Food with friends always tastes better, especially if those friends happen to introduce you to really good restaurant you've never been to before. Such was the case when I was taken to the famous Soi Polo fried chicken joint by experienced diner and South China Morning Post editor Hal Lipper, and self-confessed "ace reporter" Ron Gluckman (check out his site for a plethora of wacky Asian reportage) and his wife Jolanda. These guys all live within a few minutes' walk of Soi Polo and had eaten there several times. For me getting to this part of town is something of a minor expedition and it was my very first time.
This restaurant has been popular among locals for ages (40 years, according to the sign), but particularly caught the attention of Bangkok's foreign community when it was featured in a New York Times article by RW Apple. On the day we visited the clientèle was overwhelmingly Thai (generally a good sign), and we began with som tam Thai:
The dish arrived within seconds, which made me fear that it might have been pre-made, but a taste proved the dish to be freshly pounded and really quite exceptional; sour and salty with hearty chunks of crisp papaya and unlike just about everywhere else, good-quality dried shrimp.
Everybody is familiar with laap, but I suggested ordering laap plaa duk, made from the meat of grilled catfish--something new to this group:
The catfish had a delicious smoky flavour that was accentuated, rather than overwhelmed, by the accompanying fish sauce, lime juice, powdered rice and chilies. And the dish wasn't "mushy" as it often is at lesser restaurants.
Continuing on the fish theme, Hal ordered plaa chorn naam tok, a deep-fried snakehead fish served with a hearty Isaan-influenced dressing:
and Ron wanted us the try the restaurants thord man, fish cakes:
which were almost certainly the largest I've ever seen.
But everything else aside, this place is really all about the deep-fried chicken:
which was pretty amazing stuff, although, just to be picky, I found it a bit too meaty, myself preferring the scrawnier kai baan, free-range chicken. The chicken had been marinated in a dressing not unlike the famous deep-fried chicken from Hat Yai, and came with two good, but largely unnecessary dipping sauces. But I think everybody would agree with me that best bit was the copious crispy deep-fried garlic, which I'm sure I could eat by the handful, like popcorn.
Everything we ordered was great, and I was particularly impressed by the quality of the ingredients: big, flavourful mint leaves, tasty catfish, meaty shallots et al. This is a restaurant that really does seem to deserve all the praise shoveled upon it.
Kai Thort Jay Ki (Soi Polo)
137/1-2 Soi Polo (near Lumphini Park and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar)
02 655 8489