Bangkok Post reviews
Humble Hero of Home Cooking
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: November 16, 2012 at 8:17 am
Relocated Thai eatery updates its menu while maintaining its authenticity and homeliness
Taling Pling’s cheerfully homey interior adorned with illustrations by award-winning cartoonist Prayoon Chanyavonges.
Ask food connoisseurs _ Thais and expatriates _ to name their favourite restaurants in Bangkok and Taling Pling will surely crop up among five-star eateries including Le Normandie, Madison and New York Steakhouse.
Neither a high-profile establishment nor a luxurious venue named after a world-class landmark, Taling Pling is a family-run restaurant that got its sobriquet from a native fruit known in English as bilimbi.
To understand why this local eatery is highly cherished takes nothing more than a good palate. Taling Pling's cuisine is heartfelt and an illustrious indication of the owner's erudite background in gastronomy.
The business was established 30 years ago by Cordon Bleu graduate Tipmanee Chanyavongse with advisory support from her father-in-law Prayoon Chanyavongse, an award-winning cartoonist and keen gourmet of traditional Thai food. Her restaurant on Pan Road has been treasured as a haven for homecooked comforts with traditional Thai dishes as its highlight.
Today Taling Pling is under the direction of Tipmanee's foodie daughter, Praethip, who also graduated from the same prestigious culinary institute as her mum. The restaurant's approach has been slightly modified to be more systematic and modern yet still maintain its authenticity and homeliness.
While the business has flourished and expanded to six outlets citywide, the original Taling Pling on Pan Road recently found a new home. In August it was relocated to a new site a few kilometres away on Silom Road, which we decided to check out.
Spicy crab roe dip with seasonal vegetables.
Taling Pling's menu has no place for fillers. Featuring almost 100 items encompassing appetisers, yum (sour and spicy Thai salads), stir-fries, curries, nam prik and lhon (Thai-style dip platters) as well as rice and noodle plates and local desserts, it's a well-constructed list of the restaurant's all-time favourites and best-sellers. There are also sections dedicated to vegetarian fare, Western dishes and baked items for those in the mood for European classics.
From the hor d'oeuvre selection, we passed the likes of khao tang na tang (rice crackers with sweet curry dip), mee krob (crispy sweet noodles) and miang (minced meat wrapped in leaf) and plumped for pla thord man (spicy fish cake).
Unlike ordinary fish cakes, Taling Pling's signature fish cake roll (140 baht) _ well seasoned with red curry paste and steadily kneaded until it reached a perfect consistency _ didn't come in the usual rather lumpy patties. Instead they had been cut into oval pieces before being lightly battered and deep-fried to provide an airy crust to its piquant and chewy centre, enhanced by a sweet and sour dipping sauce which came on the side.
The two yum dishes we sampled were outstanding. Yum pla salid Taling Pling, or crispy fried fish salad (145 baht), presented crunchy morsels of the salty salid fish tossed with finely sliced fresh lemongrass and bilimbi, cashews, coriander, mint, chilli and lime juice to offer a tasty and well-balanced combination of protein and fresh herbs.
The other yum dish, grilled pork with fried egg (145 baht), may sound run of the mill, but it proved worthy of its place on the recommendations list. Succulent slices of grilled pork shoulder came thoroughly leavened with a salty, sour and spicy jaew-like sauce and topped with a fried egg. Thanks to its intense, flavourful character the dish was great with rice.
A platter of fermented Thai noodles with sweet mung bean curry and the works.
We simply couldn't miss the restaurant's all-time best-selling green curry with slow-cooked beef (145 baht). This no-nonsense dish showcased nothing more than handsome chunks of beef in oily green curry. Yet the quality was beyond criticism.
The curry was prepared fresh to order with homemade curry paste, fresh coconut milk (not dairy cream, or half-half!) and bird's eye chillies to yield an authentic rich and fiery taste which was never cloying. Complementing the superb curry were thick and juicy slices of beef shank with its characteristic marbling, which after being simmered long enough, lent a melt-in-the-mouth touch to the meat.
If you'd like to try something less universal but more homespun, I suggest puffball mushroom curry with acacia (145 baht) and crabmeat curry with betel leaves (145 baht). Both dishes, not commonly found at other fine restaurants, are said to be among the best in town and I concur.
Another uncomplicated dish that proved far above average was dok kajon phad khai, or stir-fried cowslip creeper flowerets with egg (145 baht). It featured the rarely found garden vegetable wok-tossed to retain its freshness with fresh prawns, eggs and pleasantly chewy glass noodles, topped with a crispy dash of deep-fried dried shrimps.
Frankly, I am no fan of nam prik (chilli dip). But I have to admit that nam prik khai poo, or spicy dip with shrimp paste, crab roe and crabmeat accompanied by an assortment of seasonal vegetables and fluffy fried fish (145 baht) was a winner.
With the rich crab roe a key ingredient in the paste, the super fiery dip offered a sumptuous tang that was given a cooling break by the greens and is ideal with rice. Meanwhile the vegetable sidekick was no less impressive.
That day it included sprigs of wild bael, dok khae (sesbania flowers), chayote squash, bitter gourd, pak phaew (Vietnamese coriander) and pak chee lom (water dropwort) _ quite a rare selection.
From the personal plate menu, I tried khanom jeen nam prik (165 baht) and was truly gratified by the tasty platter of traditional Thai fermented rice noodles with sweet mung bean curry, fried prawn, fish cake and local vegetables.
I've said this in other reviews but it hasn't meant much more than now _ you should not leave the restaurant without sampling its desserts. The Thai selection boasts a variety of local delicacies in sweet coconut milk, candied tropical fruit, sticky rice with sweet mango and homemade Thai ice cream.
My favourite was the wonderful lord chong, or pandan noodles with taro, rice crispies and crushed ice in coconut milk (70 baht).
From as many as 15 mouthwatering baked items _ most of them can be picked from the cake display fridge _ I passed the likes of apple-berry crumble with hot custard, sticky toffee pudding, New York cheesecake and almond meringue, and went for the flourless chocolate cake with homemade vanilla ice cream (175 baht), a sinfully luscious treat absolutely worth dying for.
The 120-seater was attended by a team of 10 service staff. Service was efficient with a fair touch of cordiality.