All about laab and customized cocktails.
At Rarb, Karn Liangsrisuk and Chalermpon “Van” Rohitratana, the mixologist and chef duo behind Phra Athit’s divisive burger institution Escapade, put the spotlight on Isaan-inspired food. A small room dominated by sheets of raw galvanized steel, jars filled with chef Van’s fermentation experiments and a tank swimming with crayfish (as well as a turtle) give an indication of the creativity on show.
The single-page, handwritten menu highlights skewers and other dishes made with secondary cuts of meat—think pig velum (soft palate) that’s parboiled in a herb-rice soup (B100) for a texture similar to pickled squid in yentafo, or nam tok gaem moo (B140), a spicy salad made with pig cheek. If you think that sounds challenging, you’re not alone. But chef Van’s unpretentious dishes reward the adventurous, with incredible attention to detail in the form of curing and fermenting.
The beef larb (B150) shines thanks to the almost-creamy texture of offal and the bitter taste of toasted rice that’s almost burnt. Another scene-stealing dish is a pork rib soup (B160) brimming with the flavors of blended bamboo shoots, tamarind leaves and a not-so-pungent fermented fish paste. On our last visit, we ordered a rice bowl on special topped with lamb in nam boo doo (think a thicker fish sauce, B280) whose rounded flavors took on an extra umami dimension through a crispy yet creamy organic fried egg.
For all the talk of offal, Rarb also does delightfully approachable comfort food, like the perfectly cooked fried rice (B260) with shreds of sweet, fresh crab meat in every bite. For a pure flavor explosion, try the grilled sweetened ox tongue (B240), with its citrus-like tang of sliced okra leaves and the awesome saltiness of a house-cured egg.
A few years back, Escapade caused a mini Pantip meltdown with customers complaining of surly service, but on our recent visit, the chef greeted each customer individually, eagerly explaining each ingredient and sharing a taste of the rare indigenous herbs at hand.
Compared to 100 Mahaseth (a similar Isaan-inspired nose-to-tail restaurant off Charoenkrung), Rarb feels less bogged down in concept. These deceptively straightforward dishes are elevated by an honest dedication to excellent produce and painstaking DIY techniques. This also extends to Karn’s cocktails, which make use of homemade spirits and infusions. The Mahon Nhahor (B350), a refreshing blend of lychee, gin and Vietnamese coriander, makes the perfect end to a hot and heavy meal. No outside alcohol allowed.
This review took place in October 2017 and is based on a visit to the restaurant without the restaurant's knowledge. For more on BK's review policy, click here.