It makes me feel rather old that 15 years ago I attended the opening night of Sabai , it goes to show that the restaurant is doing something right with its longevity and clearly a very loyal following. When I arrived just before 5pm on a wet October Tuesday there were already two couples queuing at the door, which isn’t a sight I’m used to on the Brighton dining scene.
With paid work typically being rather thin on the ground for me in January, pre-pandemic I used to spend a month or so every winter warming my bones on a Thai beach. I’d hate to think what that would cost nowadays but a couple of years back I could easily eat, drink and sleep for less than I would spend at home. Although I’ve always had a bit of a weird thing with lemongrass – which is doubly weird as I really like lemons and ginger – I hadn’t really had much of an appreciation of Thai food before I was pretty much left with no choice but to eat it every day. Now it’s one of my favourite kitchens and one that we often cook at home.
Thus – having eaten more rice in a pineapple and drunk more rum in a coconut than most – I can hand-on-heart say that the Sabai’s food is not only authentic but also seriously good. There’s no scrimping on the quality of ingredients nor the generosity of portions. In fact, although my guest Allison and I ordered off the afternoon and early-doors menu (two courses for an astounding £12.50) there was more than enough to sate us.
Our starter of Tom Yum soup was deliciously hot and tangy, and so packed with vegetables I dare say ticked my five-a-day box. We shared our mains of Green Curry with chicken and shrimp Pad Thai; both perfect examples of these iconic dishes with hearty portions of protein and vegetables. The accompanying Jasmine rice was lightly flavoursome – completely spot on.
The full menu is extensive with all the usual Thai kitchen suspects alongside the likes of Chang Mai spicy sausage, steamed dumplings with Thai herbs, tangy shredded seaweed, tamarind duck breast and a dry curry of sea bass, lime, basil and coconut. There’s certainly something there for all tastes, no matter how conservative or adventurous you are with your flavours and heat level. The menu also offers lots of variety for vegetarians, vegans and gluten intolerant guests, and for children there’s an adapted menu priced from £3.95 for a main dish.
I think – aside from the food – what sets Sabai head-and-shoulders above similarly positioned restaurants in the city is the incredible level of hospitality. Owner Gina works the floor, sharing her passion for Thai cuisine in a relentlessly friendly and genuinely endearing manner that just wants to make you smile. The word ‘Sabai’ translates to ‘relaxed' in Thai, and that’s precisely what the vibe of this restaurant is.
Although not a spirit drinker, Gina loves to rustle up cocktails with the house Spicy Monkey being well-balanced and packing a decent punch of rum – think a twist on a Mai Tai with some added chilli. I have to say I’m rather excited to pop back before Christmas to sample what she rustles up with Brighton Gin, coriander, lime and chilli. Wine’s are well-priced and available by the glass or bottle. We sampled the house Sauvignon Blanc from Chile – not a wine I’d typically order – but it really complemented the food.
For an authentic and relaxed dining experience at a pocket-friendly price Sabai is hard to beat and your opportunity to enjoy the delicious fare of ‘The Land of Smiles’ without leaving home.
Sabai, 165-169 Princes House, Princes Place, Brighton BN1 1EA
01273 773 030 • www.sabaibrighton.co.uk