Longtail Asian Brasserie & Bar
70 Collyer Quay, #01-03 Customs House
Tel: 6532 1319
Open Mon to Fri: 11.30am to 11pm.
Sat: 4pm to 11pm. Closed on Sun
WE know how it feels. You're staring at the money-changer's glittering LED screen watching the Thai baht go down, down, down, as you finger your wad of Singapore dollars muttering, "Should I? Should I? Should I?" before skulking away as self-preservation instincts overcome your craving for kuay tiau pad see ew or hoy tod in Bangkok's Yaowarat district.
Even as political unrest gets in the way of your regular Bangkok sojourns, there's at least some culinary consolation to be found in Longtail Asian Brasserie - a new street food joint that manages to merge stylised chic and side-alley grit into a very palatable combination.
On the one hand, this little sister of the more upmarket Sabai Fine Thai next door has all the trappings of your typical CBD watering-hole-cum-bar-bites outfit with its cool bistro persona, Asian-inspired cocktails and chic platings of street favourites from Vietnamese spring rolls to Chiang Mai-style fermented sausages.
But bite into a juicy morsel of tongue-tingling sour yet juicy fatty pork ball or breathe in the intoxicating aroma of nam pla and other indistinguishable smells in a steaming bowl of boat noodles, and you're almost transported to itinerant hawker heaven, complete with a garnish of sewer. Which is, by the way, a compliment. After all, it's that element of skankiness that makes the difference between clinical recipes and the earthy authenticity of street-side cooking.
The bonus is that you get that authenticity without the dubious hygiene issues at Longtail, which boasts a compact repertoire of familiar favourites from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, with even a sprinkling of Cantonese (by way of wonton noodle soup).
With someone like Jongkolnee Thoboonme - aka Ms Noo, aka the lady who first brought Thai royal cuisine (and the dessert buffet) to Singapore with the original Thanying in the Amara Hotel - at the helm, you can expect a level of authenticity that is hard to find in Singapore.
The non-Thai choices, however, are middling - witness the over-refrigerated, tough-skinned fresh Vietnamese rice paper rolls ($12) otherwise generously packed with shredded vegetables, prawns and pork, and a bland pho bo ($22) priced not so much for flavour but the large amount of boiled beef and oxtail that elbow for space with a clump of rice noodles in the stingy amount of broth.
Zero in instead on the flavour-packed morsels that make up the deep-fried sour pork sausage ($14) with five precious balls evenly balanced in piquancy and meatiness, garnished with raw cabbage and ginger slices and fried peanuts to take the tart edge off. Check out also the Isaan-inspired tender strips of marinated and grilled pork shoulder ($14) - good enough on its own but even better dipped into the treacly tamarind-based dip that comes with it and also with the banana leaf parcel of slightly dry glutinous rice.
While the pho is a bit of a disappointment, it's outshone by Longtail's interpretation of the classic Thai boat noodles or kway tiau reua ($16). It's served without the ubiquitous shot of pig's blood and fresh liver, but is nonetheless a satisfyingly pungent bowl of chicken broth enlivened with a potpourri of seasonings including garlic, fish sauce, chilli, lime, crushed peanuts and crispy lard bits.
Surprisingly juicy char siew, fish balls, crispy wonton skin and slippery thin noodles wrap up this mental stopover at Mahboonkrong's food court.
If something a little more hefty is in order, the Massaman lamb shank ($21.50) is a rendang-like rib-sticker with its chunky gravy thickened with sweet potatoes and peanuts, while the Vientiane chicken curry ($14.50) is lighter albeit less memorable apart from its distinctive bamboo shoot and basil aroma.
Desserts, meanwhile, are limited to a predictable but well-executed sago in coconut milk with fresh coconut flesh and melon balls ($7). Just remember that the sago will taste bitter if you eat this after the Pang Yen ($7), a weird but strangely appealing (in an artificial way) concoction of ice-blended bandung (rose syrup and milk) swirled like ice cream on top of bread cubes and garnished with palm seeds.
The bandung soaks the bread into a mushy mixture that's too alien for us, although the blended bandung has that cough mixture flavour trait that might appeal to some.
Strange though it is, there's this sense of discovery - in the way that you trawl through a Bangkok food court or alley stumbling across strange new things to eat - that makes Longtail a brief substitute for the real thing. Either that, or we really miss Bangkok.
Now, if only Longtail can be persuaded to accept payment in Thai baht...
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good