As Sanlitun’s The Village slowly evolves, its choice of dining destinations appears to increase expotentially. The latest addition to its third floor row of elevated restaurants is a second branch of Sukhothai.
Inside, the dining room is mildly restrained, with flashes of opulence and the odd gold statue – a reminder of the royal glory days of Siam. The menu is full of Thai classics, with a tom kha kai (29RMB) that should be a loveable concoction of coconut milk and chicken. What arrives is startlingly white, with chunks of meat and arrow-points of lemongrass. The pale watery broth hasn’t absorbed the whispers of herbs that would normally permeate and intoxicate. And where the hell are the chillies?
In Thailand, a mango salad (36RMB) would never be made with yellow, ripe mangoes, but this one boasts a wealth of sweet yellow fruit instead of the sour green shards that belong in a yam ma muang salad. Then there is the question of why it comes dusted in dull chilli powder. Chilli powder? In a Thai salad? Where’s the fish sauce? The palm sugar? The coriander? All the brightness of the usual Thai flavourings are missing, leaving this dish utterly lacklustre and wrong.
Pad phet (32RMB), a shredded mushroom stir-fry, has a stringy bite but not much else to it. By contrast, the kai hor bai toey (42RMB), or deep fried boneless chicken thighs scented with pandan leaf wrappers, are acceptable.
Elsewhere an English misprint on the menu offers tofu and bamboo in yellow curry (58RMB). Instead, this is Japanese-style tofu made with egg and cut into rounds that are lightly battered and fried before being drenched in a mustard-shaded curry. But their custardy centres are unexpected and bland. Curries here are red, green and yellow, plus the usual nutty massaman version, but, like other dishes, there’s not even smoke, let alone fire.
In a city obsessed with Sichuan heat, why would you hide the chillies when it comes to fabulous Thai food? Things that don’t require heavy spice work better, as in the sliced pork neck (49RMB). Here, the meat is tender under a sweet glaze, brightened by a sweep of sweet chilli sauce (that’s more red than spicy). Chicken wings (42RMB) are mahogany-perfect in both colour and taste, salty from the brine and balanced between scoops of fragrant rice served from the communal silver tureens that float throughout the room.
Service is nothing like that found in the land of smiles, but it is a high-hitter for Beijing, with bright eyes, efficiency and, best of all, comprehension. As long as you don’t expect the fire of chillies or seriously authentic Thai food, you won’t feel burned at Sukhothai. Lillian Chou