The spice is right

Hotel's three-decade-old Thai eatery relies on uncompromising standards rather than sensational frills

As Bangkok's restaurant scene continues its rapid evolution especially during the heyday of social media, it's not easy for a dining establishment in this curiosity-led metropolis to retain its popularity for more than 10 years. The fast-paced circle makes it even harder for traditional, sober Thai eateries not only to stand strong but also to survive amid a fanfare of new culinary genres.

Ever since it opened in 1983, this beautiful restaurant with a local market-inspired setting has constantly delighted regulars and first-timers with its uncompromising standards.

After three decades in operation Spice Market, however, seems to have beaten the odds.

The Thai cuisine outlet of Four Seasons Hotel is a great example of the meticulous five-star quality upkeep. Apparently, ever since it opened in 1983 with a beautiful, local market-inspired interior setting, the 120-seater has never gone through any major renewal _ visually or culinarily. Over the past 30 years, the place has constantly delighted regulars and first-timers with its uncompromising standards rather than sensational frills.

Spice Market's menu today has only been slightly adjusted from that of day one. The 100-item selection features authentically prepared Thai dishes (each with the chilli icon to indicate the level of fieriness) in categories including starters, salads, soups, Thai dips, curries, stir-fries, vegetarian dishes and desserts.

For first-time visitors, I recommend that you go by the Spice Market's Favourites. From it, I guarantee that discerning beef connoisseurs will never regret having green curry of braised Australian beef cheek (650 baht).

The green curry of braised Australian beef cheek.

Simply served in traditional style to be enjoyed with rice, the delicious curry, made with freshly squeezed coconut milk and homemade green curry paste, revealed generous chunks of extraordinarily tender beef cheek that were complemented nicely by the crisp and popping makhuea poh (lesser eggplant). Though it was signified with three chillies which suggests the highest level of spiciness, this creamy curry turned out to be very friendly even for farang tongues.

Also from the favourites list was crispy soft shell crab with peppercorn sauce (490 baht). Continuing to be a best-seller ever since it was first launched many years ago, this pungent dish of various textures and tangs presented deep-fried, lightly-battered soft shell crab tossed with salty sweet and spicy garlic, chilli, basil and peppercorn sauce.

A member of service staff recommended that we also try ma hor (220 baht). And this old-fashioned, ceremonial treat featuring chewy balls of caramelised minced chicken, shrimp, peanut and palm sugar on pineapple and pomelo wedges was very addictive.

For fans of yum, or Thai-style sour and spicy salad, there are two tasty options to highlight. The all-time popular grilled prawn and chicken salad with white turmeric and sweet chilli paste (420 baht) presented the grilled prawn and shredded meat of the grilled poultry laced with tropical herbs and spices in a pungent sweet chilli-tamarind paste dressing was truly delightful.

Crabmeat salad on grilled river prawn.

The same went for the crabmeat salad on grilled river prawn (430 baht), which offered a refreshing tangy first note followed by flavourful munch of river harvest and seafood and pleasant char-grilled aroma.

Should you wish to sample a rice dish, then go for khao phad mun goong, or fried rice with prawn tomalley (380 baht). Served with deep-fried battered prawn, the rice was impressively cooked to retain its beautiful grain shape while taking in the characteristic cheesy flavour of the prawn tomalley (the orange-yellow paste in the prawn head commonly believed to be its "fat") to yield a subtle khao phad that's worth praising.

Now is also a good time to sample the restaurant's well-loved khao chae (700 baht per person), which is available only in summer.

On offer until April 19, Spice Market's version features meticulously prepared soaked rice (gently polished to remove excess starch) in ice-cold water scented with jasmine, chommanad (bread flower) and rose. The rice was served as the centre piece with an assortment of palace-style side dishes including deep-fried shrimp paste balls, deep-fried stuffed shallots, sweet and crispy shredded pork, chilli pepper stuffed with seasoned minced pork and shrimp, sweet radish and caramelised fish balls, accompanied by neatly carved fresh fruit and vegetables. Yet the right way to eat khao chae is never to put any side items into the rice. A spoonful of rice and the side items should be enjoyed separately, one at a time.

For desserts, we had khao hom kayakoo (220 baht), or young rice pudding, which is rarely found nowadays. The bright green pudding, made with the milky essence of a young rice sheaf scented with pandan and laced with coconut cream, offered a silky smooth texture with a delicate mouthfeel.

Perfectly and lusciously representing the Thai dessert for the steamy season was durian sundae (250 baht).

It's a creative confection of homemade durian ice cream (for first-time durian eater, I strongly recommend that you start your introduction to the pungent tropical fruit with the mild and frosty durian ice cream), soft black sticky rice, fresh jackfruit, caramelised rice crackers and glazed roasted peanuts with a tiny cup of coconut cream on the side.

On the day that we visited, the clientele was a mix of Thai families, expats and international tourists. Business usually peaks at noon. Reservations are recommended.

A platter of the palace-style khao chae.

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About the author

columnist
Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter