Though not widely represented in Bangkok's restaurant scene, pleasingly flavoured Malaysian specialities have a lot to offer
Bangkok is a gastronomic wonderland blessed with an immense variety of multi-national cuisines. We have a good number of American, Arab, Chinese, French, Indian, Mediterranean and Vietnamese restaurants, while celebrating a sufficiency of Italian, Japanese and Korean eateries.
Yet, regardless of the fact that Malaysia is right next door to us, no more than a handful of Malaysian restaurants can be found in Thailand's capital city. That being so, when someone told me that a new Malaysian place opened in Sukhumvit Soi 26, I was more than excited to check it out.
Occupying a small, nondescript shophouse right on a side of the very busy Soi 26, the newly-launched Archa is obviously one of a very few of its kind in town. Previously opened under the name Kopitiam over the past three years and once relocated, the 40-seat restaurant continues to offer authentic Malaysian food in Kuala Lumpur style.
What you'll find on Archa's menu, which comes in English, Thai and Japanese, are the likes of rojak (mixed salad), nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk), rendang (curry), laksa (noodle curry), satay (grilled meat on skewers) and bak kut teh (herb-infused soup of pork spareribs). Therefore, its cooking is by no means Muslim, nor halal.
A delicious start to my lunch was popiah (80 baht), or fresh spring roll stuffed with Chinese sweet sausage, shrimp and vegetable and topped with a thick, sweet and salty sauce. Those who are familiar with Chinese-styled porpia sod may find the two dishes quite similar, only the skin of this Malaysian version was not soft but somewhat crispy, and the dressing sauce was applied more sparsely.
A friend was really impressed with a platter of nasi lemak with beef rendang (210 baht). The plate presented a nice portion of cocunut milk-cooked rice with a variety of accompaniments namely dry beef curry, sambal squid, boiled egg, pickled vegetables, cucumber slices and crispy anchovies and peanuts. If you don't eat beef, order the nasi lemak with curried chicken (150 baht).
Some other places in town may have claimed that they have the best bak kut teh, the herbal soup with pork spare ribs, but don't believe it till you've tried Archa's version (110 baht per small order). Cooked for four days with 15 kinds of herbs and spices including dang gui, star anise, goji berries, cloves, fennel seeds and garlic, this aromatic and tasty soup featured, along with mushrooms and tofu, plenty of pork ribs with the soft meat falling off the bones.
Another thing you don't want to miss is black pepper crab (900-1,100 baht per kilo). The restaurant doesn't usually stock a lot of seafood, so do ask the staff it has the crab on the day you visit - or order the dish at least one day in advance to ensure availability.
Arriving on a huge platter was a huge, 800-gramme crab drenched with home-made black pepper sauce. The sauce, freshly made with crushed black pepper and garlic, had a fine texture and offered a pleasing, peppery zest, while the crab was meaty and naturally sweet. Try it with roti bread and you'll realise that roti and seafood can go marvellously together.
If black pepper sauce is not your prefered choice, have the crab prepared with Singapore-style chilli sauce. We tried it with prawns (170 baht), and found the reddish orange coloured sauce, delicate in texture and sweet in flavour, not as remarkable.
I knew what char kway teow (95 baht) looked like and was never attracted by this "half phad thai-half phad si ew" noodle dish. However, as soon as I tried Archa's char kway teow featuring fried flat rice noodle and yellow noodle with special sauce, prawn, cockles, green chives, bean sprouts and egg my taste buds were delighted with the uniquely simple taste it offered.
It's no part of Malaysian cookery, but a recent signature of Archa is home-made french fries (150 baht). They're freshly cut potatoes deep-fried in cold-pressed coconut oil, and it will amuse you with the sweet coconut oil scent and delicate texture.
The restaurant admitted that it had no outstanding desserts, but I just loved the simple ice kacang (50 baht) it offered. A little bowl of shaved ice with black jelly, med maeng lak (hairy basil seeds) and condensed milk topped with natural brown sugar and syrup was a lusciously refreshing finish to the meal. Archa is not only a restaurant, it's also a wine bar, with a nice selection of Old and New World wines. A glass of house wine (choose from two reds and two whites) is priced at 145 baht.
The restaurant is approximately 20 metres down the soi from main Sukhumvit Road. Limited parking space is available at a nearby gas station, but taking the skytrain and getting off at Phrom Phong station is probably a better idea.
Full review at: http://www.bangkokpost.com/leisure/cuisine/193159/from-south-of-the-border