I’m lifted by the spark of passion you glimpse in the eyes of a person who is embarking on a new commercial adventure. It’s energising, and when myself and my fellow Ambler, Gemma, met for coffee with ‘Ice’, a new restauranteur to the Chester scene, our shared personal bias of Thai cuisine was giddy making.
Where Chester enjoys an increasingly diverse population and culture in both those resident and those visiting, we’re catered for by only a small, albeit excellent, Thai offering in the city. It makes sense that a new kid on the block is about to introduce a new concept in Thai dining that hopes to offer a true play of Thai flavours while plating up the whole experience with a contemporary twist.
Let’s begin with the name. Why Nine Elephants?
The number nine in Thai ‘๙ ’, enjoys an uncanny resemblance to that of an elephant. This wonderful animal has always played a significant role in Thailand’s identity and status. In Thai history, the greater number of elephants a king owned, the more revered his standing. Indeed, even in more recent times, the late, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, owned ten white elephants and was venerated for the accolade. The number nine is not only considered lucky, but it also shares a meaning. Pronounced “gao”, nine, also means step. The word “gao-na” means to progress or step forward, therefore having number nine in front of something is symbolic of innovation. Ice intends for his restaurant to step forward, to step up and to step outside of our exceptions of Thai dining, to pioneer a more social, more current, more accessible dining experience than we’re perhaps used to.
The venue is located on Upper Northgate Street, in what was formally a bridal shop, opposite the Bull and Stirrup. This site enjoys a location far enough apart, not to step on the toes of his Thai contemporaries, and still, enjoys an excellent natural footfall from town and our new bus station. Ice considered a venue in Hoole, but he had a gut instinct about his chosen site, the way I guess you or I might when we walk over the threshold of a new home – and we just instinctively know that it’s the one.
Ice shares a sneak preview of some swatches of material he’s considering, and they’re unapologetically colourful, and these swatches alone preview an interior decor that’s going to be just as much of a visual feast for the eyes, as the food is, a culinary feast for your belly.
With no firm launch date set, a reference to mid a November soft launch is dropped loosely. The building is undergoing a significant overhaul and Ice is in no rush to sacrifice details over an eagerness to get the doors open prematurely. Don’t worry; Nine Elephants will be fully open to the public before Christmas with hours of service from 11am-3pm, 5pm –9:30pm (10:30pm on Fri and Sat).
What can you expect from the experience?
It’s not going to be a traditional Thai restaurant. It’s about people sharing dishes. A fusion between the classic and the contemporary. A centrepiece bar and an area for people to relax and socialise invites you to enjoy Nine Elephants as a place to meet friends for drinks, to enjoy an extensive range of Thai wines, Thai themed mock and cocktails and great artisan beers. Ice wants to generate a buzzing atmosphere unlike the typically quieter, more sedate atmosphere, experienced in the Thai restaurants we’re used to. Ice isn’t a chef; he gifts that recognition to his wife. Ice is more the ‘Mahout’, or driving force behind these Nine Elephants.
Our experience of Thai dining in this country is westernised. You won’t find starters on a traditional Thai menu, and so it will be interesting to see how he tackles this. We chatted about ‘small plates’ so that his guests can enjoy a lighter version of the main dishes. This will fit with a growing trend in small plate dining. What he doesn’t want is a menu so vast that you suffer menu blindness due to the sheer number of options placed before you. The menu is going to be concise and with a focus on sharing, welcoming a much more social dining experience to his 45 cover restaurant and private garden space to the rear of the building. The names of the dishes will be given a contemporary twist too so that you can better get a feel for the dishes on offer. Som Tum, sounds delicious, but I might be more inclined to order ‘Papaya Passion’ – I made that dish up – I’m sure Ice has some better working titles with which to tantalise you.
It’s early days in the venture, but our coffee with Ice was enough of a tease to have us salivating for more.
For now, watch this space for more updates on this exciting new venue.