The longstanding Taling Pling empire continues to go from strength to strength due to its consistent Thai home-style cooking. Flagship location (Sukhumvit Soi 34) is at the end of a quiet soi and the restaurant is actually situated inside the original childhood house of the Taling Pling owners. Décor is pleasantly bright and contemporary from the vivid colour scheme, chequered flooring and ceiling-to-floor glass structure walls. The brightly coloured seats are packed most evenings with a mix of locals and tourists, often making reservations vital. I chose to accompany my lunch with a coconut frozen drink, just one of the many choices from the extensive menu of exotic fruit shakes and cocktails.
The menu at Taling Pling is made up of a daunting amount of Thai staple dishes from all regions of the country. We started our lunch with “Miang Kham Moo” which crudely means “eat many things in a single bite”, miang (food wrapped in leaves) and kham (a bite). This is a dish that I find challenges and awakens the palate with an explosion of flavours. This particular version is assembled by wrapping crisp sweetened pork with a chunk raw garlic, fresh green chilli, peanuts and taling pling (an intensely sour fruit that grows on what is known as “cucumber trees” in England) within a bitter and slightly peppery betel leaf. Incidentally the taling pling fruit used in this dish and others grows within the grounds of the restaurant. The eating experience of miang kham takes your mouth on a journey of flavours; bitter, sour, salty, sweet and spice.
“Kaeng Massaman” had the flavour profile of India rather than Thailand, rich with cardamom and cinnamon, and was missing a slight sourness. Saying that I actually really enjoyed the curry and didn’t miss the usual chunks of potato commonly found in massaman. For me the beef could have done with another hour or so more braising time in the curry sauce to increase tenderness. The accompanying roti bread again appeared reminiscent of Indian cuisine. The bread was deep-fried although wasn’t greasy but instead beautifully rich and flakey. Perfect for mopping up the curry sauce.
“Kaeng Kua Hed Poh” (puff ball mushroom curry) was less impressive, lacking in flavour and missing the freshness and aroma provided by coconut milk. I’ve never encountered puff ball mushrooms before and can’t say they’re something I would strive to search for again on a menu. Firm in texture and almost explode in the mouth when bitten, in all honestly not the most pleasing experience. Oh well, can’t win them all.
Moving on “Kanom Jeen Moo Tua Ngok” (rice noodle filled with pork and bean sprouts) tasted fresh and was pleasant enough. Dressed in fish sauce, palm sugar, red chillies and topped with peanuts that provided a nice contrast in texture.
The real standout dish though was “Pon Yang Kham Premier Beef” cooked over charcoal to a perfect medium/rare. The steak carried a wonderful smoky flavour from the charcoal grill and when eaten with the Isaan (Northern Thai) style dipping sauce of fish sauce, chilli and shallot the flavour of the meat was elevated to exceptional levels.
Regular readers won’t be surprised that the last dish sampled was “Nam Prik Rong Rua” (Thai dipping sauce made by pounding copious amounts of chilli, garlic, shallot, lime juice and shrimp into a paste). This version was robust in flavour and incredibly savoury, with the additional topping of salted duck yolk adding a lovely richness. The nam prik was served with the usual raw vegetable crudities (carrot, cucumber, cabbage, green beans and Thai aubergine) although this is the first time I had encountered slices of white tamarind and a very unusual bitter leaf (can’t remember the name but pictured below).
For me I find the food at Taling Pling to waver on the side of caution when it comes to Thai cooking. Nothing is too salty, too spicy or too sweet. Which isn’t necessarily a bad quality but when I dine on Thai food I would prefer to have bolder flavours to arouse the senses. Although this is personal preference and in reflection is probably the reason Taling Pling retains a strong following both with locals and farrang. A sure bet for a decent home-style Thai meal in pleasent surroundings and a price that doesn’t break the bank balance, giving the customer little cause for complaint.
Taling Pling – 25 Sukhumvit Soi 34, Bangkok
Reviewed for Thailand Tatler “Thailand’s Best Restaurants 2014” (24/02/2014).