Noth­ing but the best

A tra­di­tional Thai culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence at Suan Bua

Bangkok Post - - PALATE - Story by VANNIYA SRIANGURA

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.

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