I’m no stranger to Koh Thai Bistro. I’ve eaten the lunch special at Koh Thai’s Vivo City mall location in District 7 on many occasions and it’s always met my expectations. It’s consistent in taste, service and price — prerequisites for happiness with any dining experience.
Now, Koh Thai has a new instalment in District 1 on Nguyen Hue — well, almost on Nguyen Hue. It’s located on the ground floor inside Saigon Garden Centre, a newish courtyard hidden away from the walking street, accessible by a wooden gangway at 99 Nguyen Hue. Look for Starbucks and Coffee Bean cafés. Go in between them, proceed to the end and turn right.
On this night, a helpful staff member dressed in traditional Thai garb greeted me with a wai and a sawasdee ka before ushering me inside. A nice touch.
Koh Thai has taken over some space once occupied by The Society Bar & Grill. The decor hasn’t changed except for perhaps a splash of purple here and there — something often associated with many things Thailand. I wondered if I was in the right place, but the friendly staff assured me I was. No framed portraits of the king, flaking gold Buddhas or carved wooden elephants collecting dust here. As a result, Koh Thai fits in nicely with the rest of the tenants occupying the courtyard.
The atmosphere inside is welcoming despite the mismatch of the decor and the type of food I was about to eat. The hip-hop playing over the speakers — an odd selection — was kept down to a level loud enough to discern the tune, but quiet enough to chat without interference. The mirrors on the ceiling are a tad off-putting, but they don’t detract from the space’s pleasant ambience overall.
I tried to order a Singha, then Beer Chang, while I looked at the menu, and was puzzled that Koh Thai didn’t have either. I was informed that the bar hadn’t been fully stocked yet owing to the restaurant’s recent opening, but as a concession, I would receive 20 percent off my bill as an opening promotion. I couldn’t complain about that.
I settled on a Stella Artois draught (VND90,000), probably the best option on the beer list. For non-drinkers there’s a choice of teas (all VND60,000) among other options, but drinks aren’t what you go to Koh Thai for — it’s the food.
The menu is extensive. There are five soups, 11 salads, eight appetisers, eight rice dishes, 16 noodle options, 12 vegetarian choices, 11 house specials, 13 dishes with vegetables, five curries, and five desserts. Quite a dilemma for someone as indecisive as me at the dinner table.
For starters I chose the fish cakes with plum sauce (VND188,000). One serve equals four large medallion-size cakes enough for two or three people as an appetiser. They smell great and are cooked with fresh ingredients judging by their flavour, although they were on the rubbery side and threatened to bounce off my plate into a neighbouring diner’s lap at any moment. If they had, I would’ve ordered more anyway. The tartness of the plum sauce lifts the flavours of this starter to an even higher level.
Next up was the tom yum sweet-and-sour soup with king prawns (VND188,000). It’s soupy, moderately spicy and with plenty of prawns — although calling them king-size might be a stretch. Still, Koh Thai’s tom yum is always in my order, because it doesn’t disappoint.
Then came the massaman curry with Australian beef (VND238,000) and plain steamed rice (VND20,000). The sauce is rich, peppery and spicy. Marvellous. You’ll find small pieces of potato and onion in there too. If there was a letdown, it would be that the beef could be slightly more tender — detracting from an otherwise tasty dish.
Finally, for dessert I ordered the sticky rice with mango and coconut ice-cream (VND88,000). It was fresh and cleansing, something I recommend to round off what proved to be yet another tasty food experience at Koh Thai — as expected.
Give this new outlet in the chain time to iron out any teething problems, and it will get even better.
Koh Thai is located at 99 Nguyen Hue on the ground floor of the Saigon Garden Centre, Q1, HCMC. Open for lunch 11am to 2pm and dinner 5.30pm to 11pm daily. For bookings phone (08) 3914 1111
Food, Decor and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15.
13 — 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 — 12.5 very good to excellent
8 — 9.5 good to very good
5 — 7.5 fair to good
0 — 4.5 poor to fair
The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals