Bangkok Post reviews
Peaking at a new location
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: July 20, 2012 at 8:41 am
While some restaurants fail after moving, there are signs An An Lao and its beloved chicken and duck dishes is only getting better
An An Lao continues to be a trustworthy venue for those looking for an indulgence of Chinese cuisine that doesn’t empty the wallet.
Some restaurants fly higher after their relocation, while a number of less fortunate ones plunge deeply because of their own miscalculations.
For more than two decades, An An Lao, which occupied a two-unit shop-house on Soi Thong Lor, had been a trustworthy venue among Chinese food connoisseurs who looked for real gastronomic indulgence that didn't empty the wallet. Constantly enjoying the patronage of local and expat families, the restaurant was highly treasured for its signature chicken dish, gai betong, and a really budget-friendly Peking duck later became another best seller.
So, at the end of April, it was a shock for many passers-by, including my family and friends, to see through the restaurant's glass facade a deserted space that clearly indicated our steadfast eatery was suddenly gone.
Almost at the same time we learned the sad news, I received a postcard from An An Lao saying that it has moved to a new location on Sukhumvit 26.
And, immediately, I decided to give them a call.
As Thong Lor has in recent years become a new chic destination for gastronomy and lifestyle traffic, land values and property rental rates have risen in accordance with the strip's popularity.
Not being able to cope with the astronomical rise of the rent (over 300,000 per month), the owner of An An Lao considered a relocation. Evidently, it was a superb decision.
The extra-large grilled freshwater prawn with its creamy, cheese-like fat that has absorbed the smoky fragrance from the char-grill.
The restaurant's new address may not sound as tempting as that of its previous home. It's a new, low-profile and low-rise arcade on Sukhumvit Soi 26 near Rama 4 Road. Yet, since the restaurant opened on May 11, the business was reported to be overwhelmed. Waiting queues have become the norm and reservations are a must.
The location is more noticeable and can be spotted from Rama 4 Road. But its spacious parking area (with capacity for 300 cars) plays a great role in drawing customers (back) to this time-honoured Chinese eatery.
Now the restaurant, enveloped with glass walls, boasts 200 seats with tables set comfortably far apart in a 500m2 space with three private rooms. There are wheelchair ramps and restrooms. This is of great help to elderly customers who who happen to be some of the restaurant's most loyal.
From a larger, more systematic kitchen, An An Lao's cuisine remains uncomplicated but distinctive.
It continues to offer home-cooked Chinese fare prepared according to the family recipes with main ingredients coming straight from Betong, an agriculturally abundant and lush green Chinese-inhabited district in Yala.
The menu has been expanded to include a number of classic Thai dishes and fresh seafood.
Just as it is presented at most fine Chinese restaurants, food is available in S, M and L portions. Whether you're a first-timer or regular, not to be missed are the two top-selling poultry dishes.
Betong-style steamed chicken (260 baht for a medium portion) is a well-cooked, neatly sliced meat of a free-range Betong chicken that yielded a chewy, rather than mushy tender, texture that fused perfectly with the signature sesame oil-soy sauce.
An An Lao still stays small on the price of its Peking duck (350 baht). It's a bargain considering that you get two substantial and sophisticatedly-prepared dishes, so affordable compared to 800-1,200 baht at other Chinese spots.
Freshly carved at your table, the paper-thin, fat-free and reddish-brown skin of the whole roasted duck came first with the works: steamed flour sheets, fresh vegetable sticks and hoisin sauce.
With all the ingredients rolled together and eaten, it's a mouthful of great textures and tastes.
For the left-over duck meat, diners can pick from four options to have the meat prepared: stir-fried with salted soy beans, stir-fried with beansprouts, deep-fried with garlic and pepper, or, the most popular, is to enjoy it as miang (fried seasoned minced duck meat with fresh green lettuce).
Another of the all-time classics, steamed pork with taro (200 baht for a small portion), presented pork belly, from a prime-grade hygienically raised pig, braised with salted soy bean in salty sweet gravy. The super tender, somewhat fatty pork was enjoyed with piping hot mun thow (Chinese-style steamed buns).
For the new items, my personal recommendation is grilled freshwater prawn (150 baht per 100g). Arriving our table was an extra large, 400g, river-farmed prawn (600 baht) that beautifully exhibited supple meat together with its creamy, cheese-like fat that has absorbed the smoky fragrance from the char-grill.
Enjoyed with sour and spicy seafood dip, the dish is great proof that seafood joints are not the only place where you can find super grilled prawn.
The prawn can also be baked in a hot pot with herbs and glass noodles, steamed with garlic or deep-fried with garlic and pepper.
Another aquatic delicacy really worth ordering is fried curry crab (160 baht per 100g). When it comes to flavour, I've never had faith in extra-large crab. The bigger version usually provides meaty texture, but with a bland taste.
But the crab here _ from Madagascar and weighing more than a kilogramme, with each of its claws almost as big as my seven-year-old's hand _ offered firm and naturally flavoursome meat. The characteristic yellow "sauce", a creamy mixture of egg, onions, capsicums, celery and curry powder, was very tasty with only a whiff of sugar.
I couldn't possibly eat at An An Lao without enjoying my all-time favourite stir-fried watercress in oyster sauce (120 baht). Imported from Betong, the bright green vegetable with a pleasant bitterness was masterly cooked to absorb the wok-burn aroma while maintaining its waterlogged crunch.
The dessert selection was decent, with quite a few options including crispy Chinese pancake with Chinese jujube filling, warm sticky rice with sweet taro and ginkgo nuts and chilled sago with cantaloupe.
Service by the same team of staff plus additional hands proved as efficient as before. Since the restaurant is completely packed over the weekend, expect to wait up to an hour for a table if you happen to walk in. Reservations are highly recommended for any day of the week.