Phon McLean is 15 minutes late to her interview with The Saint. She rushed into Tanon, complaining that the snow made her drive from Guardbridge take twice as long as usual. “My brake was not working,” she said as she turned on the heater in the 24-seat little eatery on Market Street.
Phon, who welcomed me with a smile, is the owner of Tanon, the Thai street food restaurant founded five months ago in the last week of September 2017.
Phon came to the United Kingdom in the early 2000s. She couldn’t remember which year she first landed in London, either 2002 or 2003. She worked her way through school as a waitress in restaurants and bars. “I have a lot of experience of serving and eating in Thai restaurants in London,” Mrs McLean said.
However, despite all this experience working in various restaurants, Tanon is Phon’s first attempt to start her own. Before this she worked in a travel agency in Bangkok. “Very different experience,” she said with a grin.
Phon’s idea for a Thai restaurant necessarily rests on it focusing on street food. “I think the Thai street food is more interesting. It is more casual, more like fast food.” Tanon does not take reservations, not because of smart marketing strategies but rather a way of preserving authenticity. “If you eat street food in Thailand, you just bump in. No reservation.”
Tanon has five full time members of staff including two chefs, and about 10 part time servers, most of whom are students. One chef has been living in Scotland since getting married to a Scottish man, while the other has been a professional chef here for years. Phon got in touch with her chefs through the Thai community here. “It is a tight community,” said the restaurateur. Indeed, Phon seemed to know every Thai student here at St Andrews.
Although Phon herself does not have extensive training in cooking, she creates all the recipes in collaboration with the chefs. These Thai dishes are, she says, “from your soul, from you heart.”
Balance, detail and variety are of paramount significance to Thai chefs. While Tanon offers a huge selection of curry dishes, wok-fried noodles, and ramen noodle soups, the restaurant pays much attention to the details of each dish it prepares. The noodles for the Ba Mae roasted duck wok-fried noodles are homemade because “dry noodles you buy outside tastes not nice with the duck.”
Phon told The Saint that although all dishes are popular, pad thai, lamb and chicken massaman curry are the local favourites.
Phon owns the company and rents the building at 58 Market Street. The fivestar restaurant rating on Facebook is a testimony to the quality of Tanon’s food and service. The strong aromatic components and a spicy edge are what attract both students and locals alike. In term time, 60 to 70 per cent of Tanon’s customers are students.
Phon is also a customer of her own restaurant. She reveals that her favourite dish in the two-sided extensive menu is the tofu tempura ramen soup. This heart-warming dish is also a good choice for vegetarians.
True to form, Phon moves with cautiousness into the future. She calls this year a “trial year” for Tanon. “[We] don’t have any plans for now. But before this summer, we will have a set [price] menu for appetisers and mains. We try to have a TripAdvisor page.”
Phon calls it “destiny” that she first moved from Thailand to the United Kingdom, where she learnt a new language, met new people, and adapted into a new culture. She admitted that although she had learned English at school in Thailand, she learned most of the language in the UK by speaking to people. It was with this persistence and diligence that she was later accepted into the University of Dundee, where she completed her Master’s degree in business administration.
“Back home [in Bangkok] life is just go home, go to work, go home. But here, you are something new.”