Charlotte Griffiths pays a visit to Great Abington’s in-the-know gem for a Thai feast
If you pop ‘The Three Tuns’ into Google – as I did when asked to review this particular eatery – you’re met with a couple of similarly named options spread across the wider Cambridgeshire area, and at first glance you might not be sure which direction to head in. However, the second you mention the name to a locally-based human or two, it’s clear which pub you’re looking for. “Oh – the Thai place in Abington? That’s fantastic, that is – really good takeaway. Lucky you!”
The Three Tuns is indeed based out in Great Abington, and we visited on probably the wettest day of the summer so far, dashing from the car park through the rain into the warm and inviting pub, where we instantly forgot the inclement conditions outside the solid walls.
After chatting with the welcoming staff behind the bar, we nestled into our table (next to a window, to remind us of the rain) and were swiftly brought an enormous bowlful of rustling, crispy and not-too-greasy Thai prawn crackers – accompanied by a simple but delicious satay sauce, which we happily shovelled away at while we read through the pub’s menu.
My dining companion for the evening is a vegetarian, so we kicked off the experience with a Veggie Combo: tempura vegetables, spring rolls and sweetcorn cakes. The tempura batter was crispy and almost sweet, with sesame seeds studding the golden-brown surface, while the spring rolls’ delicate wrapper contained a smoky, sticky, beansprout-based filling which was rendered even more mouth-watering by dipping them into the provided sweet chilli sauce. The sweetcorn cakes were a total triumph. All too often these can be flat, insipid, gluey coasters which act simply as a medium to get more sweet chilli sauce into your mouth as quickly as possible, but The Three Tuns’ versions were golf-ball-sized and the corn on the exterior of the cake had a half-popped popcorn vibe: incredibly crunchy and totally addictive. Around us, other guests tucked into more meaty starters: sesame pork toasts, satay chicken – and one particular special of crispy squid, which was earning audibly rave reviews from our neighbouring table.
Our starters were cleared, though we hung onto the prawn crackers (and were brought extra satay sauce to finish off the bowl) and took the chance to look around the dining room while waiting for the main courses. The bar was packed with drinkers, and every table was filled: this place clearly deserves its glowing reputation. Images: Charlotte Griffiths
For mains, I went for a classic Pad Thai with chicken, while my friend chose a cashew nut curry with coconut rice (later revealed as her ultimate hangover cure – hot tip). Mine arrived piping hot and piled high on the plate, and was everything you want from this reliable noodle-based dish: tangy, comforting, and completely perfect for a rainy day.
“The rice was like eating a sweet, coconut-flavoured cloud”
The flavours immediately reminded me of dishes I’d enjoyed in the past at Dojos (hallowed be its name), and I beamed across the table, genuinely delighted to have found another splendid place to tuck into Thai food. The cashew nut curry broth was delicately spiced with lemongrass and coriander, and the rice was like eating a sweet, coconut-flavoured cloud: again, your ideal bad-weather feast.
All the dishes were generously portioned, so it wasn’t completely surprising when our appetites started to fade midway through the mains – but there was no way we were giving up the leftovers. Our waiter packed them in boxes and handed them back to us in bags, much to the delight of owner Steve, who popped over for a quick chat about the restaurant between courses. He’s been in charge of The Three Tuns for 14 years, but has been cooking Thai food for 20 – and has several Thai chefs working in the kitchen, serving up their much-loved dishes to locals and visitors alike who come back time and time again to pack the place out. On that particular day, the pub had over 70 diners joining them for lunch, and the kitchen were set to do the same again during the evening service – despite the weather.
A short dessert offering was chalked up on the specials board, and our waiter guided us in the direction of the Rolo cheesecake – which, when she returned with the neatly towered sweet, was revealed as the last one the kitchen had. As we took our first bites, a nearby pair of diners leaned over: “Is that… did she say it was the last cheesecake?”
We looked at each other, holding forks aloft. “Er – yes… sorry?”
“Nooooo,” they wailed as they slumped back in their seats, laughing – but also looking a little heartbroken. The kind thing to do here would have been to give the cheesecake up to the obvious fans of the restaurant, but despite being just as full as the room was, we were in no mood to surrender this dessert. We ate every morsel and after a final cheery chat with the front-of-house crew, we left, clutching our takeaway boxes to our extremely happy bellies.
The Three Tuns is clearly one of those local ‘secrets’ which, once you discover it, you also find that everyone already knows about. If you’re city centre-based then it’s well worth the short schlep whether you’re looking for lunch, dinner or a takeaway option, but whichever you choose, arrive hungry and you won’t be disappointed. That is – assuming you get your cheesecake order in before I do…
75 High St, Great Abington, Cambridge CB21 6AB