First Look: Inside @Bangkok on Douglas St.

Victoria is a wellspring of diverse and innovative Asian food. Almost every neighbourhood in the city boasts a local Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese joint run by first, second, or third-generation immigrants who have capitalized on the West Coast penchant for Asian cuisine. Some are hit and miss; others bring consistently authentic flavours that honour the traditions and techniques from their respective region. On first inspection @Bangkok Modern Thai Cuisine is relatively non-descript with sparse decoration, bright orange sherbert coloured walls and pale pink banquet chairs. If you walked in the doors the first thing you might do is shrug your shoulders as you look around. But after you take a seat, peruse the selective menu and dig into the Panang beef the surroundings will fade into the background letting the dish be the sole object you focus on.

The partnership behind the restaurant is an odd one. Rob Cole, a former Alberta-based corporate manager for Telus, will greet you at the door. Having married into the Thai community he was drawn into the cooking and the culture. This is how he met chefs and co-owners, Pornphan Chanrod, who goes by Pam, and Pratana Pitakpaosakul, who goes by Tak. What makes this even more interesting is that if you walk into any Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, arguably anywhere in the country, it is the women who will seat you and serve you and the men who sweat it out in the kitchen. Here the tables are turned. This is an equal ownership between Cole, Chanrod, and Pitakpaosakul with Cole heading up the front of house operations and Pam and Tak creating outstanding Thai dishes in the kitchen. Both Pam and Tak are highly experienced chefs. Pam, a Red Seal Chef who apprenticed at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, has cooked all over the world and Tak who has a storied history that includes training under celebrity chef Vichit Mukara, has worked as a chef at Canada’s Thai Embassy and created dishes for the Thai Royal Family.

Pam took the time to sit down with EAT and talk about how she maintains authenticity in the complex flavours of Southern Thailand while building upon her desire to incorporate local and seasonal ingredients. She brings her inspiration from her village, Naconsitummanat; just outside of Phuket, where she was enthralled with her mother’s cooking from a young age. Regularly travelling back to Thailand, Pam says she still cannot cook up to her mother’s standards but endeavours to cook like she was at home. Pam has studied the produce that BC has to offer and is always on the lookout to draw in local ingredients recently discovering that lemongrass, an essential Thai ingredient, is now grown in Kelowna. She strives to find the best local ingredients to incorporate into her dishes and is looking forward to the spring and summer time for new inspiration.

Unlike many Thai restaurants, which feature a dizzying array of selections, the dinner menu at @Bangkok is streamlined and simple with 6 appetizers and 13 mains, all under $15, to choose from and is now fully licensed. A stand out dish is the Roasted Duck done with red curry, cherry tomatoes, grapes, pineapple and coconut milk. The lunch menu has garnered a bit of a cult following, keeping the seats filled and take-out orders flying out of the kitchen. Everything on the lunch menu is a frugal $9.95 and includes soup, salad and a spring roll. The ingredients are fresh, the flavours bright and inspired, and the service welcoming and prompt.

@Bangkok has joined the growing list of small but well-respected Asian food eateries, such as The Cozy Place and Green Leaf Bistro, that have begun to populate the obscure area around The Hudson. The relatively unnoticed neighbourhood is seeing some much needed revitalization through the introduction of authentic, well-executed and diverse selections of Asian cuisine.

1813 Douglas St, Victoria, BC

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