Where: Bangkok, Thailand
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much pink. As my friends lead me through the doors of Krua Apsorn, a Thai restaurant in a workaday corner of the Dusit neighbourhood, we’re met with a sea of brightly-dressed ‘palace ladies’, fluorescent gaggles of middle-aged women lunching and gossiping with equal gusto.
They register us without breaking pace, non-Thai customers here still not quite being the norm, but these days not novel enough to cause a kerfuffle. In the quest for ‘authentic’ Thai food, some head for the lofty dining rooms of David Thompson’s Nahm, some to the grungiest street stalls in hidden corners of the city.
Somewhere in the middle of those extremes, Krua Apsorn goes about its unassuming business of modestly serving arguably the best Thai food in Bangkok. It’s where David Thompson (and, you hope, the owner of that grungy street stall) comes to eat, after all, and where a litany of other top flight chefs have been left agog by the quality.
I didn’t know what to expect when I was brought here, though to be fair it wasn’t an anonymous looking, almost down-at-heel cafeteria with vinyl tablecloths and laminated menus. The lunchtime crowds were reassuring, though – at least locals liked it well enough to keep it in business.
We’re lead through the sea of pink and chatter to our table, and said laminated menus are presented – they even have one in English, such is the growing stream of foodie pilgrims. My friends are both regulars, but are almost beside themselves with excitement to bring someone new, and can’t help themselves but to order just about one of everything from the menu. Given that the most expensive dish is around £10/$12, it’s hardly a risky venture.
Signature dishes come at us right from the start like prize fighters. The stir-fried crab with chilli is immense, huge fat chunks of crab meat that the restaurant (founded by the late, but revered chef known as 'Auntie Dang') goes to great lengths to get hold of. Then comes the omelette, also with crab. It’s a tennis-ball sized oval, which flakes as you jab your fork into it and reveals the crabmeat stuffing, all of it melting joyously. I know I sound ridiculous, but it really is a thing of beauty.
The omelette is the dish that floored none other than Michel Roux, the world famous chef who wrote the definitive cookbook on eggs, called, with consumate brevity, 'Eggs'. The omelette costs around £3/$5. Then the beautiful onslaught of dishes begins. Cow parsnip with minced pork. Huge river prawns. Grilled sea bass. All of it seasoned to perfection and conjuring up a giddy spectrum of Thai flavours – none of it overwhelming, all of it delicious. Less familiar ingredients such as stinkbeans become instant favourites. There’s a lime-flecked pork and mushroom salad that also stood out.
Apparently we did “alright” with our appetites though my friends remember larger meals. I was happy to wallow in the adventure, and reflect on the wonders of the menu over home made coconut 'ice cream' (really more of a sorbet).
As we’re finishing up, the restaurant has cleared out, the palace ladies getting back to their posts. What did I have to get back to? Well, substandard Thai food for one. Krua Apsorn has kind of spoiled me. The most memorable dining experiences are never the ones you expect, they’re the ones that creep up on you and leave you kind of dazed. At least I’m in good culinary company in that respect.
Krua Apsorn is on Samsen Road (north of National Library). Tel 066 2 241 8528