Nothing but the best
A traditional Thai culinary experience at Suan Bua
Suan Bua has lately been one of the most frequent recommendations by me and fellow food journalists when it comes to good Thai food.
Despite its location at the rather nondescript Centara Grand at CentralPlaza Lardprao, Suan Bua has surprisingly overcome a number of its counterparts in Bangkok for good reason.
The restaurant, established in 1983, occupies a glass-facade corner adjacent to Centara Grand’s verdant tropical backyard graced with a large lotus pond. Its dining ambience, a result of a major facelift in 2015 and an excellent blend between urban sophistication and breezy nature, reminds one of a hideaway five-star resort with laid-back, soft-hued furniture and sweet lounge tunes adding to the cosy vibe.
However, nothing is more important for a food writer than the culinary impression a restaurant has to offer. The cuisine is not only authentic, but tasty and comforting.
In accordance with the restaurant’s visual revamp, the menu has been revived to highlight top-of-the-line ingredients, while honouring age-old cooking techniques and recipes.
The kitchen is directed by executive Thai chef Santiphap Petchwao, known for not compromising on the quality of his native cuisine. According to the passion-driven and attentive chef, the best coconut cream comes from Amphawa, shrimp paste from Khlong Khoen and banana leaves have to be carefully handpicked from the top third row of the plant. To ensure culinary authenticity, he opts to use artisan coconut jaggery, which is five times more expensive than the mass-produced palm sugar, and real bitter oranges ( som sa), which costs almost 100 baht per piece, instead of cheaper alternatives.
To make the meal even more enjoyable, Suan Bua offers a new dining concept that allows guests to create their gourmet meal within a budget.
From a sweeping selection of dishes, diners can choose from 15 salads and appetisers, five soups, three kinds of nam phrik (chilli relish), seven curries, eight stir-fried dishes and six desserts. A sixcourse lunch is priced at 690 baht per person, while a seven-course dinner costs 999 baht per person. A minimum of two diners is required.
Yum cha-khram nuea poo or sour and spicy salad of Thai samphire and crabmeat (390 baht if ordered à la cart) is an absolute must. The dish showcases a briny taste and chewy crunch of the coastal plant that’s well complemented by naturally sweet lumps of crabmeat and flavourful dressing made with toasted coconut flakes, crispy deepfried shallots, roasted peanuts, fish sauce, lime juice, chillies and rich coconut cream.
You cannot miss the chef’s extraordinaire rendition of tom yum goong (390 baht if ordered à la cart). Ever since the dish was launched a few months ago, it has occupied the top spot among the best-selling dishes. The hot and sour soup is prepared with a sizeable river prawn, charcoal grilled to obtain a pleasant smoky touch. The firm prawn comes in a soothingly subtle broth, brilliantly flavoured with pickled garlic (from one of the best producers), pickled spider flower ( phak sien), pickled mustard greens, fresh sweet basil, finely sliced green mango and roasted dry chillies.
Of the choices of chilli relish and assorted vegetables, we went for kapi khua, or chilli dip made with roasted shrimp paste and minced grilled fish (290 baht). The delicious relish, which went superbly with rice, was accompanied by deep-fried, cottony salid fish and an assortment of vegetables.
My fellow companion fell in love with the gaeng phed ped yang or roasted duck curry (450 baht). Prepared with fresh local duck from the Royal Project, the dish impressively married the succulent poultry — house-roasted to perfection — with the fruity mouthfeel of lychee and pineapple, and a creamy red curry delicately flavoured with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.
Should poultry not be your protein of choice, try my personal favourite tom yum kathi pla muek haeng or sour and spicy coconut milk soup with
dried squid (290 baht). The salty-sweet soup provided a soothing and addictive flavour profile of tom kha gai but with charred squid as the scrumptious centrepiece instead of chicken.
For the stir-fried entrées to be enjoyed with rice, you can’t afford to miss deep-fried fresh water prawn with tamarind sauce (690 baht) and phrik
khing goong yang, or wok-fried sweet red curry with crispy, caramelised clams and grilled prawns (590 baht). Both dishes are delicious and a main reason for my frequent visits in the past few months.
A duo of som chun and ja mongkut (250 baht) is a highlighted dessert of the season. The platter consists of two old-fashioned Thai desserts:
som chun, a chilled tropical fruit in scented syrup, and ja mongkut, a steamed sweet rice flour cake with toasted melon seeds.
Suan Bua’s rendering of som chun is one of the best in the country. It showcases pulpy morsels of lychee, long kong and salacca in a light syrup seethed with bitter orange and kaffir lime zest. The sour and fruity delicacy is given a savoury contrast with crispy shallots and finely sliced ginger, used as garnish.
On weekdays the restaurant is full of corporate executives and highbrow epicures — locals and expats. Families and casual groups of friends fill the 120-seater on weekends.
Suan Bua Centara Grand at CentralPlaza Lardprao Phahonyothin Road Call 02-541-1234 ext 4151 Open daily 11.30am-2.30pm and 6pm-10.30pm Park at the hotel’s car park Most credit cards accepted
The roasted duck curry with lychee and pineapple.
RIGHT Tom yum goong made with charcoal grilled prawn. BELOW
Following a major face-lift, the ambience blends urban sophistication with a laid-back feel.
Yum cha-khram nuea poo or sour and spicy salad of Thai samphire and crabmeat.
The six-course lunch set.
The kapi khua platter.
The soothing coconut milk soup with dried squid.