Hemlock, 56 Phra Athit Rd., Bangkok, Thailand
Opening Hours:Mon-Sat 4pm-midnight
Price Range:BB - BBB
One of the mainstays of the Phra Athit neighborhood, Hemlock continuously woos foodies and art lovers to its lovely, attractive shophouse. The two-story building boasts an all-white minimalist interior with a small rock “garden” in the middle. The intimate lighting and soft jazz tunes add to the chilled-out atmosphere, and the dining area also doubles as a gallery, with rotating work by local artists displayed on the walls. Pulp papers are laminated to make placemats, while menus are placed inside photo albums. Hemlock is student-friendly thanks to the affordable prices, which is a good thing as Thammasat and Silapakorn are nearby, but on most nights the tables are occupied by farang diners. Not surprisingly, most of the Thai food on the extensive menu, while still spicy enough to please local patrons, is designed for a foreign palette. There is a good range of rare traditional recipes that whet our appetite, but they failed to thrill because the flavors were a little too sweet and, at times, bland. This was particularly noticeable with muu sarong (deep-fried pork balls wrapped with egg noodles) and kaeng noppakao (nine types of vegetables—baby corn, morning glory, bell peppers, long beans, egg plants, cha-om, mushrooms and bamboo shoots in dense curry-like soup). The yum yai (spicy mixed salad) was also a letdown. The portion and the ingredients weren’t yai (big) as its name suggests and really needed to be spiced up. Also, don’t be fooled by Hemlock’s creatively-named dishes. The Russian fried-rice turned out to be plain beef fried-rice, while the Marco Polo stir-fried veggies was your typical pad phak with “farang” veggies like purple cabbage and broccoli. But some of it was quite enjoyable. The recommended khao hor bai bua (rice wrapped in lotus leaf) though a bit oily, was still pleasant thanks to the sticky texture and the generous stuffing. Another delicious dish was the namprik ma muang pla salid. The namprik had a right balance of salty shrimp paste and sour sliced mango, which went well with the accompanying crisp boiled veggies and deep-fried salty fish. Service does vary depending on the number of customers on hand, but the servers are well-trained and do a good job of explaining and recommending the dishes. Though there’s no major complaint, there’s nothing to write home about either. If you are willing to overlook some misfires, Hemlock is an inviting hangout when you are in the neighborhood with your foreign friends. Order some booze, kick back and get into the neighborhood vibe. Corkage: B100-250.