Bangkok: Authentic Thai With a Loyal Following

The unassuming gem brings the steamy art of Thai cuisine to Mariahilf, from spicy papaya salad, to succulent peanut sauce

Bangkok Vienna

There is a competition for the best Pad Thai in town. Bangkok? A real contender | Photo: David Reali

From the outside it doesn’t look like much – just another Asian take-away eatery. Actually, it almost blends into the building on Joanelligasse in the 6th District. But once you decide to try it out, any previous reservations are left at the door.

Bangkok-Vienna is anything but ordinary.

On your second or third visit, owner Tommy Chen will greet you by name, where he waits with a big smile next to one of the golden Buddhas by the door. At 28, he is a very humble man. “I don’t want to be written about,” he says with a shy grin on his face, but you can tell he is grateful for the attention.

Living in Vienna since he was 14, Chen has always wanted to work in gastronomy. After designing Bangkok’s concept and launching it all on his own, he is now thinking about opening another restaurant.

“Gastronomy is my life,” he states. It’s a simple fact.

Perhaps this is why Bangkok is rated No. 9 (yes, nine!) out of the 1,418 restaurants in Vienna, at least judging by the feedback of TripAdvisor’s readers at the beginning of October. It’s all the small things that make this Thai eatery a delicious and surprisingly comfortable experience.

As the clock creeps towards 19:00, the restaurant fills up. After an article in Kronen Zeitung the word got around about Bangkok. Most of the guests appear to be regulars. (“If I could afford it, I’d eat here everyday,” one young woman confesses.) In fact there has been so much word-of-mouth that a member of the Thai royal family dined here at the beginning of June. Thai-beef tartar for all. In the warm weather, each one is greeted with an ice-cold, lemon-scented towel: “Because it’s hot outside today, right?” In winter, the towels are hot.

Bangkok’s cuisine is a mix of traditional and modern, and so is the interior of the restaurant. The dark wood paneling of the Altbau remains, but Chen has spiced it up with sleek leather chairs, bamboo placemats and funky paper lamps. Red and pink lotus flowers and orchids stand in every corner and in vases on each table.

The music in the background is ever-changing: from traditional to the Thai versions of Jethro Tull and Whitney Houston. In a bizarre and indescribable way, it just works.

Still it’s an odd mix, with a chic setting and Asian take-away appearance. But any hesitation about the quality or taste of the food disappear when the first plate arrives. And even more so with the first bite.

On this night we began our meal with a Thai-iced tea (€4) and a Singha Thai beer. The tea – only black tea, milk and sugar – turned out to be the perfect way to counterbalance the spicy.

Chen serves only Austrian wines, though some of them have names like Asia Cuvée 2011. “All of my wine-snob friends come here because of his selection,” says schoolteacher Chadwick Williams, who lives just around the corner.

For starters, we chose a green papaya salad with a spicy lemon and peanut sauce (Som Tam, €8.50) that sets the mouth on fire; with the fresh crunch of the peanuts and papaya strips, it was addictive. This was followed by a glass noodle salad with seafood, lemon and chili (Yam Wunsen Thalay, €9.50), handmade Thai spring rolls (€3.90) and an exotic appetizer of fried bread with minced pork (Knom Pang Na Mu, €4.90).

After this fever-inducing first course came another round of cold, fresh towels for clean hands and cool cheeks.

Next came three dishes to split. The first was Pat Prik Graphrao (€11.50): beef with fresh chili and Thai basil. Its flavours were colourful and fresh, just like the dish itself. The green curry and coconut milk complimented the tenderness of the duck in the Phat Pat Prik Gaeng Kiew Waan (€13.50). And the last dish – rice noodles with more chili and Thai basil – I could have eaten all day.

Portions were generous and beautifully presente, each garnished with a yellow or red rose. Aesthetics matter to Chen, who had been a fashion model in Thailand before moving to Vienna. (“I decided to become famous for my cuisine and not my face.”)

Most of the menu consists of recipes from Chen’s mother, who had a particular gift for the sweets. “Good Thai dessert is a lot of work,” Chen says. The sweets menu at Bangkok is therefore very select. We tried an irresistible baked banana draped in honey and sprinkled with coconut (Kluay Thod, €4.60), and a typical Thai dish called Saku Paek (€4.50) – tapioca pearls in sweet, hot coconut milk. Not something I would ever think to order, but a new culinary experience.

Our meal over, our final cold towel given, we sipped our complimentary lychee champagne digestif. Whether Chen will become famous remains to be seen, but he’s already winning over the name from The Bangkok in Vienna’s 7th District.

They’re only No. 345 on TripAdvisor.

Bangkok-Vienna
6., Joanelligasse 8 (U4 Kettenbrückengasse)
Tue. – Sat., 17:30 – 23:00,
Sun., 12:00 – 15:00, 17:30 – 23:00
(01) 587 05 93, www.bangkok-vienna.at

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