Bangkok Post reviews
Artful eatery's a real find
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: July 6, 2012 at 5:45 am
The delight's in the detail at an unassuming Bangkok restaurant which serves up standard Thai dishes in an uncommonly thoughtful way
Kaeng som cha-om choop khai poo khai , a sweet-sourspicy soup with crab eggs and an omelette made with a leafy Thai vegetable.
Fai Klom Thana looks so typical and unremarkable among its surroundings on Vibhavadi Soi 11 that, as with so many good small restaurants in Bangkok, it is easy to drive right past it, unaware that high-art cooking is going on inside. But on a recent Saturday afternoon, Ung-aang Talay and food-alert friend AB were on the lookout for the place, following up on a recommendation from a hard-to-please chef who had visited it and left impressed.
The restaurant's style is not fancy, with some tables in an indoor dining area and others set up on a veranda/porch. U-a T and friend chose a table on the porch and from the Thai-language-only menu selected kung nam manao (shrimp with a lime and chilli sauce), pla duk foo phat khee mao (catfish meat that has been fluffed up and deep-fried until crisp, then fried with small aubergines and aromatic seasonings), kaeng som cha-om choop khai poo khai (a sweet-sour-spicy soup with crab eggs and an omelette made with a local leafy vegetable) and phad yawt mara moo krawp (shoots from the bitter melon vine stir-fried with fermented soya-bean sauce and topped with crispy pork).
First to arrive was the shrimp dish. Five large shrimp were arranged on a platter in an asteriated pattern, like wheel spokes, around a cluster of fresh mint leaves. They were set in a potent, lime-fragrant, sour-and-hot sauce that, and the first bite really got the juices flowing.
The shell of each one had been carefully trimmed to make the meat from the main body easy to get at while leaving intact the head, so that when it was cut the tasty fat spurted out to enrich the sauce so delectably that any concern about its cholesterol content was assuaged.
Phad yawt mara moo krawp , shoots from the bitter melon vine stir-fried with fermented soya-bean sauce and topped with crispy pork.
The shrimp themselves were fresh and sweet with firm, crunchy meat that the pungent sauce brought fully to life. U-a T had never before been served shrimp prepared in quite the same way. A memorable dish, in itself a good reason to visit Fai Klom Thana.
The seasoned, fried catfish meat in the pla duk phat khee mao had been crushed into small pieces that were then arranged over the intact head of (presumably) the same fish that had supplied it. It was crisp and not excessively oily, with the khee mao seasonings kept on a relatively short leash.
Mixed in with the fish were pieces of torn kaffir lime leaf, the small, pea-sized aubergines Thais call makhuea phuang, and fresh green peppercorns, which harmonised to give the dish an appetising aroma and character without covering the taste of the fish. Nicely done.
U-a T's table companion, AB, was the first to notice the unusually dark yellow, almost brown colour of the kaeng som. The chef explained that it came from fresh turmeric, which must have been added in quantity but did not hijack the dish. What it did was to balance any possible fishy taste from the crab eggs, which had been added in generous amounts and had a pleasing, nutty taste.
Another thing that U-a T appreciated was the presentation of the cha-om choop khai (the leaves of a mimosa-like tree mixed with egg and fried like an omelette) part of the dish. Far too often in Bangkok restaurants the entire cha-om omelette has already been added to the soup when it is served, after which it quickly becomes bloated and soggy with all the appeal of a bath-mat. Fai Klom Thana served it separately and conveniently cut into bite-sized cubes. These could by placed in the kaeng som, piece by piece, as it was eaten so that they kept their firm texture and natural flavour. Bravo.
Finally, the bitter melon vine shoots had been briefly stir-fried with some tao jio sauce so that they were properly tender but still retained their crispness and bright green colour. The salty, smoky taste of the fermented soya-bean sauce added its accent, and the pork _ chewy rather then crispy (although crispy would have been better) _ gave the dish a centre. Simple and delicious.
Prices at Fai Klom Thana were quite low, with many items priced well below 100 baht. The serving staff brought the food quickly and were happy to answer questions. The atmosphere was very informal in a way that U-a T prefers, relaxing and conducive to the enjoyment of such artfully prepared dishes.Thai-less visitors should consider inviting along a Thai-literate friend to share the meal and help with the menu.