Salad days are best in this Thai eatery

IT was a hunch that lunch at the recently-opened Bangkok Thai restaurant would be a peaceful affair. Because dinner never is.

One corner was occupied by a Thai wedding party, full of bridesmaids' squeals. Most of the other tables were occupied by office-workers with mobile phones.

Dinner resembles a family reunion with appropriate din.

But the popularity of this place is not surprising: the price is right, the portions, generous and the food is fresh and very good. But in terms of spice it is tame, the way the neighbourhood likes Thai food.

Dining around North Point over the past three years has become interesting.

A recent stroll along Java and Electric Roads turned up an Italian coffee bar, gourmet sandwich shop, two sushi/sake bars and Indian, Indonesian, and Malay curry houses.

The pair of wooden Thai goddesses, which flank the front door, prove irresistible to pairs of 10-year old hands.

Bangkok Thai happens to be the brightest spot along this strip of King's Road, where herbal medicine shops compete with Chinese opera nights at the Sunbeam Theatre for squint-bright lighting and glitter.

The restaurant is owned by locals but the kitchen and most of the dining room staff are Thai.

The waitresses in skin-hugging fuchsia and turquoise silk, get high marks for shimmying between the tables, which are placed too close for privacy.

Open kitchens may be trendy in Central but the pinch on square footage allows the diner to see what brand of pineapple is stocked, how many beer cases and the ripeness of the mangoes.

You can't beat the prices. The average entree is in the $22-$38 range; pad thai, around $25; Singha, $17. But most of the seafood (crab, prawns, squid) sends the bill heavenwards.

One main course, fried squid with garlic and pepper, costs a hefty $120. But the good news is that soups and seafood come in two serving sizes.

The Singha was well-chilled, the glass, spotless but warm. Lots of bean sprouts lightened the pad thai which arrived looking like a mop of noodles.

The pineapple shell literally overflowed with pineapple rice and lots of chicken and vegetables.

What looked like tongue depressors that the doctors use was the order of pork satay (six skewers). The meat, though juicy, was so flattened it was ludicrous.

Requests for more peanut sauce were honoured. But it was thin and greasy with a halo of oil on the top.

The spicy beef salad made up for any oversights. This version was not oily or overloaded with raw onion but a delicious toss of spicy ground meat and herbs.

Another winner was the green chicken curry with coconut milk. It produced the right zing in the mouth.

The country curry fell short, not in flavour, but in the quality of the chicken.

The miniscule shreds of meat were laden with fat. It was just hot enough. Larger chunks of meat would help this dish that has promise.

After three visits, no one order of morning glory vegetables has been the same. At best, the vegetables are fresh and just moistened with enough sauce. At their worst, they're swimming in it.

When the rice is not clumped together, the sticky rice with mango is always lovely: a generous serving of white and black rice, well-moistened with coconut cream and flavourful with slices of ripe mango.

Dinner for three, with beer, came to $310.