Puangthong Restaurant

In line for restaurant of the year?

This week’s restaurant is a stunner. Write the name down now, this place is a must. It is a while since I left an establishment as impressed with every dish as I was at Puangthong. However, you are going to have to do a little navigation work to get there (sometimes it isn’t all that easy to get the good life)!

It is on Charoen Prathet Road and has no English language signage, near Wat Chaimongkol and opposite a large white building called Doi Ping Mansion. The next problem is that Charoen Prathet Road is two ways some parts of the day and one way on others. You have been warned!

The restaurant is in two sections. Walk in through the ‘gateway’ and you are in an open air area in the “compound” separated from the road by trees, and potted plants and there is a glassed in section on the left. Puangthong in English is Golden Bunch, and there is a sign to this effect on the wall. The date is given as 1999, but this is not the date of opening, but rather the re-opening, since the three 9’s in 1999 were considered auspicious. The establishment is also a family business run by Boonmee Ti-Aree, his wife and daughter, and they had a previous restaurant in Bangkok, before opening Puangthong in Chiang Mai in 1991.

The fitments are basic. The tables outside are wood, with some plastic chairs, and others made from old wooden wagon wheels. Inside is equally as utilitarian. Crockery is the ubiquitous melamine, but scrupulously clean. The decor defies description. Boonmee is also worth an article all on his own - a Thai Vietnam veteran who had spent some time in the Middle East and has even shaken the hand of Saddam Hussein! He is immensely proud of their restaurant, and even brought out pots and pans for the Dining Out Team to see, to show just how shiny they really were.

The menu, in Thai and English, is not enormous, and commences with fried items ranging in price from 30 baht for the morning glory with oyster sauce to 120 baht for a crab or prawn in a black chilli paste. The following page has Hot Pot items (generally around B. 70) and covers different soups like spicy soup with serpent head fish, as well as the normal tom yum and tom kha.

Thai salads are next (around B. 50), then casseroles (B. 120) with prawns and crab, soups (B. 35-50) with prawn meat balls, then some Individual Favourites with the most expensive B. 30 and generally of the rice based variety. ‘Specials’ next (B. 60-200) with fish in boiling water at the low end and three flavoured fried prawn at the top. Beverages are last with large Heineken B. 80 and soft drinks B. 10.

Boonmee produced an assortment of dishes for us to try with a stir-fried chicken and prawn and mushroom with cashew nuts, a deep-fried catfish with lemongrass and green peppercorns, battered prawns in lemon-butter sauce and garlic prawns. The team of three was simply delighted with the food. Madame was ecstatic with the fish which had taken up both tastes of the lemongrass and peppercorns, while my favourite was the huge battered prawns. The lemon-butter sauce, which had a hint of orange as well, was fabulous and the dish would not have looked out of place in any 5 star fine dining restaurant. Flavour and presentation of the highest order.

Boonmee mentioned that he is also a fortune teller, but you don’t have to be clairvoyant to see why this restaurant is successful (one of Chiang Mai’s premier ladies was there that day too). The food is just sensational, putting Phuangthong in the frame for “best food”, and so cheap it puts the restaurant in the running for “best value” too. If you don’t like the ‘funky’ atmosphere, don’t worry - you will rave about the food. I did! Highest recommendation possible.

Phuangthong (Golden Bunch) Restaurant, 135 Charoen Prathet Road, (Nr Wat Chaimongkol and opposite Doi Ping Mansion), Chiang Mai, telephone 053 820 378, open 11.30 a.m. till 11 p.m. every day.