Ari's new Isaan restaurant, where the food's as photogenic as the decor.
Ari’s go-to upmarket somtam spot serves up Isaan classics and fresh seafood from Hua Hin. The owner, a native of the royal resort town and former partner at Somtum Der, has brought her family recipes to Bangkok in the form of somtam with crab, spicy mango salad with fresh mantis shrimp, squid eggs and monthly specials. We’re partial to the somtam tray with naem sod, fudgy boiled egg, moo yor and kak moo. The photogenic food is matched by the décor: blond wood, corrugated steel and cute wall paintings.
This addition to Bangkok’s upmarket somtam scene has taken seafood influences from Hua Hin and blended them with classic Isaan recipes in the hope of adding something new to the city’s somtam circuit.
Decor-wise, think Smith meets Casa Lapin. The ground floor’s corrugated metal walls and concrete floor are softened by warm lighting, naturallytreated wood, fabrics, flowers and quaint, curvy dining chairs. Move upstairs and you’ll find a space that’s comfortable and contemporary, if somewhat more generic. Lots of blond-wood, steel-framed windows and industrial lighting, as well as Japanese-inspired short tables and cushions.
The restaurant’s signature is a long list of different seafood somtams, most using salt-cured and raw crab sourced from Hua Hin, like the substantial green papaya salad with raw black crab and crab roe (B385). Other seafood dishes like the crab curry kanomjeen (B220) also really stand out thanks to the succulent, fresh-tasting crab and the well-balanced flavor profile of the coconut curry. Their beef is just as exciting, like the French-Thai beef tenderloin steak at B250, which is succulent, tender and accompanied by a perfectly pitched jim jaew sauce.
Lay Lao is no Somtum Der though. The simplest somtam Thai (B65) has a bland and sweet flavor, while the salted egg somtam (B70) has little more going for it. Likewise, Lay Lao’s Isaan sausage (B95) seems to lack any trace of acidity, spice or moistness. It is some of the worst we’ve tasted.
The drinks: a compilation of Thai staples like roselle juice (B45), as well as some refreshing and reasonably priced signature concoctions such as butterfly pea juice mixed with lemon and honey (B55). The crowd on our last visit was not too plentiful despite the neighboring bars being packed. Clearly, we’re not the only ones who aren’t entirely taken by what Lay Lao’s offering.