The Old Town's low-key yet stylish Vietnamese restaurant.
Tonkin Annam is a game-changer. While Bangkok has its serviceable Vietnamese restaurants—even very, very good ones, in the case of 2017 Top Table Vietnamese & More—they’re still frustratingly light on the ground. None feel quite as complete a package as this reinvigorated shop-house in Tha Tien, the riverside neighborhood synonymous with “slow-life.”
Nestled down a narrow alley which opens up to views of Wat Arun across the Chao Phraya, Tonkin Annam’s two stories are a modern take on shabby chic: faux peeling walls, untreated wooden chairs and unassuming artwork add up to an ambience that’s low-key yet stylish.
Even more appealing is the menu, which centers on cuisine from northern and central Vietnam, where owner Gai Mitwicharn’s grandparents come from, that’s bursting with freshness. That means alongside the staples everyone associates with Vietnam, there are region-specific offerings, mostly from Hue.
The bun bo Hue (B250), sold to us as “the new pho,” doesn’t disappoint. If you’re one to bombard your bowl of pho with chili, this richer, heavier beef and pork-based soup, and its thicker noodles, is for you. On the streets of Hue, you might expect the dish to take a challenging nose-to-tail route. Here, you just get gloriously juicy, generously-sized chunks of beef and a lemongrass-led depth of flavor that’s mind-blowing.
It’s just the first hit on an extensive highlight reel. The cha tom (shrimp grilled on sugarcane sticks, B250), another Hue specialty, stars fatty, bouncy and lightly-charred shrimp patty, assisted by a veritable mountain of greens, pickled veggies and vermicelli. Just as tasty is the banh cuon (B130 or B150 with egg), silky smooth steamed rice crepes stuffed with ground pork and plentiful chives, or the zesty shredded chicken salad (B180), both evidence of a delicate hand in the kitchen.
Tonkin Annam isn’t reinventing the wheel, but this is honest Vietnamese food, beautifully plated and with no cut corners (that fish sauce; those incredible plates of greens).
So, what’s missing? Wine and cocktails, for one, though there are Thai craft beers (Chalawan at B160). In any case, a bottle of the awesome kumquat tea (B65) or a Vietnamese egg coffee (B80) suffices. When a meal this good clocks in at around B1,000 for two, you can always splash out on a couple Vesper cocktails at Supanniga’s riverside venture around the corner, too. Note: Tonkin Annam is cash only.
This review took place in December 2017 and is based on a visit to the restaurant without the restaurant's knowledge. For more on BK's review policy, click here.