Thursday, July 28, 2016

BKK Pop-up: Soul Food Mahanakorn

Somehow I felt there are more and more "pop-up dining events" popping up in town, with guest chefs (usually from overseas) doing a short stint in collaboration with local restaurants. It's a good way for visiting chefs to test the waters in an unfamiliar territory, for restaurants to have something new on their menu, and for us customers, being able to try out more good food without having to travel afar. A win-win-win situation.

Anyway, the latest entry to this pop-up phenomena is the Bangkok-based Soul Food Mahanakorn, who worked with Black Sheep Restaurants for a pop-up in Soho. It's been a while since I last visited Bangkok, nor have I visited the original Soul Food Mahanakorn myself, but I heard it's some kind of big shot eatery owned by American chef/food writer Jarrett Wrisley, which has been cooking up a storm with honest, authentic Thai cooking with good cocktails served.

The crew took over the restaurant space on Elgin formerly known as Juhu Beach Club, and called it their home for 5 days only in late July. We managed to have a table for six on the third day for the first seating at 7pm, and surprisingly, all of us arrived right on time so we had our feast starting straight away.

The dinner was listed as a 5-course menu, but we actually had a dozen or so different dishes served family style in the middle of our table brought to us in order - some finger food and some in more substantial portion served with rice, and we concluded our meal with a simple dessert and a fruit platter, done Thai street-food style.

We began with a few snacks as our "first course". Both the lamb massaman samosas and chicken wings arrived hot and perfectly crisp as they came straight from the kitchen to our table, and I love the condiments for both dishes - the kaffir lime dipping sauce for the samosas, and the crispy shallots and cashews on top of the wings, with a small cup of umeshu as the chaser shot. Meanwhile, I thought the Chiang Mai sausage was a bit overwhelming with spiciness from the nahm prik nuum salsa, but that and the equally spicy mushroom and smoked duck larb on rice crackers both worked well with bottles of Singha beer.

I wasn’t a particular big fan of the pair of dishes in our “second course”, but some at our table were singing praises to the smoky eggplant salad with the house-cured bacon, fried shallot, mint and coriander. The second one, another salad with raw banana flower, chili jam, thai basil and crispy catfish, was okay, but nothing interesting enough for us to get a second spoonful from the plate.

But on the other hand, we were literally fighting over the extra piece of the Khao Soi Cowboys, which was our third course. Tender pulled pork cooked in the rich khao soi with coconut and curry flavor, topped with crispy shallot and mustard pickles and served on a soft brioche slider bun with drizzles of lime juice. To me that was the best dish of the night.

Our fourth course was a pair of curry dishes, fish and veggies, served with rice. I liked both curries cooked in entirely different styles, the Burmese pork belly curry has a distinct hint of tanginess and sweetness served with pickled watermelon rinds on the side to balance the flavors, and the penang curry with beef cheeks was richer and the meat was very tender and well-infused with the curry flavor. At first I thought the fish fillet, steamed “en papillote” wrapped in banana leaf, was a bit light in flavor, but the generous smash of the pesto-like Thai seafood sauce did wonder. The veggie dish was a straight forward stir-fried morning glory with crispy pork on top – that was decent too.

The desserts were quite typical of what you would expect from just about every Thai restaurant, with a small bowl of Bua Loi, a sweet coconut soup served warm with tapioca pearls, taro and pumpkin, plus a dish of fresh tropical fruits (sour mango and rose apples) served with chili salt. We were happy with both.

Overall the service was very nice – staff was friendly and there were plenty around. Nonetheless, a few hiccups here and there - as most of the cooking was done in the open kitchen just behind our table and the dining area, the entire room became unbearably hot as the night progressed. "Becoming like a sauna...", said my friend, and I was literally dripping head to toe. And I thought they could have done a better job in pacing the dinner, instead of making us wait for over 20 minutes for the dessert which they should have been prepared well in advance.

While my palate towards Thai cuisine wasn’t picky enough to differentiate the good and the great restaurants, I thought the dinner was enjoyable. There’s nothing mind-blowing, but all the dishes presented were done right and they did manage to feed us with many many dishes, some of them signature items at their Bangkok restaurant. So it’s a good introductory meal to me – if I happened to be back to Bangkok, I may go and check them out.

Sorry for the poor quality pictures not doing the food any justice - I brought along a wrong lens and the lighting inside the restaurant wasn't the most forgiving type for my mistake. Anyway, I like the food - and now you have my words for it.

When? July 21 2016
Where? Soul Food Mahanakorn pop-up, Elgin Street, Soho, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Khao Soi Cowboys, pulled pork in khao soi on a brioche slider, crispy shallot and mustard pickle. 
Soul Food Mahanakorn:
Black Sheep Restaurants:

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