Sukhothai is a cozy Thai restaurant that opened just 5 months ago in the Bairro Alto. Located in Rua da Atalaia, no. 77, it offers tasty Thai food at affordable prices in a compact but pleasant space.
Along with my family, in the last 7 years I've become a great fan of Southeast Asia food in general, and Thai cuisine in particular. In spite of Portugal's early commercial presence in Asia, until recently Lisbon didn't have much to offer in terms of oriental cuisine, apart from the mandatory hordes of Chinese restaurants, complimented by a large number of Indian restaurants (thanks to our Goa connection) and a few Japanese restaurants. Fortunately things seem to be slowly improving. A few years ago, a Thai restaurant called Bangkok opened in nearby Cascais, with steep prices but good décor and food (although it now has reportedly closed), and was recently joined by BanThai, another pricey but tasty Thai restaurant down in Lisbon's Alcântara quarter.
Sukhothai - Siamese Flavours - is the new Thai contender. The restaurant is quite small, so be sure to reserve (+351 213 432 159). Even though the restaurant was far from crowded, two of the three 4-person tables were already taken when we got there, and all that was left was half a dozen 2-person tables, so I was glad we did call and reserve.
The menu is pleasingly compact: 14 main dishes, with prices starting at €10.55. Our party of three ordered three starters: a portion of the mandatory Satay grilled chicken skewers, a Tom-Ka-Kai soup (chicken in coconut milk) and for me a delicious Tom-Yam-Kung spicy soup, truly very spicy, the way God meant soups to be. Thanks to the starters, we decided to order just two main dishes along with two portions of rice. We went for a portion of Gang-Keaw-Wan (chicken green curry) and a portion of Kai-Kra-Team-Pik-Thai (chicken stir-fried with garlic), watered down with Portuguese bottled beer (no tap beer available).
We topped the evening off with a single portion of Kao-Neaw-Ma-Mung (Thai sweet sticky rice with mango). Thai desserts had so far been a bit of a letdown for me, but this one more than made up for previous experiences. The warm sweet rice is sprinkled with a tasty but unidentified seed, and the mango combination made it a definite winner. The three supplied dessert spoons worked furiously until the dessert was no more than a happy memory.
I'm partial to Bourbon, so I had a Jack Daniels before we asked for the bill, which ammounted to €57 for three people, including starters, drinks, dessert and bourbon. Not too bad for such a savoury, varied and filling meal. An experience to be repeated, that's for sure.
We had a nice chat at the end with Sukhothai's owner, Mr. Noppadol. I was surprised by the fact that he could speak fluent Portuguese in addition to English and of course Thai, and discovered that he studied in Portugal around 10 years ago. When he told me he was one of the many Thai of chinese descent, it was my turn to surprise him by asking 你会说普通话吗 (nǐ huì shuō pǔtōnghuà ma - Do you speak Mandarin Chinese?). We then discussed differences and similarities between Portuguese, Thai and Mandarin (Thai has five tones, Mandarin four), the many Portuguese loanwords that apparently survive in Thai language, and how several popular Thai desserts were apparently introduced by the Portuguese (could yummy "arroz doce" have mutated into yummy Kao-Neaw-Ma-Mung?). Sukhothai, we learned, is not only the name of the fifth Thai restaurant to open in Portugal but also the former capital of the first Thai kingdom.
Mr. Noppadol also tolds us of his aim for Sukhothai: to make genuine Thai food available at medium prices, and thus introduce a younger breed of clients to the wonders of Thai cuisine. I wish him luck, and hope Sukhothai can live long and prosper and in the process help bring yet more culinary diversity to my beloved hometown. ขอบคุณ, Mr. Noppadol.
Now if only someone thought of opening a Vietnamese or Malay-Indonesian restaurant in Lisbon...