Adhering firmly to the unwritten law of decent Bangkok eating which states that no frills eateries often serve up the most intriguing food, is Lek Seafood. A resolutely unglamorous restaurant nestled just underneath Chong Nonsi BTS station, what it lacks in the way of presentation it more than makes up for with culinary gusto and flair. In fact, the distinct absence of decor speaks volumes: here at Lek it's the delicious, fresh scrumptious seafood, cooked up open-air merely a few yards from where you sit, that does the talking.
With little more in the way of furniture than fold-up tables, plastic chairs and Narithiwat Road's roaring traffic within earshot, its lowly, veering on humdrum surroundings could threaten to underwhelm if it weren't for the quality on offer.
One bite of the loud, lively 'tod man pla' (Thai fish cakes) or a single whiff of the aromatic 'hoy law pad ga paow' (stir fried baby clam with holy basil) and you'll be swayed and ready for action. You can sit inside, but al fresco is better, where you can survey your fellow patrons and their choices.
Lek Seafood passes with flying colours the lore about patronage: if the locals favour it, it must have something going for it. The pan-generational families eating here - young children, mothers, fathers, grandparents - are testament to its quality. This is a restaurant clearly deemed a worthy venue for the hallowed family Sunday meal. And on weekdays too, office workers congregate here in ravenous gangs to sate the appetite they've worked up all day long.
A sharp, crisp 'yam' (Thai salad) is a near essential component of any self-respecting Thai meal, and the 'yam hoy khrang' (spicy cockle salad), with its spicy but delicate kick, certainly fits the bill as an opener for a discerning seafood spread. Tossed over the shelled cockles is a fiery, compelling garnish made up of garlic, lemongrass, chillis, lime, fish sauce and mint leaves - a dressing so dazzling in its simplicity that it surely demands a place in the who's who of famous salads.
Shellfish, an extraordinary luxury in most parts of the world, is extraordinarily attainable in Thailand. Here at Lek, take advantage of this fact with the 'or suan', an extravagant dish of oysters in a batter and egg omelet, served sizzling and bubbling on an iron plate and on a pile of fresh beansprouts. One bite of this plate of wildly contrasting but oddly complementary textures - soft almost gelatinous oysters, firm omelet and pleasantly crunchy beansprouts - and you'll be hooked. Also a shellfish must is 'pu pad pong kaa rii (chili crab): the soft, sweet crab marries wonderfully with the pungent and flavourful red sauce comprised of 'nam prik pao', egg, curry powder, celery and onion.
The 'goong pao' (BBQ prawns) - a plate of large, healthy looking specimens - proves that with really fresh seafood, all you need is a crisp, tangy dipping sauce to make it sing. Bathing the soft, warm flesh in the hot dip combines harmoniously to raise the roof off your mouth - but in a good way. Few eating experiences - the peeling ritual, thorough dipping and the fleshy, zingy payoff - can lay claim to yielding so much sensuous pleasure.
Steamed catfish in lime sauce, served in a metal dish over a flame, looked wonderfully appetizing, as was the 'pla tub tim sa uen', deep-fried ruby fish with spicy sauce and covered in a blanket of chopped garlic, birds eye chilis, lime juice, coriander and basil leaves. Each succulent mouthful set off an intense explosion of sharp, complex flavours that was refined by the tender, moist battered fish. Proof indeed that opposites can and do attract. Friendly, humble, quaint, steadfastly local, Lek Seafood is one of Bangkok's simple, down-to-earth pleasures and a place that strikes a perfect balance between cost and taste. The food is modestly priced but its flavours are anything but. Its authentic dishes are loud, proud and very, very Thai.
- Opening Hours: 17:00 - 01:00
- BTS: Chong Nonsi
- Tel: +66 (0)2 636 6460
- How to get there: Take the Skytrain (BTS) to Chong Nonsi station. It's located beneath the skytrain platform that goes towards Saphan Taksin, at 156 Soi Phiphat, Narathiwatrachanakharin Road, Silom.