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 are 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 morsels 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 – 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 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 four 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. This is one restaurant in Bangkok you do not want to miss.