It's not a lie when I say I was sad to hear Saigon Sally was leaving the alleyway on Duke street. Just a stone's throw from where I am, I have enjoyed many a meal there and it never disappointed. Their soft-shelled crabs were one of my favourites. A feed-me birthday dinner I had there was more than satisfactory in flavour and volume. The atmosphere was always great and the venue was always pumping each time I went, so why oh why? Hence I was confused as to why they would close it down.
I soon cheered up when I heard a new Thai restaurant was opening in its place, by the same Commune Group (owners of Saigon Sally, Tokyo Tina, Hanoi Hannah, Neptune & now BKK) also responsible for Saigon Sally, and felt reassured another great restaurant was on its way.
BKK opened on 5 October 2017, and I kid you not, I was the first one through the door. In fact, I was standing outside the closed doors for 10 minutes before they opened. I was excited and keen as mustard. To my good luck, the three co-owners of BKK, Nicolas Coulter, Simon Blatcher and Charlie Rothery were on hand to have a chat to. Chef Sean Judd was probably busy in the kitchen.
Getting away from the predictable, they wanted something fresh for the restaurant, hence BKK, a play on the code for Bangkok Airport. I will however, miss the familiar recognisable trademark play on names that's synonymous with this Group.
The decor is not far removed from how Sally was, with the centre bar still in place and the restaurant flooded in hues of red lighting; this time with the addition of red glass bricks reflecting the colour even more. Perhaps that is the intent, a reminder of the nightlife and atmosphere of Bangkok by night.
The huge beautiful portrait mural that was, has gone, and in its place, beige/off-white textured paint. The other side of the wall filled with huge windows that look out onto the graffitied cobblestone laneway remains, giving you some interesting views while you dine. The upstairs of BKK is still undergoing changes to be reborn as a drinking place and a waiting space for the restaurant, for the welcome walk-ins.
I came prepared to eat and throw caution to the wind as I do when I'm about to dine at a brand new restaurant. Unfortunately, there's only so much one person can fit in. As seafood is all I eat of the meat variety on any menu, I ordered the grilled eggplant salad with basil, mint, steamed egg, and tamarind ($20). From the wok, I ordered the rice noodles with prawns, chilli, basil and snake bean ($26), and for dessert, I got the crispy creme, mango, sticky rice ice cream ($12).
I desperately wanted to try another dish (Barramundi fillet hot and sour broth with pineapple, mushroom and cherry tomatoes ($22), but erred on the side of caution when the ever effervescent Host (who was also with Saigon Sally) Chris Considine mentioned it all might be a bit too much for me.
I was most surprised by the grilled eggplant salad, as the word grilled made me think it would be a warm vegetable salad. Instead, the dish was cold. Not what I was expecting at all, but the roti was crisp perfection and great for mopping up the eggplant.
The rice noodles with prawns was a tad salty, but the prawns were great. The rice noodles just needed that little bit more cooking time for it to be cooked to perfection.
I have to admit, when I ordered dessert, I missed the 'crispy crepe' bit, and only saw mango, sticky rice and ice cream, which is so Thai, and was looking forward to the familiar.
A very pretty tiny couple of cones came out with shards of mango and a quenelle of what looked like sorbet. I went looking for and asked about the sticky rice, and was told that the quenelle 'was' a sticky rice ice cream. My bad! Again, I didn't read the menu properly, as the punctuation mark, a comma after the mango, did confirm it was 'sticky rice ice cream'.
Waaaah! I was disappointed as I was so looking forward to the typical street food Thai flavour of actual sticky rice with ice cream. I guess I was being pretty old school about this modern take, in expecting the familiar. I was looking forward to sinking my teeth into some sticky, comforting, glutinous rice and shards of mango in a crispy cone just didn't cut it for me.
Unfortunately, I don't drink, so there's nothing I can tell you about the bar or the drinks menu. They do look fully stocked as it was with Sally.
A familiar spot, a good vibe, an attentive host and a perfect atmosphere for dining will no doubt have people streaming in through the doors. What a surprise for those who rock up there and don't know Saigon Sally has left the building, but at least they'd have landed at the doors of a brand new restaurant to experience.