Wednesday, 1 October, 2014

Published July 21, 2014
Quietly safe, easy-going Thai cuisine
The food at Soi 60 is tame and civilised, and it doesn't linger in the memory, says JAIME EE
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Flavour parade: Roast duck salad (above); starter of the traditional Thai miang kham; Thai food is a cacophony of different flavours - sweet, sour, salty and spicy - going on in your mouth all at once

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Soi 60

60 Robertson Quay

#01-04 The Quayside

Tel: 6635-6675

Open for dinner only Wed to Sat: 5.30pm till late; Sun: 12pm to 3pm and 5.30pm till late. Closed on Mon and Tues.

THAI food is a little bit like its politics. You have a cacophony of different flavours - sweet, sour, salty, spicy - exploding in your mouth, each wanting to dominate the other until they realise that harmony and balance are the key to tasting really delicious. But what do we know. Maybe there is a reason why you rarely see gaeng phet (red curry) and gaeng leuang (yellow curry) served together on the same dinner table.

How Thai chefs are able to juggle such disparate flavours into a cohesive whole is what makes the cuisine stand out for its complexity, even if the methods seem deceptively simple. Who can't pound together the requisite ingredients of lemongrass, chilli, shrimp paste and the like into a green curry paste, or turn fish sauce, lime juice and chilli into your garden variety papaya salad dressing?

So you think. Thai food is the stuff of alchemy - and getting it right is what separates indigenous chefs who've had it built into their DNA, and everyone else.

We're reminded of this at Soi 60, which gets its creative stamp from Aussie chef Martin Goetz - who spent 13 years at the helm of the two-hatted Longrain in Sydney before packing it in to start a non-Thai food business revolving around his own farm outside the city.

As consultant chef to Soi 60, he's passed on some of his old recipes to buff up the dining component of this cocktails-plus-food hangout that's prevalent in the hipster scene today. Even in Australia, he's pitched his cooking as modern Thai - which pretty much means that you shouldn't expect the bombastic, gritty, hygiene-challenged authenticity of the original.

As expected, the food at Soi 60 is tame and civilised - the equivalent of a walk in the Botanic Gardens as opposed to crossing the street at Bangkok's Erawan Shrine without using the overhead bridge. There are no highs, a few lows, and a general sense of ambivalence.

A starter of the traditional Thai miang kham ($13) of betel leaves wrapped with dried shrimp, sweet tamarind sauce, toasted coconut, herbs and ginger is turned into a more luxe, open-faced canapé. Large betel leaves are carefully arranged with pomelo segments and the usual condiments, topped with a small whole shrimp. Chewy, strong-flavoured dried shrimp leads the flavour parade, followed by the crunch of nuts and the herbal bite of the betel leaves, making for a palatable meal kick-off.

The faint-hearted will find joy in the papaya salad ($10) which tempers hardcore acidity with sweetness, although the shredded green fruit spiked with mild chilli and its even-tempered dressing also elicits the same non-committal reception.

There seems to be a deliberate avoidance of extreme flavours, so the tom yum soup ($14) is more tamarind broth-based and easy to enjoy without the usual challenge of keeping your brain in your skull with the unadulterated original. Crisp-fried whole fish ($35) lives up to its description with the textural contrast of crunch and tender flakes of flesh beneath - though it's hard to fully enjoy given its blanket of thick, cloying sweet-sour sauce like a Chinese restaurant cliche trying desperately to assert itself.

What hits the spot, though is a hunk of beef short rib on the bone ($30) lovingly slow-cooked in panaeng curry - the mildest of all Thai curries. Although it deviates from Thai convention which dictates that meat be cut into bite-sized pieces so you can't recognise the actual animal, this fork-tender caveman version is vaguely cloying but clocks up points for the rich interplay of spices and coconut cream. It also makes a surprisingly good partner with the green papaya salad which lightens the beef's heft.

While we pass on the more fusion likes of sashimi-style tuna and roast duck salad, we can't resist trying the street food staple of pad thai ($22) - a homey if not stellar stir fry of bouncy rice noodles wok-fried in a slightly too-sweet tamarind sauce.

Dessert-wise, fusion wins hands down with the wobbly-good coconut panna cotta ($10) amped up with tangy-sweet stewed pineapple that makes this the highlight of the meal. The opposite can be said of the mango sticky rice ($10) - very sweet fresh mango slices done in by a mound of rice that might have tried to be sticky but gave in to its inner desire to be risotto instead. A smear of gula melaka syrup is not appreciated, either.

Soi 60 fills the gap for easy-going Thai that's like the dining equivalent of Muzak. It's safe, not unpleasant, but doesn't linger in the memory. If you want a jolt to the tastebuds, you'll need to run through the real sois (streets) of Bangkok.

Rating: 6


    10: The ultimate dining experience

9-9.5: Sublime

8-8.5: Excellent

7-7.5: Good to very good

6-6.5: Promising

5-5.5: Average