by David J. Constable
A small, family-run operation that I should be hiding from you all.
Here’s a treat for you. A small, family-run restaurant located close to Democracy Monument. It isn’t anywhere shiny or new, and it’s not attention-grabbing or bathed in the media spotlight, so you’re not going to find any bloggers or city hipsters discussing it online. They don’t even have a website or Facebook—or air-conditioning! This is that rare kind of restaurant that delivers way more than you expect. Kim Leng is all about the good: food at a reasonable price, eaten in the company of happy people; all laughing, toasting, revelling in homestyle cooking.
At the front of the shop, pre-cooked creations satisfy lunchers and those on a schedule, while at the back, scruffy tables and plastic stools hardly entice diners to stay and make themselves comfortable, but there is little option, so you plonk your butt down and order from a somewhat limited menu. What’s on offer, however, is authentic and fire-driven; dishes and flavours of central Thailand, cooked fresh and without vanity.
Both yam and som tam contain the kind of clean, refreshing flavours that have made them such a Thai table staple, and yam þlah dùk foo, a mixture of catfish deep-fried until crispy with strands of tart, green mango, is fit for sharing; a beautiful plate that perfectly reflects all that is expansive in the Thai flavour wheel. The fish is only lightly deep-fried to create an airy nest and then placed alongside shredded mango, red chillies and a generous scattering of salty peanuts.
Those wanting more punch can go for yum tua pu—Thai Winged Bean Salad—with shrimp and spice, and there’s a really special mee krob, a favoured dish of Thai crispy vermicelli that has a prominent, overriding sweetness. I’m advised to drench fistfuls of squeezed limes to counter the sweetness and bring more acidity to the dish, but on a recent visit, follow suit of the neighbouring table and substitute fish sauce and sugar with soy sauce, for an overall darker, stickier, and more umami-laden profile. They also make these moreish hor mok cakes, steamed fish with curry. Everything is reasonably priced with some options not priced at all, but expect to pay between B50 and B150 per dish.
Business is doing just fine here, but it’s a small place and things are changing fast in Bangkok. Restaurants here are all about chasing the imaginary market of wealthy tourists and bonus boys. Many are forgetting what’s really important, and it’s not even the food, but the customer, the local, your neighbours and your business year-round. This place will disappear if I don’t write about it. Thai food is about simplicity, balance, flavour; it’s about community and making a connection with the person or persons you’re sharing it with. Kim Leng knows this, and now I’m telling you about it.
158-160 Tanao Rd, (behind the Government Saving Bank, Ratchadamnoen Branch)
Tel: 02 622 2062
Open: Mon-Sat, 10am-7:30pm