Sanguan Sri: old-school Thai food in downtown Bangkok

Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

Tucked among the high-rise office buildings and shopping centres in Bangkok’s predominantly business and embassy focussed Phloen Chit area is an old-fashioned Thai restaurant that looks as though it hasn’t changed much in the decades it has been open.

The idea that you’ll blink and miss it is one that was made for the likes of Sanguan Sri, such is the lack of impression it is likely to make on you as you walk down Wireless Road, which runs just along from Phloen Chit Skytrain station. Likened by many to a concrete bunker,  both the interior and exterior decor of this single-storey building are vintage in a way that’s about as from the modern-day, affectionately tinged meaning of the word as is possible.

RELATED: Recipe: Grilled Duck Thai Red Curry

RECOMMENDED: Download the 101 Things to Do in Bangkok e-book

Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

More simply, it’s clear that scant attention has been paid to the design inside or out for a good twenty or thirty years. The walls are grimy, some of the wooden tables practically falling apart and the gigantic and practically antique air-conditioning unit is about the size of a washing machine suspended from the ceiling. The whole place could do with a good scrubbing and several licks of paint.

Service is similarly lacking in finesse – walk in from the street and you will likely be somewhat taken aback by the seemingly chaotic scenes of staff zipping back and forth from the kitchen, hordes of customers waiting around the dated cashier’s desk by the door in some hope of being seated or being able to pay their bills. There is a clear lack of interest in polished customer service, and this is not the place to come if you’re looking for smiling, efficient waiters.

RELATED: Authentic southern mataba in Bangkok

RECOMMENDED: Check Agoda’s rates at the nearby Okura Prestige hotel

Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

Rather, put on your best bullish mood and prepare to be outspoken to get a table, place your order and pay. Over the course of three visits I have encountered long waits to order, found staff sometimes impossible to pin down to speak to, and had dishes turn up haphazardly and with long breaks between service – drinks only arriving right at the end of the meal and that kind of thing.

Fortunately, this is all a sign that the emphasis at Sanguan Sri is not at all on the delicacies of service, which to be honest the management don’t appear to have the slightest care about – but purely and simply on the food. And boy is the food good. It is no coincidence that, during the lunchtime rush, every single table is packed with local office workers every single day.

RELATED: Khao Gaeng Jake Puey: Thai curry in Bangkok’s Chinatown

RECOMMENDED: Download Mark Wiens’ Eating Thai Food Guide e-book

Gaeng phet bped yaang at Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

In fact, it’s testament to two things – that despite the apparently frenzied display of disorganised service, they do manage to get through hundreds of customers every lunchtime (and keep them coming back time and again), and that if you want something a little less hectic, you might be better coming either for an early lunch or a relaxed late afternoon meal, when the restaurant is far quieter.

The focus at Sanguan Sri is on southern Thai cuisine, with a few dishes from the central plains thrown in for good measure. Much like the furnishings, this is old-fashioned, traditional Thai food like plenty of Thais’ grandmothers used to make – the kind which is increasingly difficult to find in modern day Bangkok, and where there is no wish to dilute flavours, add fusion twists or otherwise up-trend dishes for the whims of the twenty-first century palate. Instead, you’re looking at original recipes cooked well as they have been for centuries.

RELATED: Northern Thai food in northern Bangkok: khao soi and gaeng hunglay at Han Jao Nua

RECOMMENDED: Download the 101 Things to Do in Bangkok e-book

Gaeng phet bped yaang at Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

The stand-out gaeng phet bped yaang, a Thai red curry with grilled duck and pineapple of which I am exceptionally fond and have written about before, is the best I have so far encountered in a shop or restaurant setting in Thailand. While this is still a dish that I most often cook at home, my other very decent experience of it is ironically from the self-service take-away curry bar in the food court of Central Chidlom department store; the worst I have had, on a Thai friend’s recommendation too, was at a popular restaurant I shall leave nameless – but suffice to say there is a branch at Don Muang airport that you should make an effort to avoid if passing through.

RELATED: Goat kuruma curry and more at Yusup Pochana

RECOMMENDED: Check Agoda’s rates at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, just next door

Gaeng phet bped yaang at Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

Call me a purist, but gaeng phet bped yaang when done well is a unique combination of rich creamy coconut-based red curry, fatty and juicy grilled duck and the acidic zing of pineapple chunks, cherry tomatoes and kaffir lime leaves. Done badly it was a gloopy mess of a sauce with a consistency far too thick, and with the likes of pea aubergines inexplicably thrown in to further skew the flavour far from what it should be.

RELATED: Recipe: Grilled Duck Thai Red Curry

RECOMMENDED: Download Mark Wiens’ Eating Thai Food Guide e-book

Yum moo grob at Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

At Sanguan Sri, however, the curry base is pleasingly thin and soup-like, the thin layer of separated oil on top of the deep red soup is enticing and there are no uninvited corruptions – just generously sized, tender chunks of grilled duck, perfectly cooked cherry tomatoes, just-sweet-enough chunks of still mildly firm pineapple and the perfect helping of torn kaffir lime leaves (they are there to impart flavour, not to be eaten, so you don’t want them to be so plentiful in number or shredded such that you can’t avoid them on your spoon).

Other dishes are consistently well executed too – both the yum moo manao (fresh, leafy salad of grilled pork in a lime dressing) and yum moo grob (a similar fresh salad with grilled crispy-skinned pork) have the ideal citrus dose to them and just the right level of spice from fresh chillies. The goong pla, a potent salad of decent-sized fresh prawns in a citrussy chilli marinade and mixed into a salad rich in finely shaved lemongrass, garlic and shallots, is equally memorable.

RELATED: Could this be Bangkok’s best somtum?

RECOMMENDED: Check Agoda’s rates at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, just next door

Goong pla at Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

Another good choice here is the kai palo, a five-spice pork stew with hard boiled eggs and of Chinese origin, which is cooked slowly with chunks of fatty, streaky pork and arrives with beautifully glistening specks of oil on top of the gravy-like sauce – definitely not one for the overly health-conscious, but absolutely worth a splurge! Sanguan Sri‘s take on kanom jeen sao nam, too, has a popular following, a simple one-dish of rice noodles in a coconut soup of pineapple and dried shrimps topped with shredded sour green mango.

RELATED: Toney Restaurant: a taste of India in Bangkok

RECOMMENDED: Download the 101 Things to Do in Bangkok e-book

Sanguan Sri in Phloen Chit, Bangkok

The restaurant also serves a selection of traditional Thai desserts and there are small take-away bags of royal Thai snacks to buy in a small room to the left of the entrance, where there is another typically old-fashioned cashier’s desk and one more dining table separated from the rest, handy if the rest of the place is full.

To get to Sanguan Sri, walk around 200m along Wireless Road (Thanon Witthayu) from Phloen Chit junction. You’ll find the indistinctive entrance to the restaurant on your left, just short of the Plaza Athenee hotel and usually fronted by a few trays of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. Telephone reservations recommended during the lunchtime rush. Expect to pay between 60 and 100 baht for most dishes ordered as part of a meal to share, with separate portions of rice.

Sanguan Sri, Wireless Road (Thanon Witthayu) (BTS Phloen Chit); 02 252 7637
Monday-Saturday, 10.00am-5.00pm; Sunday, 10am-2pm

Related posts:

2 Comments

Filed under Bangkok, Evergreen, Food, Food, Thailand

2 Responses to Sanguan Sri: old-school Thai food in downtown Bangkok

  1. Some of these dishes sound really tasty – I like the sound of the salads!

    • They really are. The ‘yum moo manao’ pork and lime salad that I had on my first visit was my favourite. The ‘yum moo grob’ crispy pork salad the second time round was still very good, but the first one won me over with its zingy citrus notes. Definitely worth a visit when you’re back, Anna!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *