COCONUTS HOTSPOT — Resting at the confluence of Lad Prao, Pahon Yothin and Vibhavadi roads, close to Pahon Yothin MRT station, Pathé appears unassuming and hearty. As I approach the door just shy of 7:30pm, I notice that not only is this utterly local, antique raan ahaan crammed full of people, it’s also instantly likable.
As the door swings open, I’m welcomed with a smile followed by a furrowed brow – the odds of scoring one of their many tables at this early hour are already close to zero, such is the popularity of this urban hangout.
As I wait for the verdict (word that a table is needed is rapidly passed around to next door and the “attic” level), there’s a chance to observe the intriguing dimly-lit antique decor. I have always had a soft spot for this style of Bangkok restaurant, but more often than not disapproved of the food. Too much focus on “uniqueness” often breeds forgetfulness of their fare and the real reason people venture out to eat.
I cast my eyes over the many vintage brand signs lined up alongside rotary dial telephones which, while I refuse to call them antique, are certainly older than most of the clientele. Plastered across the walls in an almost mosaic-like fashion are numerous vinyl sleeves, which makes me turn my focus to the music. Sure enough, I quickly recognize the soulful ‘70s harmony of “Rock the Boat” softly filling the room.
Allegedly, each of the record sleeves adorning the wall contribute to the restaurant’s play list. Though at first glance I can’t instantly locate the Hues Corporation’s cover, I’m assured when I ask that it’s “somewhere,” as I’m led to a mezzanine level table, minding my head as I stoop under the roof beams at the top of the narrow, spiral staircase.
Seated in the intimate “attic,” I’m handed a menu (in both Thai and Thinglish) and immediately order a beer as I once again take stock of my surroundings. The upper level is as eclectic as the lower, with mismatched furniture and sofas hosting merry meals on six to seven tables. Half of me hopes the story of the play list is false as I spot the faces of Telly Savalas, Paul Young and Suzi Quatro, while I vow to leave if “Under the Boardwalk” by Bruce Willis comes on next.
Any thoughts of leaving – or negotiating the tricky stairwell again so soon – are immediately dismissed as my waiter returns with a large beer bottle, plate of nuts (garnished with salt, onion and chili) and the pièce de résistance: a frozen glass. More accurately, a beer glass, one-third filled with water, that’s been placed in a freezer.
As I glance around the tables at the happy couples and boisterous groups, I wonder if this is why the restaurant is packed each and every night. Could Pathé have discovered the “Holy Grail” by simply freezing their beer mugs? If only the food can match the experience thus far.
Eager to find out, I swiftly order with the friendly waiter, who promptly brings me my selections in no discernible order (par the course for Thailand).
My meal begins with a pleasantly presented kung chai nam pla (raw shrimp with seafood sauce, THB110). It’s difficult to go wrong with serving raw produce, but the secret to this dish is the power of the nam pla which. as a lover of spice, I’m glad to discover doesn’t pull punches at Pathé.
The good start continues as the next dish nuea nok krajaukted krata raun (stir-fried ostrich and red pepper served on a hot plate, THB180) arrives. The ostrich meat is delightfully tender, while the subtle pepper complements rather than overpowers the overall flavor; I found myself wanting more – there is no heartier recommendation.
As it was rated ‘WOW!’ on the menu (there’s also a star rating system for dishes in each menu category) and in the No.1 spot of recommended dishes, I also plump for the kai krob sauce manao (crispy chicken in a lemon sauce, THB95), which although delivered a nice contrast to the meaty ostrich, didn’t stand out or deserve it’s claimed exclamation mark.
My final selection is tom yum kung with coconut (THB130) – an ubiquitous dish in Thailand, and while there was little unique about Pathé’s pleasantly creamy, spicy version, it ticks all the boxes the commonly-found seafood soup should, with plump shrimp and chunky mushrooms.
On top of the frosted beer mugs and flavor-filled cuisine, the unassuming, unpretentious aura of Pathé delivers not only a sense of comfort, but one of belonging. Perhaps that was why, as I carefully navigate my way down the stairwell, I notice that still not a single table is free – indeed everyone appears to be exactly where they were almost two hours previously when I made my ascent.
Outside I encounter a queue of a half dozen-or-so patient customers gathered hopefully on the sidewalk at 9:20pm on a regular Monday night – a clear sign business is good.
While they may have been a little over-eager to declare their crispy chicken in lemon sauce a ‘WOW!’ dish, I have no reservations in suggesting that my experience at Pathé was exactly that. Arrive early to avoid a lengthy wait.
Pathé Antique and Restaurant is located on Phahonyothin Road near Chatuchak Park and Lat Phrao Road. Meal for two, including beer and service, THB800-1,200.
Photos: Anton de Vries
1130/4-7 Phahonyothin Road, Chatuchak