Photo by Richard Owens
I have but three words for this place. Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! I’ve been waiting 10 years for a decent Thai place to open in Barcelona, but this isn’t just decent, it’s great. And it’s located on the cutest street you never knew the city had. I only ever go to Les Corts to visit friends for lunch, so who knew that tucked down a backstreet less than five minutes from the Plaça del Centre metro, there is a tree-lined mews of pastel coloured houses and the unlikely, but hugely welcome Bangkok Café on the corner?
Over the years, countless people have told me the reason Thai places haven’t been much cop in Barcelona is because the food is too spicy for local palates. Perhaps they’ve not had a good look at who constitutes the ‘local’ palate these days: Brits, French, Danish, Dutch, German, Austrian, Swedish, Australian, American along with the Spanish and Catalans—all of them out there and looking for a little something to brighten the taste buds of an evening. On the night of my visit, a good many of them were at Bangkok Café, which, I’m happy to report, dumbs down for no man.
You’ll find a liberal sprinkling of fresh, hot chillies and other aromatics in their dishes, which are marked out by hand-drawn chillies on the menu to indicate hotness and that really mean what they say i.e. bit spicy, average spicy, very spicy. I’ve long maintained that Asian restaurants in Barcelona should give their punters credit for being a bit more daring than they think and this was a case in point: it was rammed, it was excellent, it is a breath of fresh air and, please God, long may it continue.
Bangkok is a sweet little place, with recipes chalked up on blackboard over the windows, and a kitchen that defies the odds by turning out a vast array of dishes from a space barely big enough to swing a cat. Yet, like so many similarly tiny restaurants in the motherland— not to mention the street food vendors—what comes out of it is fresh, lively, crowd-pleasing stuff, that reminds you why you love food in the first place.
It took a while and a bottle of Singha each before we got served, but once these people get going service is speedy and no-nonsense with dishes arriving hot and perfectly timed. We had Pho Phia Thai (fried vegetable rolls) with a slick of Sriracha sauce—a ubiquitous hot chilli sauce, easily bought in Asian supermarkets here—and a sweet-sharp dipping sauce sprinkled with crushed peanuts, along with Ha Kao (steamed shrimp and vegetable dumplings), popping with juicy deliciousness. Larb Kai—a traditional Laotian salad consisting of minced chicken on a bed of baby gem lettuce leaves—had been generously tossed with sliced green chillies, mint and spring onions, each complementing the other brilliantly, the chillies robust and deeply flavoured with a heat that sneaks up on you over mouthfuls rather than blowing your head off in one bite. A rather delicate Som Tam (green papaya salad) laced with red chilli and tiny dried shrimp made an excellent refresher course before mains that were very good, if not quite so tastebud dazzling as the starters.
We had Kaeng Pet Ped Yang, a sliced duck breast in sumptuous red curry sauce and pungent holy basil leaves, the slightly furry, slightly minty Thai strain of basil; and Ped Kaprow, which is duck stir-fried with a fiery mix of hot chilli, green beans, bamboo shoots, sliced garlic and more basil, complemented with Nuea Kaprow, the same but made with beef. Panang Nuea Kaprow, a rich beef curry with coconut milk and crushed peanuts soothed and comforted in that way that something saucy does. And when two bowls of jasmine rice arrived, it was the one flicker of disappointment I experienced all night. They seemed teeny. In fact Little Miss Greedy here needn’t have worried. We struggled to get through all the food on the table and abandoned all hope of dessert, though the friend that suggested I go there assured me the mango sorbet and homemade coconut ice-cream are things of beauty.
She, like me, is also a fan of Petit Bangkok in Gràcia. Another great little Thai joint that’s also generally rammed and located well off the beaten path. But when push comes to shove, for my euro, Bangkok Café just has the edge: authentic, unpretentious and the kind of food that becomes so addictive you need a hit of it at least once or twice a week.
Bangkok Café—Evarist Arnús 65 (Les Corts). Tel. 93 339 3269.
Open: Tues-Sun, noon to 3.30pm and 8-11.30pm.
Around €25 for several shared courses plus beer.
Tara’s rating: ✪✪✪✪✪