Restaurant review: Bang Kok: Taste of Far East simply to Thai for
51 Adelaide Street, Belfast. Tel: 028 9099 1814
First time I ever saw the three words Thai, green and curry was in a Chinese takeaway in Glengormley in 1998. It sounded exotic and a bit weird. Green curry had as much marketing pull as a used tissue and yet I seemed irresistibly drawn to it.
But because the dish was only available from Chinese takeaways (and later chip shops who would offer a green curry chip), we suspected the Thai green (and red) curries being served in Belfast bore little if any resemblance to what you might find in Bangkok.
But how could we be sure?
In a remarkable stroke of fortune and good timing, the Jeep car company in 1999 invited me (it's a long story) to do a jungle drive around northern Thailand near the Burmese border. I asked them if I could bring a cameraman to record the visit.
What I also explained was that I intended to make a short documentary about the search for real Thai green curry, if I could find a taker. The BBC at the time was vaguely interested in this for their new-fangled digital station as long as they didn't have to pay for anything.
So, off we went flying business class with Thai Airlines in search of the real thing. Soon, Bangkok's streets and markets would provide irrefutable evidence that the Glengormley takeaway and the rest of them in Belfast were, indeed, clueless about Thai food.
When we went up to Chiang Mai and started the five-day jungle drive, our eyes were opened even further. We filmed everywhere and went into people's kitchens in isolated villages, posh restaurants and food vendors.
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We got to understand that the food was as good cooked on stoves on the backs of flatbed tuk-tuks as it was from some of the fancier resort hotels we stayed in.
Thai dishes followed a similar pattern: it was mainly cooked in a wok from scratch using fresh produce not dissimilar to our own. But that pivotal balancing act of the four classic Thai pillars of flavour including salty, sweet, sour and creamy could only be achieved by experts, whether on the kerbside or in the Hilton.
Leaving aside the complexities of Thai cooking and the refinement of it all, it's popular because, when properly put together, it can be the best eating experience in the world.
We came back with loads of footage, but never got around to editing it, but the lesson was clear: there wasn't a real Thai curry experience to be had in Belfast.
This continued to be the case until Suwanna opened on Great Victoria Street shortly after we got back. This was a fabulously authentic Thai restaurant, with a convincing menu and quick service.
There followed the excellent Bo Tree Thai and, eventually, the Bo Tree Kitchen. The trickle has become a flash flood. Now we have Banh and the fabulous plant-based Jumon, the so-so yet expensive Camile, cheap Thai Tanic and various other incarnations of Thai and Far Eastern food. But shouldering its way into poll position is Eddie Fung's new Bang Kok.
Happily, chef Peer from the original Suwanna is in charge of the kitchen, which means we are not dealing with just street food. Rather, this is an upmarket, more formal affair, in which the quick flash and bang of the wok is supplemented with something more considered.
Take, for instance, Peer's Pattaya Sea cod dish. Introduced as a recommendation following close interrogation by Edmund Byrne, the swashbuckling maitre d' in Bang Kok, this proves to be one of my culinary highlights of the year.
A creamy curry bound with egg white surrounds and covers the cod in a deep bowl.
Pressing down on the centre of the dish with a spoon, as advised by Edmund, causes the broth within to flow into it.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most unforgettable experiences you will have fully dressed and in daylight.
The flavours are light, yet intense, the miso-like broth packed with just the right components of fresh meat, Thai spices and heat. The texture of the fish and the sauce, firm but not overcooked, adds that third dimension of pleasure in the mouth.
There are other unusual offerings, including Grand Siam noodles, fried rice noodles with peanuts, egg and bean sprouts, lime juice and chicken, or pork, or River Kwai chicken with ruby chillies, coriander and garlic to create a Thai sweet and sour.
The Narai chicken can come on the bone if you ask early enough and is enlivened with a sweet, hot and sour sauce.
Bang Kok is Eddie Fung's latest contribution to the Belfast restaurant scene.
It looks likely to be his best yet.
Chiang Mai chicken satay ............ £5.50
Golden Cups (w/ mild curried veg)... £5
Prawns in blanket .............................. £6
Pattaya Sea cod ........................... £12.95
Narai chicken ............................... £12.95
Jasmine steamed rice.................... £2.95
Thai noodles .................................. £3.55
Total .............................................. £48.90