While finding a meal reasonably interesting but reasonably priced around the high fashion beat of Jingumae is never going to be easy, the anomalous Chaiyaphum Thai restaurant, nestled four floors above Omotesando Ave, offers some hope. Upon entering the bamboo-clad dining room we were immediately struck by the kitsch veneer, the plastic flower arrangements and lurid prints of the Thai monarch that provided an ambience hospitable yet out of place in the designer-conscious world of downtown Harajuku.
With the smell of coriander and coconut in the air it was easy to drift to the tropical climes of old Siam and the expectation grew that some no nonsense home-style Thai cuisine would soon make it to our table. We settled into our cosy bamboo chairs and were given prompt service by a smiling waiter in traditional Thai dress as we noted the more authentic hue of the decor - the hanging parasols, the incense, and the miniature Buddhist shrine.
The Tom Yam Kung, prepared with a perfect synergy of chilli and lemongrass and containing some oversized shrimp, confirmed our optimism. My companion assured me that the soup's unique bite - head-clearing without being too hot - was a regional variation. Indeed, much of the menu is particular to the area in central-east Thailand from which the restaurant gains its namesake.
For the main course we couldn't go past the speciality of the house, the mouth-watering Gai Yang - tender grilled chicken basted in a spicy sambal - which was fittingly complemented with a selection of coriander, mint and sweet chilli dipping sauces, and a leafy green salad. By now the food, sedate atmosphere and traditional Thai music had sunk us deeper into our cavernous bamboo seats and we decided to order another Singha beer before contemplating desert.
Having spent a few months eating our way around Thailand we knew the appropriate way to round off the meal would be with the traditional, and on this occasion, very sweet, sticky rice. We quickly agreed that at around ¥2500 for three courses we had come upon a satisfying but well-priced Thai dining experience. A lunch special is also available for around ¥1000. While a little down-market compared to some nearby Thai eateries, this kind of genuine but affordable Southeast Asian fare can be difficult to find.