Note, as of October 2016 Soei has moved locations, see the bottom of the post for more details.
If I could only eat at one restaurant in Bangkok it would be Soei. It’s situated alongside Samsen railway station and the passing roll of the trains and the curious stares from its passengers make for an atmospheric setting. We only ate at Soei for lunch as we’d heard that there can be a bit of a wait at dinner time seeing as there is just one chef. And man, can he cook. But first things first. Before you sit, wander over to the 7Eleven or Family Mart on the other side of the train tracks and pick up some beers. The restaurant will provide you with a bottle opener and buckets of ice or if you’re following the locals’ lead and drinking whisky, they’ll provide cold bottles of soda water too.
If you can’t read or speak Thai (like us) you’ll be limited to the English menu which comes with a handy photo album of the dishes available. The Thai menu runs to about ten pages so you’re in for a treat if you’re dining with Thai speakers. But even so, the English menu is laden with spectacularly delicious dishes. The kaem pla too tod or fried mackerel cheeks are the ideal beer snack. You used to have to call ahead and book a plate of these but they’re now a regular item on the menu. They’re crunchy and flavoured with salt and fried garlic. Dip the fried morsel in the accompanying chilli sauce and you’re away.
Fresh and robust are the words most fitting to describe the food at Soei. Each dish contains huge depth of flavour and whilst a lot are very spicy, you can distinctly taste the levels of sweetness, sourness and saltiness. Mountains of fresh herbs add a lighter note to some of the more intense dishes. We eat goong chae nam pla, one of my favourites. The raw prawns, marinated in lime juice are creamy and the combination of lime, chilli, raw garlic and wasabi makes for a pungent, intense mouthful.
The pla koong pao features grilled butterflied jumbo river prawns which are dressed with lemongrass, tomatoes, chilli, garlic, shallots, Thai basil and lime. The prawns are meaty, the yellow oil from the heads leaking out of the shells and mingling with the fresh flavours of the salad. It’s delicious.
We sample stir-fried pea shoots which are crisp and palate cleansing, spicy pork pad kra pao which is roughly minced and heady with the fragrance of holy basil and kaffir lime and yum kai dao a Thai fried egg salad- gooey, oozy yolks and crispy fried edges topped with herbs, garlic and a soy and lime dressing. The pad kra pao is the best we’ve ever eaten in Bangkok. And then we eat the chu chee pla too, a curry of deep fried mackerel. Banish away any thoughts of “I’m not a mackerel person, it’s too oily”, because this, this is the king of all curries. The two, whole mackerel wallow in a shallow pool of rich, creamy sauce which we fight over. The firm flesh of the fish marries well with the sauce and the bones are so soft you can chomp right through them. It’s been 4 weeks since I ate this curry and I have thought about it every day since. It is that good.
If you have room, finish with an ow tung- a Soei classic of ice, basil seeds, coffee and palm sugar. It’s sweet, creamy and helps beat the heat, for a few minutes anyway.
Visit when you have a few hours to spare and linger over the smack-you-about-the-head flavours and the ice-cold beer. This is one restaurant in Bangkok you do not want to miss.
Good to know:
Kaem pla too tod (fried mackerel cheeks) 90THB
Goong chae nam pla (prawn ceviche) 90THB
Pla koong pao (jumbo prawn salad) 480THB
Stir fried pea shoots approximately 80-100THB
Pad kra pao approximately 80-150THB
Yum kai dao (fried egg salad) approximately 80-150THB
Chu chee pla too (mackerel curry) 200THB
Bowl of rice 20THB
Sam Sen Nai
NOTE as of October 2016 Soei’s has moved locations but isn’t too far from the original address. It is now located about 10 metres from the corner of Phibun Whattana Yaek 6 and Rama VI Soi 34, Moo Baan Piboon Whattana.
Telephone: 081-563-3131, 086-203-6603
Open Sunday to Friday 10:00am to 9:30pm
The easiest way to get to Soei is to take the Skytrain to Ari station and get a cab from there. If you tell the cab Samsen railway station they should know where to take you. Otherwise ask the cabbie to call the restaurant for directions.
Note that the staff speak little or no English.
No corkage charge.
Photographs: Thomas Southam