Street food favourites make lofty return

Central Chidlom's rebranded food court is trip down culinary memory lane

Lofter, this week's subject of review, takes over Central Chidlom's 7th floor space that for the past 18 years had housed FoodLoft.

Upon its launching I had no idea why the new successor of Bangkok's very first luxurious food court was named Lofter.

Perhaps it's to signify a new denizen of the loft, or, to be grammatically correct, an iron golf club. None seemed to make any good gastronomic sense.

I first visited Lofter last week, on the second day of its operation. And after an hour into my lunch there, I came to a confident realisation.

Lofter is a significant improvement over FoodLoft.

Not only is it newer, it is also immensely brighter, breezier, livelier (Food Loft was known to be dim and sluggish) and attracting younger crowds.

Betong Chicken noodle shop's stewed chicken feet and wings.

In fact, the clientele during my weekday visit was of a seamless mix of different ages, careers and lifestyles. There were teenagers, office workers, casual groups of sexagenarians and families with young kids -- local and expat.

But most noteable to me was that the 1,800m² venue, which seats 360 diners across various seating zones, was fully packed.

Before I continue to share with you more details of this nine-day-old food court, I need say that I have been there three times since.

As a lifelong regular to Central Chidlom (which first opened in 1974 when I was three), I find Lofter a very rewarding new thrill to my visit to the department store.

The food offered is of various prices but truly reasonable and affordable -- most dishes are under 100 baht.

Egg noodles with wonton, roasted pork and crabmeat by Bamee Guichai, a 100-year-old noodle shop from Klong Thom.

Now, let's talk about the culinary standpoint.

Unlike the bygone FoodLoft which celebrated Western cuisine, Lofter evolves around casual Thai dishes.

If you are familiar with Eathai, an upmarket food centre at the nearby Central Embassy, you'll say Lofter is a minor-league yet fresher replica of that.

Rather than offering a wide range of local dishes from different regions throughout Thailand, Lofter focuses on crowd-pleasing fare offered by long-established streetside food shops in Bangkok and its suburbs.

They range from authentic restaurants and noodle shops to street hawkers and dessert masters.

The current line-up comprises 26 eateries, the oldest of them is a century old, and all together they accumulate 900 years.

The braised beef combo by Yee-Jay, a beef noodle specialist in Lat Phrao.

They are categorised into six themes: Local Legend, Rice Dish, Noodles, Snacks, Deep-fried Food and Dessert.

The local legend selection showcases much-treasured eateries, some of them have moved or faded away from Bangkok CBD due to the city expansion. Among them are Iata, a Chinese restaurant that first opened in Siam Square in the 1960s that has gone through a few relocations until recently settling in On Nut; Lai Ros, a five-decade-old Thai restaurant serving royal-style and home-cooked dishes; Tong Peng, a 40-year-old Cantonese-Teochew restaurant specialising in roast duck in Soi Choke Chai 4; and Maverick Suki, a food stall selling wok-fried noodle dishes from the Yot Se area.

My family used to frequent Tong Peng and Iata in the old days. It has been more than 10 years since I last visited Tong Peng and at least five years for Iata.

Tong Peng proved to bring back a great gastronomic memory. The roasted duck (180 baht per plate) drenched with savoury sweet soybean gravy was very tasty, tender, juicy and addictive. Its menu also features rice dishes and dim sum options.

Roasted duck by Tong Peng, a 40-year-old Cantonese-Teochew restaurant.

Iata, one of my yearned-for restaurants, turned out among the most pricey brands in the food centre.

My all-time favourite dishes at the restaurant are Peking duck, jellyfish salad in sesame seed oil, Shanghai noodles and beef on sizzling hot plate.

The three latter dishes are on offer at Lofter and priced at 250 baht, 200 baht and 300 baht respectively.

From the noodle zone, I was awe-struck with tastebuds ecstasy upon the first bite of guay tiew tom yum (sour and spicy rice noodles) by Pleaw Nakhon Pathom restaurant.

Indeed, Pleaw was said to be the most thriving shop in the food court for its ever-busy business and customers' acclamation.

A dish of tom yum pork noodles (70 baht) generously features pork loin slices, pork balls and minced pork on a bed of pungently seasoned rice noodles.

Roti Street Cha Chuck's variety of pan-fried snacks and tea.

Adding prawn and squid -- both proved of good quality -- costs just 20 baht extra.

Pleaw's yen ta fo noodles with red sauce and seafood, priced at 100 baht, is among the top sellers.

I also sampled stewed chick feet, drumsticks and wings by Betong Chicken noodle shop and was very pleased.

The chicken parts were braised in savoury brown gravy until the meat became tender and absorbed the tasty sauce, leaving the skin very jelly-like soft and loosened.

You can have the chicken a la carte (120 baht per dish) or with rice or noodles (90 baht per dish).

Should you be in the mood for fiery pleasure and pla ra (Thai-styled fermented fish) isn't off limits, a dish or two from Abb Zaab, a super popular som tum joint from Don Muang district, are highly recommended.

I was satisfied with its tum sam men, a pounded salad of three stinky foods namely cha-om, med kra-thin (white leadtree seeds) and pla ra (150 baht); and crispy papaya salad (120 baht).

A basic som tum salad with freshwater crab with or without the pla ra sauce costs only 80 baht.

Another dish that provided a favourable impression was a combo platter of braised beef (150 baht) from Yee-Jay, a beef noodle specialist in the Lat Phrao neighbourhood.

It's an assortment of masterly-prepared braised beef shank, skirt, tendons and tripe with spicy dipping sauce.

Bamee Guichai 100 Pee, an age-old noodle shop from Klong Thom, is the oldest food brand Lofter has on offer.

Its egg noodles and shrimp wonton with roasted pork and crab meat (100 baht) is very popular.

My meals there always end scrumptiously with crispy roti "tissue" topped with sweet egg yolk thread and whipped cream (95 baht) from Roti Street Cha Chuck shop in the Snack Zone.

The delicacy looked at first like a gimmicky snack that promised no culinary fineness. But it turned out to be among the very flavourful and comforting reasons I had been revisiting Lofter three times in nine days.

A classic roti (45 baht) is said to also be a bestseller. The multi-layered, supple and chewy pan-fried bread, which I ordered as takeaway, is now in my freezer. I'm planning to retoast it for breakfast tomorrow.

There's also flame-grilled buns with lava-like filling from Yaowarat Toast shop. It's a phenomenal culinary craze among young urban diners and millennials but not quite my cup of tea.

Impressively representing Lofter's mindful choice of beverages are a selection of healthy and delicious smoothies. Let an in-house mixologists concoct one for you and you'll be delighted.

Lofter's dynamic and cheery dining hall entertained by live music is attended to by a 50-member team of service staff.

Service was beyond expectation and charming. An employee, named Freshy, particularly stood out during my visits for his efficiency, genuine cordiality and attentiveness.

From now until Dec 31, first-time visitors registering through the Line official account: @happylofter are eligible for a 100 baht discount upon a minimum spending of 300 baht. The offer is limited to the first 2,000 registered guests.

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