Food on the railway network in Thailand is invariably delicious, both at stations and on the trains themselves. So it makes sense that Soei restaurant, somewhat oddly located right next to the platform at Samsen railway station in Bangkok, serves up an impressive array of Thai seafood dishes cooked to perfection.
With a strong focus on seafood – and on mackerel in particular – evidenced by the tanks of creatures by the door ready to be plucked and prepared, Soei serves up dishes that are highly fragrant, strongly flavoured, and in many cases spicy too. The restaurant has a strong local reputation that makes it busy most evenings, meaning it’s not uncommon to encounter a wait for food to be served. Of course, its popularity is a good indicator of the quality of the cooking, and Soei is one place where you’ll neither go hungry nor be disappointed by the food.
The ambience is all part of the appeal here, too. The open-air restaurant is set on one side of Samsen railway station, right alongside the platform, and trains heading in and out of Bangkok frequently pass noisily through, and stop at the station as passengers board and disembark. The long dining hall is a basic setup of plastic and metal tables and chairs, with the former sportsman owner-chef’s paraphenalia lining the walls. This is no fancy spot decor-wise, but it is an atmospheric one – and it’s also one where the focus is firmly on the food rather than anything else. Service can be brisk, particularly when the restaurant is busy, but is usually friendly nonetheless – this is particularly true of the owner-chef’s nephew who heads up front-of-house operations; slightly less so of the other servers, and the scantily dressed, Tiger-branded waitresses who are primarily there to sell beer (more on that later), who all seem somewhat more disinterested.
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Pla kung pao (พล่ากุ้งเผา) – grilled tiger prawn salad
One of the absolute highlights of a meal at Soei is the pla kung pao (พล่ากุ้งเผา), a tangy and flavoursome salad of tiger prawns. These huge prawns are grilled, split into two halves, and dressed in a spicy and acidic medley of lime juice, lemongrass, chillies, onions, garlic and tomatoes. At 450 baht it is no cheap dish, but its size is impressive in itself, arriving on a simply huge tray of a plate. It will likely be the most expensive dish you order at Soei, but the high-quality prawns and the simply stunning flavours mean it is worth every satang.
Tom yum pla too (ต้มยำปลาทู) – tom yum soup with mackerel
The tom yum pla too (ต้มยำปลาทู, 150 baht) – hot and sour tom yum soup with whole mackerel – is piquant to the extreme; not so much spicy, but intensely flavoured with lemongrass and other herbs to the point that you’ll struggle not to cough and splutter when inhaling its scent, let alone when it comes to actually eating it. That said, the soup is delicious, again on the sour side and with basil leaves that aren’t always present in this dish, and the halved mackerel are tender.
Chu chee pla too (ฉู่ฉี่ปลาทู) – mackerel curry
Somewhere between a red and yellow curry, the chu chee pla too (ฉู่ฉี่ปลาทู, 90 baht) is rich and wonderfully heavy on the coconut. The curry is served on a long shallow dish, meaning the lengthways-split mackerel sits on the surface of the soup rather than swimming in it as the protein would usually in a Thai curry. The chu chee manages the perfect level of spice balanced out by the coconut milk, and you can forget any thoughts about other vegetables to pad out the curry – other than specks of the chilli and onion that the base has been cooked in, the focus here is purely on the mackerel.
Kaem pla too tod (แก้มปลาทูทอด) – fried mackerel cheeks
Another of Soei’s signature dishes amounts essentially to a drinking snack, but a truly fine drinking snack it is. In another nod to the prevalence of mackerel on the menu here, mackerel cheeks (แก้มปลาทูทอด, 90 baht) are simply deep fried in garlic to perfect crispness and served up with a chilli dipping sauce.
Hoy talub pad cha (หอยตลับผัดฉ่า) – flash-fried clams
A dish of hoy talub clams was served flash-fried with chilli and holy basil (หอยตลับผัดฉ่า, 70 baht). These were pleasant, but not the most outstanding dish at Soei – that said, they were just about on a par with the same dish at Krua Lung Meuk Pa Lord seafood restaurant in Prachuap Kiri Khan.
Yum kai dao (ยำไข่ดาว) – fried egg salad
The yum kai dao (ยำไข่ดาว) fried egg salad, however, was another perfectly executed dish. In truth little more than two fried eggs bathed in a sauce base of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and stock seasoning, then sprinkled with garlic, chillies, shallots and coriander, what makes this yum kai dao so excellent is the impressive frying of the eggs. While just on the right side of crispy on the exterior, inside the eggs don’t have the usual runny consistency you would expect of a ‘sunny-side-up’, partially fried egg, known in Thai as kai dao mai suk (ไข่ดาวไม่สุก) and meaning ‘uncooked fried egg’, and often ordered as an accompaniment to common stir-fried dishes. Instead, the yolk is halfway to being well done, resulting in a wonderfully thick, creamy and gooey consistency inside that still manages to avoid being too well done. Combined with the tanginess of the salad dressing – again, a hallmark of this restaurant’s love of lime as an ingredient – it is fantastic.
Kung che nam pla (กุ้งแช่น้ำปลา) – raw prawn ceviche with wasabi
Soei’s take on kung che nam pla (กุ้งแช่น้ำปลา, 150 baht) is certainly not one for the unadventurous eater. Elsewhere this dish is a simple but delicious ceviche combining raw butterflied tiger prawns with a fish sauce, garlic and chilli dressing, with extra garlic on the side to devour along with whole shrimps. At Soei, things take a more sinister turn when wasabi comes into play – in vast quantities. Wasabi is mixed into the fish sauce dressing to such an extent that it all becomes a kind of soup in which the raw prawns are left to swim. The whole lot is served with a side bowl of deep-fried garlic; while the dish is without a doubt spectacular, it arguably goes a little overboard on the wasabi to the detriment of the other flavours present here. Either way, expect to cough and sneeze a lot, and for your nose to be on fire like it never has been during any wasabi-loaded Japanese meal.
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Yum woonsen (ยำวุ้นเส้น) – glass noodle salad
The yum woonsen (ยำวุ้นเส้น, 90 baht) glass noodle salad was again pleasant but not spectacular. A mixture of pork with tomatoes, onions, other leafy vegetables and glass noodles against a similar sour fish sauce, lime and chilli base to that used in the fried egg salad, the yum woonsen – though still fragrant – is a good option for something a little tamer to temper the fire of the other dishes.
Mieng kham pla too (เมี่ยงคำปลาทู) – mackerel betel leaf parcels
Once more putting humble mackerel right into the limelight, Soei’s mieng kham pla too (เมี่ยงคำปลาทู) is another great dish. Mieng kham (เมี่ยงคำ) is a popular self-assembly dish that culminates in small parcels of betel leaves loaded with an assortment of fillings including chillies, garlic, peanuts, lemongrass, ginger, lime wedges, and shallots. While regular mieng kham (เมี่ยงคำ) often comes with a thick shrimp paste-based sauce to add to the bundle, at Soei the mieng kham pla too (เมี่ยงคำปลาทู) is served with a dish of pounded mackerel instead. With both lettuce leaves and betel leaves, this is another pleasantly fragrant dish that also feels fresh and healthy enough to offset the likes of the chu chee pla too (ฉู่ฉี่ปลาทู) mackerel curry and the yum kai dao (ยำไข่ดาว) fried egg salad.
Soei’s extensive menu includes countless other dishes, boasting both a wide variety of seafood and other meats like frog. Desserts include the popular ao toong (โอวทึ้ง), an incredibly sweet shaved ice concoction of evaporated milk and palm sugar, the bottom half of which tastes a lot like treacle. A variety of flavours of ice cream is also available, but this is disappointingly in small bought-in tubs rather than being homemade; the ice cream itself is decidedly average, and not a patch on the durian and coconut ice creams at nearby Gaeng Pa Sriyan, or on the range of dairy-free ice creams at Nuttaporn in Bangkok’s old town.
A number of local beers are available by the bottle, but sales for these are handled separate from food orders and, oddly, money is collected before the beer is served, by scantily clad waitresses wearing Tiger-branded clothing, who are far less keen on friendly customer service than the other staff, and who frankly look out of place here.
Soei is located at Samsen railway station, right on the far platform used by trains heading back into the capital from the north, northeast and south of Thailand. If approaching from the main road, you can either use the footbridge or cross the tracks through the gate when there is no train either in the station or approaching – do take care.
One way to get here, if you really want to make an entrance, is to take the train from the line’s terminus at Hualamphong station, which connects with the MRT subway. Samsen is the first calling point for almost all northern, northeastern and southern trains heading out of Hualamphong (eastern trains towards the Cambodian border take a different route); 45 departures head this way every day, with fares as low as 2 baht or free for Thai nationals, and the journey time is usually under 10 minutes.
Alternatively, the nearest BTS Skytrain station is Victory Monument, from where a taxi to Samsen train station will cost around 60 baht and a tuk tuk around 80 baht. Finally, bus number 9 terminates at Samsen railway station and on its way here passes the Pak Khlong Talat flower market (from where you can catch the Chaophraya Express river boat at Memorial Bridge), the Grand Palace, Sanam Luang, the Phra Athit river boat pier, and Thewet intersection.
Kampaeng Phet Soi 5; 086 103 6603