Sunsets in Bangkok somehow have a special quality. Other cities may be prettier, but few have the feel of Krung Thep. Maybe it’s the knowledge that the constant heat and beating sun will abate, the signal to a night of food on sticks from chefs on two or occasionally three wheels. The Chao Praya adds to it and there are few betters views of it than from the Shangri-La.
The Shang has another riverside attraction in the form of Salathip, its signature Thai restaurant housed in a series of wooden pavilions called salas, furnished in teak with filigree and rather fine gabled roofs. The salas were once meeting places for travellers on roads and riversides alike, providing food, shelter and Thai hospitality.
It’s a lovely spot, understandably enjoyed by hotel guests, some maybe cautious on their first foray of Thai cuisine in Thailand, others regulars knowing a good thing when they see it. There are also considerable numbers of Thais dining, clearly drawn by the quality and authenticity of the produce and execution across a menu that delicately balances spicy, sour, sweet and salty, seemingly in every dish.
Oysters were vibrant, while crisp herbs and greens came with if zingy – if not particularly breath-enhancing – accompaniments of garlic and dried shrimp, green chilli, a ginger dip and an excellent sweetish chilli sauce which stayed on the table throughout dinner.
Tom Yam Goong Lai Seua Hot and Sour Tiger Prawn Soup with Lemongrass was life-enhancingly good, the sort of bowl that cures ills and stops wars. Well, almost, but it was a brilliant rendition of a brilliant classic.
Yam Poo Nim was Soft Shell Crab with Green Mango Salad, a deconstructed choose-your-own-advetnture style of eating:
From the sea came two absolute belters, firstly a sensational Pla Gao Gaeng Kiew Warn, fried garoupa in the green curry of your dreams that luckily came with more on the side, for good measure.
Thereafter the show-stopper, Goong Mangkorn Phad Char or stir-fried Phuket Lobster with Sweet Basil, Lemongrass, Young Ginger and Chilli. Wow. Just, wow. I’m still thinking of the sticky garlic seafood sauce that clung to the grooves in the cast iron pan, only to be teased out with spoons and added to crisp basil, thereafter crowning the lobster in the mother of all Thai mouthfuls.
Dessert was a course too far, but of course was shared. Everyone’s favourite, mango sticky rice, like the rest of dinner was pretty much faultless. While great Thai food can of course easily be eaten on street corners and from passing vendors for a fraction of the price of dinner here, when you want to push the boat out and enjoy Royal Thai cuisine in Royal Thai surroundings, there are few places to match it. Throw in dancers re-enacting scenes from the great Thai epic Ramakien – derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana – and you have an evening of real charm.