Pak Pak takes little inspiration from its older cousin, Dongcheng district’s Vietnamese hideaway Susu
. While owner Amy Li’s previous venture is tucked away in a beautiful restored hutong courtyard accessible only by an unmarked door, Pak Pak has considerably less romance – especially when getting to its entrance means passing a sign for Annie’s. We arrived at the Thai restaurant, located above a car showroom, during what ought to be the dinnertime rush – yet the place was empty. As tumbleweeds blew by, we pondered Pak Pak’s biggest problem: the business community here clearly isn’t rushing out of its office buildings to eat Thai, and only the most dedicated food fans would head out to Wangjing for a bowl of curry and noodles.
Let’s assume that you’re a devotee, in which case you’ll know that Thai food in Beijing has suffered for years from a lack of a standard-bearing, A-list venue capable of putting the cuisine on the map. And while Pak Pak is at times very good, it is not that restaurant. Still, while it doesn’t change any rules, it wins at its own game.
It was a rough start though. Our mountain of crunchy, crisp dragon-bean salad (58RMB) came tossed with a chilli-coconut dressing that bathed the dish in a neon cloying sweetness. The culprit was the sweet chilli sauce in the dressing, which commanded attention like a spoiled child. A far better starter is the golden triangle (48RMB), probably the best-tasting thing named after an opium-production zone: a platter of samosas, their pastry so crispy and fl aky it falls all over the table, with a dollop of mild chicken tucked inside. Smear them through the bowl of sticky tamarind dip for a coating of sweet, sticky glaze and let the contrast do its magic.
If you want to stick to the Thai template, your old friends are all there. A simmering bowl of staple tom yum goong (88/58RMB) is just like you’d find in Bangkok. Unfortunately that means the texture of the silky, fragrant coconut broth is disrupted by herbal lemongrass and unpeeled prawns, though if you don’t mind getting your fingers dirty that shouldn’t be a problem. It’s ladled at the table, which was both nice for us and gave our underemployed waiter something to do.The requisite pad thai (58RMB) arrives slightly deconstructed, with just the noodles and seafood beside a line of chilli powder and some limes. The fried noodles are light, not at all oily and cooked to perfection. Yet the menu falters slightly with the red curry (48RMB), which left us wanting something more than limp tofu cubes bobbing in the crimson curry, with only a weak whisper of spice.
Despite its flaws, Pak Pak is better than most of Beijing’s Thai options. It’s reasonably priced, with plenty of high notes that grasp the stormy contrast of Thai cookbooks. Expect a good meal if you can make the trek.