Bangkok City brings a whole chicken to your table and sets it on fire. This isn’t a metaphor.
Food should be theatre, and seeing a whole chicken set on fire is the best thing since Brecht.
We stand outside Bangkok City, looking across the street at the never-ending queues of hungry punters snaking from Mehringdamm institutions Mustafa’s and Curry 36. Restaurant owner Sommart wistfully tells us: “During our first year, I often thought about renting our restaurant chairs to those people queuing for a bit of cash in the till. €2 per person per hour.”
The story couldn’t be more different today. As we stand there, I witness multiple passers-by greeting Sommart by name, him returning the favour with a gracious bow. Being led to our table, the restaurant bustling even on a Wednesday night, I overhear a group of happy customers asking Sommart if Bangkok City could cater for their wedding. If legendary establishments are born in Mehringdamm then it seems Sommart and his restaurant might be next in line.
It all started with Thaipark
Bangkok City is a Thai restaurant that tries to bring the excitement and theatre of Bangkok’s streetfood culture and nightlife to Berlin. Sommart, a sharp young man in an even sharper white suit, was born in Bangkok but moved to Berlin aged six.
Whilst he’s been back (and worked) in Bangkok many times since, he is a Berliner – and Bangkok City is more a reflection of Sommart’s experiences of Bangkok and the Berlin Thai community where he grew up. I asked him about Berlin’s Thaipark, and his first response was “That was my childhood.” He then explained that Thaipark is the most authentic example of Thai cuisine and its culture that Berlin has to offer, and was proud to admit that many of his staff had once been part of the Thaipark community. Hurrah!
Over the past few years, ‘authenticity’ has become a topic in the Berlin food scene. I probed Sommart about the Pad Thai on the menu. He laughed and said: “Pad Thai was a fake dish. Then there was a craze for it in Bangkok, so now I can happily serve it.” He did admit though that he still does have to compromise on the chilli/ginger/spice/flavour levels for the Berlin market, but told me that anyone could order their dish ‘Thai style’ for the authentic thing. When I asked how to find an authentic Thai restaurant in Berlin, he joked: “Check for a Thai guy.”
First course was a platter of Thai streetfood classics, such as chicken skewers with a hot and creamy satay sauce, fermented pork with a sour tamarind dip, prawns with a classic sweet and sour sauce, and pounded fish kebabs which took me directly back to Thaipark.
They were served with a papaya salad whose mix of sweet, sour, hot, crunchy, nutty flavours and textures reminded me straight away of Khwan’s own amazing version of the dish. The more we ate these starters, the more the freshness, pungency, heat, wild mix of indescribable flavours all started to form at once. That real indication of good Thai food.
I thought for a second: Khwan has some real competition at last, because I’ve never had Thai food in Berlin anywhere else that managed to achieve that. Whilst Khwan’s menu is still wildly off in another direction, these Bangkok City starters demonstrated that it’s a restaurant trying to make a statement.
Enter the Flaming Chicken
Sommart’s got a real sense of humour. Where else could an idea like this come from? The answer, he told me, is YouTube.
“Flaming chicken was a food trend in Bangkok a while ago. I saw a video of it on YouTube and thought: ‘We need this!’ Then we started experimenting with recipes.”
The Flaming Chicken is now the centrepiece of Bangkok City’s menu, and you often need to call a day in advance to book yours. But man, it’s worth it – if only for the hilariously kitsch theatrics.
Once the fire was out, the bird was carved and served with an array of rustic vegetable dishes and salads. Man, the chicken meat was succulent and its spicy, tomatoey, cuminy marinade contrasted perfectly with the sweetness of the flaming Cointreau-Cognac concoction.
Part of the main course was a chopped chicken salad and the chefs, proud of their creation, demonstrated how it was made and the wide variety of ingredients that go into it.
Bangkok City has decent cooking behind it, and the chefs are proud of their work. This salad (Laab Gai) was savoury and perfectly balanced with freshness, especially compared to the rich and lavish Flaming Chicken.
LadyBoys and cocktails
Yes, there are cocktails. Sommart candidly informed us that he stole cocktail menu wholesale from a hip roof-top bar in Bangkok he used to work at. But then, there’s art in plagiarism.
Their Mehringdamm Sunset is pure coconut sweetness, the Bangkok Gold is all rum boot leather with lemongrass and the LadyBoy is… in Somat’s words: “Like a lady drink. But with balls.” A good description – sweet at the start and then deeply bitter like a Negroni at the end. Perhaps this particular LadyBoy expected a bigger tip from Klaus from Bielefeld.
Bangkok City’s a further step in the right direction
Whilst my comparisons between the flavour profiles of Khwan and Bangkok City are valid, it’s worth mentioning that Bangkok City is much more like a ‘traditional’ European-Thai restaurant, offering the classics like Pad Thai and red/green curries. Their menu is absolutely huge. Having never been to Thailand, I can’t compare their menu to the ‘real thing’, but it does seem Westernised to me. But Bangkok City is two steps ahead of its standard Berlin competition and it has fun with its concept. Remember to order your food ‘Thai style’.
Plus, Sommart’s a great dude – ask him about Berlin’s underground Asian clubbing scene.
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