspiring mix of galangal, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, lemongrass and lemon juice (perhaps more) were all heart-stopping dishes. In a good way!
The prices are what you'd expect in a neighborhood college town, very reasonable. In fact, I defy anyone to create better dishes at home for less money.
At one point during the meal I mentioned to Ru how amazing I thought their food was. I said, "A real labor of love huh?" And he said, "Thank you. Yes it is." Then he told me about their ethos and the long process it had been to get to this point.
If I had to sum up Oli's Thai in one sentence I would say; their passion and love comes out in every dish they make. Please don't ever stop doing what you're doing.
My absolute highest marks for flavor and price. A tremendous find!
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