If you plan on going to Siam Express, don't judge it by its Facebook uploads. The pictures don't do it justice... at all.
I was put off when I first saw them. I thought, "Oh man, this place looks like it offers desi Thai cuisine." However, my friend and I had heard good reviews about the eatery so we decided to ignore the photography and call it a date at the newly opened restaurant in Karachi.
Where to go
Perched right atop Khadda Market, near the mosque, Siam Express is a tiny place next to Gino's - keep an eye out though, you'll miss it if you're not looking.
When to go
Siam Express is open from 12pm to 10.30pm on weekdays and 12pm to 11.30pm on weekends. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.
We went on a Friday around 8pm, slightly early for dinner in Karachi, but it was quiet and we had the whole place to ourselves (bonus). Chatter in a small space can get annoying and we're glad we didn't have to deal with that.
It looks cramped from outside - we were so sure we would suffocate (major claustrophobia) - but the interior is surprisingly spacious. With seating for 14 people, the tables and chairs are spaced out relatively decently.
The decor isn't particularly Thai, however the use of muted tones, woody interior and brown colour palette is soft on the eyes.
The manager, Waqas, was polite, he seated us on our choice of table because the place was empty (win!). He brought the menu straight away and waited for our order. The menu is limited, but their soups and main course left us undecided - we wanted to try a number of things and it took us 10 minutes to reach a decision.
We liked how Waqas didn't hover, like staff at most restaurants (phew!). He did the needful; asked us about the food, offered to get anything else, but in totality his presence went unnoticed, even though it was just my friend and I at the tiny restaurant.
Now, onto the main offering claps hands and rubs them together:
My friend and I were both eyeing the soups. We couldn't help ourselves, they all sounded delicious and I'm a huge soup buff, so we consulted Waqas and he suggested I go with Tom Kha Gai; chicken (Gai) cooked (Tom) in coconut milk, infused with galangal - type of ginger - (Kha) and other aromatic herbs; lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves.
My friend played safe and chose the Tom Yum soup (so basic, smh).
Our soups didn't take very long and once we got them, they were piping hot; I burnt my tongue, because I couldn't stop myself.
The Tom Kha Gai was delectable. The coconut milk was not overpowering or underwhelming, the soup was packed with flavour and the thickness was just right without being too runny.
The mushrooms and chicken pieces were cut pretty thick, making it a little hard to eat and slurp the soup simultaneously (talk about ungracious table manners). Plus, chunky pieces retain heat, and caused me to burn my tongue when I bit into them. However, a quick search on Google led to the discovery that they are meant to be cut thick.
Other condiments in the soup: the galangal was cut in perfect thin slices; soft and cruchy at the same time. The lemongrass had a very distinct flavour from ones I've had before, that's because it's one of the imported ingredients from Thailand, explains the owner, Shazain Masood. All in all, the soup was flavourful and hit all the right notes.
Do not forget to squeeze the provided lemon in your soup. It adds the needed zing.
We went with Chicken Satay for the simple reason that the Deep Fried Spring Roll didn't sound too appealing.
The dish was ready while we were in the middle of our soups and well, it was a let down. The chicken wasn't juicy enough and lacked flavour, the peanut sauce didn't add much flavour either. I generously lathered my chicken with it but it didn't do anyting for me. I absolutely love peanuts and this sauce didn't do any justice to them.
The biggest problem I had with this dish was that I couldn't bite and drag the chicken out. The chicken was stuck to the stick and refused to slide out so I had to bite it from the sides, balancing the stick so the sauce won't drop. I don't like struggling with my food and this one was a problem to eat. My friend and I both agreed that this dish was a miss.
I'm a beef lover; beef over chicken anyday. So naturally I went with Stir Fried Beef w/ Black Pepper Sauce and my friend being a chicken lover chose the Red Curry w/ Chicken.
The presentation looked good. The beef was tender, the rice was cooked properly and the ratio of rice to beef was perfect. However, the pepper sauce was a bit overpowering in some bites and wasn't cooked evenly in the dish, sadly that threw off my tastebuds. Having said that, the dish was flavourful, I have to admit, I enjoyed the dish.
Overall, the experience was great, the place felt nice and comfy. We're glad we went early because by 9pm people started trickling in and within minutes all the tables were occupied.
Damage to the pocket: Rs. 2300
My recommendation: The soups. Definitely the highlight of our meal.
After speaking to the owner it's hardly a surprise that the place offers authentic Thai cuisine. Shazain explains he and his father went to Thailand on a five-day crash course to learn Thai cooking. All the meals they learnt in the 25-hour course have been incoporated in their menu.
A few disappointments:
1) They don't accept cards. My friend had to withdraw cash from a nearby ATM. If you go, make sure you have money in your pocket.
2) They don't serve Thai dessert, as of now. Major bummer as I was really looking forward to ending the meal on a Thai note.
3) The salt and pepper shakers did NOT belong, the dice and the colours did not blend - sorry, it was painful.
All photos by author.