Aug 16 2012

Review: Suk 11 Restaurant, Bangkok

Published by at 2:03 pm under Food

Known as an earthy-crunchy backpacker institution off touristy Sukhumvit Road Soi 11 in Bangkok, Suk 11 Hostel also happens to boast an outstanding Thai restaurant. The extensive menu looks pricey at first glance, but Suk 11’s relaxed yet classy atmosphere, large portions, and delicious food make it worth a stop if passing through, or even worth travelling for if staying in a different part of town.

Not your average touristy Thai restaurant fare.

Not your average touristy Thai restaurant fare.

If you’re tired of the often utilitarian and/or tacky atmospheres of many a Bangkok restaurant, Suk 11’s rustic, open-air lounge-style restaurant set in an old Thai wooden house will likely raise your spirits. A wooden platform towards the front features traditional Thai cushions and axe pillows for sitting cross-legged around tables covered in patterned tablecloths. Background music from the likes of Radiohead and Thievery Corporation help to set the mood, which reminds us a lot of Ethos Cafe off Khao San Road, although Suk 11 offers a far more spacious setting. The antique steel fans are a thoughtful touch, both for adding to the ambience and cooling the customers.

Is this Ko Tao or Bangkok?

Ko Tao or Bangkok?

Other decor touches include traditional Thai instruments, Vietnamese-style rice hats, Tibetan prayer flags, loads of potted plants, and a wooden foot bridge over an adorable “moat” that separates the sit-on-the-flo0r area up front from the more hidden dining room further back.

Adding to its allure, Suk 11’s location down a sub-alley off a larger side street that’s already a good distance from any serious Bangkok traffic makes for a relatively quiet experience, at least if arriving during daylight hours. By night, Suk 11 becomes a convenient escape from the raucous bars that line the soi (or even park on it), although with additional tables set up in the alley adjacent to the restaurant during the busy evening hours, the restaurant can be a lively affair in its own right. If hoping to meet other travellers, this is a good place to do it.

Indeed, Suk 11 makes for a worthy spot to lounge around with a beer and the free WiFi, but the food happens to be top notch as well. Although it includes a handful of Thai-style spaghetti dishes, the menu is about as authentically Thai as you’ll find in any Bangkok restaurant catering chiefly to tourists. With full pages each dedicated to Thai curries, stir-fries, noodle dishes, salads, and finger foods, as well as set menu options for two or more that offer solid value, the restaurant covers virtually all the mainstays of Thai cuisine along with several interesting surprises.

Meanwhile, in the more private back room...

Meanwhile, in the more private back room …

Unlike so many other Thai restaurants in touristy areas, Suk 11’s menu is very well put together. Each item includes its Thai name, which is written both in Thai script and transliterated into Roman characters, and a brief description in English. If you know nothing about Thai cuisine, this is a good place to start, and if you’re a connoisseur but still can’t read Thai, you’ll have no problem navigating this menu.

During our late afternoon visit, we found ourselves in the mood for some casual grazing, so we skipped the pricier curries and stir-fries in favour of finger foods and salads. We started with yam som-o or “pomelo salad with prawns and tamarind sauce”. While hardly a hint of spiciness was evident, the salad came in a well-crafted package that included a sprig of mint and flakes of roasted coconut, which performed nicely along with the sweetish tamarind dressing to balance the distinct sourness and acidity of the pomelo. With half a hard-boiled egg and several large, fresh prawns also included, it was an elegant, enjoyable and filling salad.

Pomelo salad -- get it while it's cold.

Pomelo salad — get it while it’s cold.

We also went for  the sai oua and khaoniao (northern Thai sausage with sticky rice) and kai hor bai toey (deep fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves). The northern Thai sausage came well-spiced with hints of kaffir lime leaf and chilli, and was accompanied by traditional fixings — fresh ginger, chilli, lime, onion and roasted peanut. In flavour and presentation, it was comparable to what we’ve found in the street markets of Chiang Mai.

Northern Thai sausage -- wrap it all together and pop it in your mouth.

Northern Thai sausage — wrap it all together and pop it in your mouth.

The chicken wrapped in pandan leaves certainly looked exotic when it arrived at our table, and we first wondered if this was a gimmick that forgoes flavour in favour of presentation. At first bite, however, we were sold by the subtle saltiness, tenderness and crisp outer texture of the chicken. A sweet and sour garlic-ginger sauce came on the side, and the pandan leaves added a hint of earthiness to what were already some delicious bites. There’s also just something special about eating anything out of a natural leaf wrapper.

Chicken in pandan leaves -- out of the wrapper and into the sauce.

Chicken in pandan leaves — out of the wrapper and into the sauce.

Suk 11 opens daily for lunch and dinner, wrapping around 23:00. The restaurant offers a full bar, daily cooking lessons, and the hostel is right next door if you care to stick around. To get here, take exit #3 out of Nana BTS (sky train) station and head straight into Sukhumvit Soi 11. After a short walk, look for an alley on the left that’s fronted by an old Thai house. Turn here, and Suk 11 is immediately on the right.

Suk 11 Hostel & Restaurant
1/13 Soi Sukhumvit 11, Bangkok
T: (022) 535 9278
BTS: Nana exit #3


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