‘Everything’s delicious – but why’s the music so loud?’: District on Oldham Street reviewed

You might have noticed District on Oldham Street, particularly at night. It’s post-industrial, stylish and minimal, clad in white tile and illuminated in UV like it’s been pulled from a scene in Blade Runner.

This is very much the intention.

When I’m emailed my booking confirmation, I’m instructed that ‘Gate 60 is now open in Sector #BKK ready for your arrival. Please turn all plasma power sources to “DOCK” mode on your instrument panel upon entering’.

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Though I don’t do any of this, I’m still permitted entry, which is a relief, but yes, there’s a clear concept at work here.

Chef patron Ben Humphreys is a serious talent. His ‘new wave thai kitchen’, as District is self-described, recently got the sober nod of approval from Michelin, and is now included in its hallowed guide, putting it on a par with some of the very best restaurants in the city.

That’s pretty inspiring given it’s been in business for less than two years, and opened in the middle of a pandemic. Bravo.

The raw bass at District

Possibly influenced by the fiery flavors – and actual fire – seen at the likes of the Smoking Goat in London’s Shoreditch and its sister restaurant Kiln in Soho, most dishes are finished over the great, raging furnace of a barbeque, where racks hang and meat rests .

It makes for a striking focus for the space, bringing natural elements to bear against the austerity of the white tile and chic, black wire chairs.

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And everything we ate was delicious. The Discovery menu weighs in at £50 per head (there is a £100 option too for those with deeper pockets, and also a brilliant value £20 development menu served at lunchtime), and is excellently paced over 10 courses, though some do arrive together.

The raw bass, in a pool of zingy, classical ‘nam jim’ (fish sauce, palm sugar, lime), is a darling of Instagram – it looks spectacular with its thin crisps of purple yam poking upwards. It tastes wonderful too.

The ‘Not Tacos’ soon follow; one topped with a small heap of long-cooked short rib with massaman curry flavors on a soft roti, the other near-raw ribeye on a crunchy tostada.

Served on round concrete plinths, they cleverly contrasted, and I could have eaten just them, on repeat, all night.

The excellent ‘Iberian secret’

The ‘secreto iberico’ pork followed, served with candied tomato and kohlrabi shaved into ribbons like papardelle pasta, then showered with peanuts.

Arriving on skewers and painted with a glossy stripe of tamarind, if I have a single better cube of meat this year, I’ll be amazed.

The next three dishes – a piece of corn-fed chicken thigh with crisped skin and creamy, coconut-ey ‘tom ka’ split with a verdant green oil, some monkfish with a powerful yellow curry, and aged duck from Goosnargh with apple aubergines – melted into one in the memory, though not in the least bit detrimentally.

And the eye-catching ‘chicken fat rice’ from the menu was every bit as comforting and rich as it sounded.

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As promptly as the various main dishes arrived – the service is slick, knowledgeable and well-timed here – so did two puddings.

First, an ‘iced tom yum’, with a puff of meringue and some grapefruit to cleanse away all that richness, and then the curiously titled ‘It Was Only A Dream’, a perfect square of turmeric-yellow parfait, not too sweet, with caramelised coconut and a rice praline.

The chicken ‘tom ka’

The cooking is the thing here. And it’s great, great cooking. But there are distractions, and some more pronounced than others.

I love loud music. I also love loud restaurants, but they tend to work best when diners are cheek by jowl.

But here, with diners spread around the room, and maybe no thanks to its abundance of tiles and the resulting acoustics, the music felt like a third, uninvited guest had decided to pull up a chair to our table.

I get that the music is probably loud to make a point. It’s part of the aesthetic.

Perhaps I should have simply asked for it to be turned down, but who wants to be ‘that guy’?

District is ‘new wave Thai’

Surely it’s about the food, not the flipping playlist? Sure, there’s that. But atmosphere in a restaurant is impossible to underestimate.

So it’s not insignificant. The music dominated the atmosphere, and now here I am moaning about it. Some will love it, of course.

That out of the way, there is plenty – PLENTY – of other things to love about District.

The food is excellent, accomplished and brilliantly executed, the wine list is blissfully short and well tailored.

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Oh, and the ice cubes have the restaurant logo imprinted on them. Who else can say that?

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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