BANGKOK — Waiters in pressed white formal jackets set down plates of crispy prawn tartlets while the stately Democracy Monument dominates the windows – but the air is silent, without the usual crooning of oldies melodies.
Methavalai Sorndaeng, the 63-year-old restaurant in Bangkok’s historic center known for its live luk krung music and one Michelin star rating, will have to make do with serving just the delicious traditional Thai food for now.
Bangkok Metropolitan Admistration’s spokesman Police Capt. Pongsakorn said earlier this week that live music in restaurants is still banned under anti-coronavirus measures. But recorded music can be played within volume limits at one of the more affordable, down-to-earth starred restaurants.
Methavalai Sorndaeng, which has retained its one-star rating in the Michelin guide for two years since 2018. The restaurant itself was founded in 1957 as Sorndaeng, then renovated and renamed in 1993. Older Bangkokians especially think of the restaurant fondly, especially for its piano music during lunch and band music at dinnertime.
“The place with Suntharaporn band music, right?” Thais will say if the restaurant is brought up as an outing option.
An employee at Sorndaeng said on Tuesday that they would have to wait for government regulations to see when they will be allowed to perform live music again.
At a recent visit to the restaurant for dinner, the band stage was empty but our bellies were full. The usually packed restaurant was quite quiet, with only a few other parties of older Bangkokians sitting on flower-patterned French upholstered dining chairs, under imitation maple trees.
We began our meal with the kratong tong (130 baht or 190 baht) appetizers, crispy tartlets filled with prawn, carrot, corn, and potato, light crispy pockets that disappeared all too quickly.
Next came the yum tua plu (200 baht to 300 baht), a crunchy wing bean salad with shrimps enveloped in nam prik and nuts, an exhibition in mouthfeel.
The baked pineapple curry rice (260 baht) puts to shame more mediocre restaurants’ attempts – every grain is baked deep yellow and stuffed served with cashews, pork floss, shrimp, sweet peppers – one almost gets embarrassed at how generous the toppings are.
When the kai hor baitoey or deep fried chicken wrapped in pandan (200 baht), unravel or rip apart the oily leaves to find a delectable piece of chicken underneath – compared to other restaurants’, Sorndaeng’s rendition is on the peppery side while the sauce is too heavy on the sweet black soy sauce.
Unmissable is the kaeng kua cha-om kua poo, crab meat and acacia red curry (300, 450, or 600 baht). A rare dish in regular Thai restaurants, the rich red curry is made more impressive by the pineapples, bitter-yet-sweet acacia shoots, and chunks of pure crab.
The double-boiled duck with preserved lime soup (220 or 330 baht) is the clear soup that all clear soups should aspire to be. The wax gourd that shyly breaks apart in your mouth and the duck are tied together by the tangy, pleasantly sour broth.
If going with an old-time uncle or auntie they will probably order the kaeng som puk tai (220, 330, or 440 baht), where crunchy lotus stems in turmeric curry provide and invigorating tang and crunch, along with tender grouper meat gentle to the teeth.
The deep fried Black-banded trevally with spicy and sour mango dip, or plaa samlee daed diew (490 to 540 baht) comes butterflied and ready for sharing with dinnermates.
The stir fried scallops in oyster sauce are admittedly pricey (500 or 750 baht) but imagine a scallop as springy, bouncy, and seamless as a look chin fish ball. It’s possible, and it’s what they serve.
We opted for the sakoo melon, or boiled sago with iced cantaloupe (65 baht) as a refreshing meal-ender.
Even without its signature oldies tunes keeping the dinner conversation flowing, the traditional Thai dishes and Democracy Monument silhouetting the sunset made for a memorable evening.
Either make an appointment soon to beat the usually crowded restaurant – our orders came quite fast due to the few tables – or wait until the Suntharaporn Band music flows from the little stage at Sorndaeng again.
Methavalai Sorndaeng is open from 10:00am, last order at 9:30pm every day. The restaurant is located right next to the Democracy Monument. Parking available, but can also be reached via taxi or motorbike from MRT Sam Yot. This review is unsponsored and based on an unannounced visit to the restaurant.