What would modern Toronto be without Thai food? Over the past decade, Thai restaurants have emerged, Gap-like, at seemingly every corner. Popular favourites include Yonge Street’s Salad King, Roncesvalles’ Thai Chef and Cabbagetown’s Thai to Go. Still, none of the former can compete with one of Toronto’s original Thai restaurants, Bangkok Garden, which has persevered through various Canadian economic rollercoasters for almost 30 years, while maintaining its casual fine-dining blueprint with reasonably priced upscale Thai cuisine. DailyXY attended Bangkok Garden’s recent media tasting event, and saw one of Toronto’s best only get better.
A mere two steps through the doors of the restaurant’s historic home in the Yonge & Dundas area and visitors immediately find themselves light-years away from its neighbouring neon intersection. Housed in a beautiful heritage building that it shares with Elmwood Spa, Bangkok Garden creates a serene atmosphere, with warm wood furnishings, teak flooring and authentic Thai artifacts (flown in from the homeland, and including temple bells and hand-painted dishes; even the rocks inside the miniature flowing river have been imported from Bangkok). The intimate, private dining area located upstairs is the perfect spot for a corporate lunch, party or event, and offers a royal view of the remainder of the restaurant.
Although on event night the food struggled to keep up with the restaurant’s bustle, most selections were, unsurprisingly, delicious. Dishes such as Siamese beef and basil chicken followed the laws of Thai cuisine with the perfect balance of sweet, hot, sour, salty and bitter, but the three pagodas chicken curry failed to impress, with an unbalanced taste profile. The de rigueur pad thai was tasty but definitely not mastered as it has been by many of Bangkok Garden’s competitors.
For a perfect sharing appetizer, look no further than the grilled seafood satay, marinated in coconut milk and curry and served in a petit banana leaf boat. The presentation of the steam ginger pomfret is impressive on its own, served in a banana leaf on a hand-painted, fish-figured platter.
The restaurant offers many acclaimed dishes that I did not manage to sample, including lemon shrimp soup, a lemon grass– and lime leaf–infused broth with floating shrimp and vegetables, and Totsakan’s revenge, a steamed or crispy boneless fish (deboned frog legs can be substituted), laced with lemony curry, chilies, lime leaves and coriander.
Bangkok Garden is one of the few restaurants in the city that carries Thailand’s hallmark brew, the refreshing Singha beer, perfect for cooling down after a few bites of the mouth-stinging spicy tofu. The wine menu is better than average for a Thai eatery, offering a beautiful sparking wine served with a real wild hibiscus flower, as well as two local Niagara wines: the dry, refreshing East Dell Pinot Grigio and Dan Aykroyd’s smooth, pallet-pleasing Cabernet Shiraz.
If the Bangkok Garden menu is guilty of too much selection, there are certainly worse flaws in a restaurant. Those that aspire to try it all should return, often, or try the rotating buffet lunch, every weekday from 11:30am–2:30pm where you can get a little taste of “everything.” Dinner runs from 5pm–10pm, Monday through Saturday. 18 Elm Street, 416-997-6748.
Image courtesy of Tara McCallum.