BANGKOK, April 28 — It’s easy to take things for granted. Where dining out is concerned, this could mean assuming that your beloved restaurants and cafés will be around forever, and the fine people who run them.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s never to take things for granted and never to assume anything.
For instance, when I returned to Bangkok recently, as travel restrictions eased, I discovered that my favourite spot for pad krapao was no more and that my go-to bakery-café for buttery croissants and black coffee had shuttered.
Some meals are but memories now.
And sometimes we have the good fortune of making new memories.
Two of my favourite chefs in Bangkok are Napol “Joe” Jantraget and Saki Hoshino. The married couple had first met in Canada in their 20s before returning to Thailand and opening 80/20, an innovative restaurant that sourced from neighbourhood markets and regional farms.
Joe and Saki have since left 80/20 but thankfully for us fans and regulars, they have opened a new back-to-basics restaurant called Samlor, still in their old neighbourhood of Charoen Krung Road in Bangrak.
You’d be hard pressed to miss the corner lot eatery; its signage blares in white neon, with the “O” etched out in red and taking the form of three wheels. That’s where the name comes from: samlor is Thai for the traditional pedal-powered rickshaw (sam means “three” and lor means “wheel”).
So there’s plenty of the old school here: expect comfort classics that take their inspiration from Thai street food, Japanese home cooking and North American diner fare.
We chat a little with Joe as one of his staff prepares pineapple and krachai (fingerroot) juice; we discuss the vagaries and complexities of travel nowadays. Saki drops by a little later, with beautiful baby Mia. Life is all about change.
Soon our Thai Wagyu Beef Burger arrives. The juicy patty and brioche bun are joined by a murderer’s row of exceptional ingredients: caramelised onions, demi-glace, white cheddar, bone marrow aïoli, chilli tomato paste, dill pickle and fried shallots. (How did they fit all of that into one burger?)
As a nod to their time in Canada, Samlor’s take on the French-Canadian dish of poutine is more straightforward than you’d expect: fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. Other sides include crispy spring onions and chicken liver pâté.
Joe’s childhood in southern Thailand comes to the fore with dishes such as khao mun gai (Thai chicken rice). The accompanying bowl of white radish soup offers a touch of familiarity; when you grow up in a Cantonese family, as I did, every meal comes with some form of clear soup.
Fermented Thai flavours from nam pla (fish sauce) and nam goong (fermented shrimp paste) used in curry pastes are reassuring; this isn’t fusion food, or at least, not that fusion. Fried Wings with Fish Sauce Glaze? Green Curry Chicken Fried Rice? It’s all good eating.
(The chicken wings are also available as Fried Wings with Mala Powder, for a numbing, Sichuan peppercorn buzz, and Smoked Wings with Jinda Chili Butter Sauce, where the prik sod adds a pleasant heat. Consider a trio of every flavour of wings, perhaps?)
No meal at Samlor is complete without something sweet to finish. This is where pastry chef Saki has expanded her repertoire of refined desserts with Yora, her own brand of artisanal ice cream with comforting flavours such as Milk & Corn Flakes and the fragrant Coconut & Palm Sugar.
Using only all-natural ingredients, Saki wears her Japanese and Thai influences on her sleeve. Her White Malt & Toob-Tab ice cream is based on toob tub, the popular Thai peanut candy, whilst Matcha Cookie Dough marries the intense Japanese green tea flavour with an American classic.
There are other adventurous flavours too: Chilli Rocky Road is sweet and spicy; the Fish Sauce Caramel is an unlikely flavour pairing carried over from their 80/20 days, where we once enjoyed it in the form of a palate cleansing candy; and Thai office workers might recognise their lunch time pick-me-up in Saki’s Sour Mango & Nam Pla Waan ice cream, that mirrors the flavours of the raw fruit and piquant, pungent dip.
Yora also has seasonal sorbets, depending on what fruits are widely available in the market. As Saki, who hails from Nagoya in Japan, puts it, “When the fruits are over ripe, they are very cheap... the best to make jam, confiture and sorbet.”
For a different way to present her creative ice cream flavours, Saki also makes Japanese style ice cream sando or ice cream sandwiches. Here, her own heritage shines through with flavours such as Miso & Kinako Salted Peanuts as well as Matcha Red Bean.
Other delightful ice cream sando confections include Berry Cheesecake, colourful like a rainbow, with a sprinkling of fairy dust; campfire staple Choc-Mallow; the rich and aromatic Caramel Banana.
Some ice cream sando come with choux pastry “buns” such as the Thai Tea Boba and the Coffee Dulce de Leche & Cacao Nibs. The possibilities, Saki believes, are endless as she also creates occasional off menu desserts such as a rather refined churros topped with ice cream by Yora.
And that’s just how we’d sum up a meal at Samlor: comfort food, great ingredients, fuss free yet refined all the same. Clearly you can take a chef out of a fine dining restaurant, but you can’t take the fine dining out of the chef.
At Samlor, Joe and Saki have proven that there is no conflict or contradiction in this; the juxtaposition of street food and haute cuisine is not a flaw, but a winning feature.
1076 Charoen Krung Road, Bang Rak, Bangkok
Opens daily (except Tue closed) 11am-2pm & 5-9pm
1076 Charoen Krung Road, Bang Rak, Bangkok
Opens daily (except Tue closed) 11am-7pm
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