BANGKOK — A neon-lit restaurant founded by two Laotian royal descendants in the Thonglor area is trying to bring back the glory of their ex-kingdom via wagyu and foie gras.
Funky Lam is founded by royal Laotian descent cousins Sanya Souvanna Phouma and Saya Na Champassak, who fled the country due to political reasons. Today, Sanya owns multiple nightlife venues across the capital like Sing Sing and Cactus, while his cousin helps him run the businesses.
“We want the dining experience to be as lively as funk gigs and ramwong folk dance circles,” chef Vishanu Prempuk said. “Our concept is to uplift Laotian fare to the next level, something like what the royals used to have, but even more scrumptious.”
With price tags to match with the trendy yet affluent neighborhood, the seemingly familiar dishes from local som tum stalls are reimagined with top-notch ingredients like foie gras and Australian Wagyu.
Still, the chef stressed that he isn’t just being pretentious by using superior ingredients, but it’s the cooking techniques that make them worthy.
“There’s more processes involved in Laotian kitchens,” Vishanu said. “Most of the dishes have to be grilled, but we don’t just put them straight on fire. We marinade the meat with different herbs and spices for a few days before grilling them with pine wood charcoal, which gives a more aromatic scent.”
The restaurant only serves dinner. In the daytime, Luka Moto takes its place as a chopper-themed café, serving comfort brunch menu while showcasing BMW motorbikes which are also on sale.
But as soon as the sun sets, the hand-painted rattan blinds are rolled down, pastries boxed up to make way for booze, and reddish neon signs light up. Passersby would have no idea it is a Laotian eatery until they sit at a table and are greeted with a bowl of roasted chilis, as an hors d’oeuvre.
These addictively spicy snacks foreshadow the spice yet to come. Instead of cheese, cold cuts, and olive oil, the Italian appetizer carpaccio gets its Laotian version with Lao Parccio (360 baht), made with rice noodles, larb oil, and betel leaves that all blanketed with thin slices of raw Australian wagyu.
Piquant herbiness hits our tongues hard, before the heat is carried away by smokey larb oil and the melt-in-your-mouth, aromatic meat.
More mouth-watering is Tub Ping Khao Jee (390 baht). The grilled sticky rice khao jee native to Laotian streets is graced with chucks of seared foie gras – glazed with sweet tamarind sauce and sharp jaew bong chili paste.
Although the chili paste is made with pla daek (known to Bangkokians as pla ra) fermented fish, the chef concealed its smell, strong even to a native Isaan tongue. Like wasabi, it took awhile for the heat to spread and burn.
Another variant of jaew accompanies Lin Seen (350 baht). A platter of slow braised, smoked ox tongue marinated for six hours is smeared with jaew som sauce made of picked garlic. Think of it as if you are dipping a slice of succulent smoked ham with a more tangy version of Thai seafood dipping sauce.
Pa Ping (580 baht), a whole rainbow trout is stuffed with lemongrass and sweet basil leaves for three days before being grilled, fetched a higher price tag and was drier than we’d like, even with a variety of jaew sauces to dip the fish with.
That was the only quibble we had for the meal, but it was Hed Phasom (340 baht) that brought back our faith. Your waiter pours a light chili paste soup from a kettle onto a medley of mushrooms, herbs, and rice crackers.
If you equate coming to Thonglor with 300 baht cocktails, pair your meal with heady cocktails such as the chrysanthemum-infused Fizzy Vodka Flower (280 baht) and minty, plum-infused gin Queen of the South (320 baht).
While many foodies may find Laotian dishes similar to Isaan cuisine across the Mekong River, the chef insisted that they are different.
“Laotian taste is stronger than Isaan,” Vishanu said. “They are more spicy, sour, and bitter because more herbs are used.”
Funky Lam is open from 6pm to 11.30pm on Wednesday to Sunday and from 6pm to 11pm on Monday. The restaurant is located inside The Taste Thonglor on Thonglor Soi 11 and is reachable from BTS Thong Lo.
This review is based on a hosted visit.