Apes and monkeys inspire the art at Monkey Pod
A giant monkey pod tree in the heart of upper Sukhumvit in Bangkok soars over a century-old teak house, lending its name to the restaurant it shelters under its giant canopy: Monkey Pod Tapas Restaurant and Bar.
The tree also underlines a whole new trend as Bangkokians go al fresco with a vengeance. Admittedly in response to the pandemic. But restaurateurs today find themselves competing not just with their menus but with the size of their decks. Who would have thought that in air-conditioning loving Bangkok, outdoor seating would come at a premium! Now combine a cocktail bar under the said tree with an easy-going vibe, and you have a spot where people want to hang out, linger over cocktails and order off a menu designed for sharing.
From under the magnificent old tree, the wooden decking, surrounded by a large tropical garden, leads back towards the century-old teak house with its louvred window shutters. Dotted along the deck are sofas and tables. You could pretty much spend your day here and the evening.
The teak house interior crosses the whimsical with the vintage for its colonial design scape. The monkey or the ape is everywhere: as graffiti, as a statue perched on a table, as a lamp in the corner – in all its forms, the simian is the talking point. Inside the foyer, a picture of the Chinese patriarch who built this house surveys all the changes Blue Elephant (the owning company) has wrought. Eventually, the teak house will cater to those who need the air-conditioning. Besides, the monsoons will also see the action moving indoors. Right now, it is a work in progress with a small downstairs dining room off the anteroom.
The chic vintage vibe of this place that practically invites you to settle in, relax and to use that overused, dreaded phrase, ‘just chill’. Helming Monkey Pod are Chef Thavisack ‘Dou’ Phouthavong and restaurant manager-cum-sommelier and mixologist Jirakrit Oonjit.
One look at the menu and you see the Laotian undercurrent that runs through it. The Brussels born, London raised chef, after all, is Laotian by descent. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Dou has worked with Chef Claude Bosi of the Michelin-starred Hibiscus and Bibendum, Albert Adria of El Bulli, and famous London eateries Bao and XU.
Back to the menu: so what would I recommend you order? Bear in mind this is the sort of dining experience where you will end up ordering a range of dishes to share.
From left: Passionfruit cocktail, Pla Ra Glazed Angus Beef,; Chilli Marinated free-range Chicken, Oops… We Copied a 3-Star Chef dessert, Lao dogs and pepper fried rice topped with grilled chilli chicken
Begin with the Lao Dog. This dish should come with a warning: one serving is not just enough. By the looks of it, it is a hot dog. But it is not. The perfectly brown bun is a steamed mantou bun that has been deep-fried. The sausage is a take on the Laotian Sai Krua pork sausage (based on Dou’s mother’s recipe). If it reminds you of the Thai Sai Oua, I won’t judge you. The bun and the well-spiced, but not hot, sausage come together with the tomato jaew (read that as spiced tomato relish) for a hearty snack, starter or even your meal if you end up ordering it in multiples. Or you could split it and call it tapas. That’s the kind of place this is.
Next on the list is Chilli-marinated Free-Range Chicken, the chef’s take on the ubiquitous kai yang. Here it is served with onions pickled in beetroot juice and a Thai inspired chimichurri of mint, coriander and dill. The chicken from the Klong Phai Farm in Nakhon Ratchasima is treated with respect; it is tender and juicy. The marinade is basic: fish sauce, carrots and yellow chilli, which give it the yellow colour and the peppery heat. No turmeric.
Also making the cut is Pla Ra glazed Sloane’s organic pork chop. On a French cut bone, the chop is grilled to perfection over charcoal; the fermented fish sauce giving the moo yang an added punch. If the thought of pla ra worries you, rest assured, Dou has tamed the powerful and loud condiment into submission without losing its umami nature. The pork is brined and then sous-vided before it is coated with pla ra and grilled. The sliced pork is served with what Dou calls the three-chi salad. Basically, yum sam-chi, a Thai-style salad of coriander, dill and sawtooth coriander.
The same salad accompanies the Pla Ra Glazed Black Angus Dry-Aged Onglet. The onglet, or the Hanger steak in English, is what you would call the forgotten steak, oft-ignored by chefs. Dou rescues it from anonymity, and pairs its pronounced meaty flavour with fermented fish sauce. The steak, with its coarse grain, is best cooked briefly over high heat, and medium-rare is how it is served here. Once again, the herb salad works to cut through the full-on flavours.
For a one-dish meal, think Black Angus Pla Ra Khao Pad Jeow Bong. The base is rice stir-fried in Jew Bong, a Lao-style XO sauce of fermented fish, herbs and palm sugar. Topping the rice are slices of grilled and glazed Pla Ra Angus. You can swap out the beef for grilled pork. The chicken version has a base of pepper fried rice topped with grilled chilli chicken and a garnish of pickled onions. A vegetarian option features tofu and aubergine. Didn’t try it. Perhaps next time.
For dessert, the rather cheekily named Oops… We Copied a 3-Star Chef stands out. The dish references Italian chef Massimo Bottura’s famous smashed lemon tart. This one has multiple components: milk ice cream, kaffir lime sponge cake, basil meringue, cookie crust and som sa (bitter orange) sauce.
Monkey Pod ; 27 Sukhumvit Soi 13, Bangkok; 02 115 9830; open daily.
Below: The century old teak house