“We need to find the Mona Lisa!” I squealed.
My partner in crime last night was @movie_mafia, who whipped her head back and forth to spot the elusive, smiling woman.
Fear not…I was not luring the young MM into a world of crime amidst the cobbled streets of Paris, but cruising with her in Guido (my car) between the dark lanes of Al Wasl, trying to spot an image of Mona Lisa anywhere. ANYWHERE!
My car came to a screeching halt eventually. “I FOUND HER!”
What does this have to do with a food blog? Two nights ago, I asked MM what cuisine she preferred for our dinner outing. “Thai,” she said. I wanted to try something new, and just Googled a random selection of words: “Thai+food+Dubai”, and turned up with loads of links pointing me to a place called Smiling BKK, which didn’t seem to have an address.
None of the sites were very clear on where exactly the restaurant was. Armed with a few random references, I started panicking on the eventuality of getting hopelessly lost (when I mentioned to a colleague that I was going to Smiling BKK, he grimly told me he was lost for an hour looking for it and never found it…sorry Olly, but now you have my awesome directions to make your way there), when MM said, “Why don’t we just call them?”
She’s the brains, boys. She’s the brains.
Not that the call helped much. They said pretty much what most of the websites I trawled said: “Near Jumeirah post office, behind Emarat petrol pump on Al Wasl Road” (I wish we had a better way of giving directions than doing the whole take-the-first-right-after-the-second-tree-after-the-third-white-building-and-then-go-left-at-the-third-roundabout thing, but there you go).
But as I used my almost sixth-sense directional skills (which mostly constituted me going: “OMG MM shall I turn right? AAAAHHHH!”), I passed by gleaming signs, but no Mona Lisa. As I stupidly luckily looked to my left instead of at the road, I saw a mustachio-ed Mona Lisa grinning at me from within the shady-looking, dark alley way (lit up here by my flash).
We walked towards the restaurant, wondering why there’s a Thai restaurant here of all the places, why there’s no clear sign pointing to it…and when we entered, things made a little more sense.
This was no duplicate of an international brand, neither a pretentious start-up trying to be “different”, yet copying brands it claims to be separate from. This was…that real part of Dubai. Where you know you’re in for a crazy ride (which I think we suspected from the point we had very vague directions).
Three people – one chef and two staff – greet us with folded hands, like “namaste”, and I’m pretty sure they said “Sawadika”, after which they ushered us in. I was confronted with a lot of black, walls plastered with frames, photographs on one side, and t-shirts with images and words related to the Thai beer Singha all over them, hung on another.
My jaw dropped open to just see the absolutely random items all over the place. Where on earth had I arrived? A café I was most likely to find somewhere in the UK to be honest. I could see this spot being nestled somewhere in Shoreditch, rather than the alleys of Al Wasl. Rarely does one find a kooky place like this in Dubai, so this place was a welcome change.
As we sat down in a booth stuffed with cushions, we spotted a funny bell-like apparatus on the side with tiny cymbals inside, which we never used; it was meant to call the staff if we needed them.
I had a duh moment when the waiter placed two pages from a magazine (with the most, ahem, interesting content on it) in front of us. I picked one up thinking I was meant to read what’s on it, when he put a plate on top of the remaining paper on the table. Oh. They’re … place-mats! Resourceful indeed.
And then we started reading the menu. And I could not stop giggling. Mostly in my head, but giggling nonetheless. To give you an idea of the most random names you’ll find on the menu: Roll Over Beethoven, Great Balls of Fire, Six Inches of Glory, Fook Mi, Fook Yu, Papa Don’t Preach, Thriller, Temple of Doom, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, 10-Baht Love You Long Time, Mr T, Thai Me Any Way You Want…and I haven’t even listed the slightly more risqué names! Whatever the reason, the names kept me reading through the entire menu without getting bored, or skipping over words. Excellent ploy. I salute you.
There are other cool things about the menu but I’d rather you discovered them for yourself. Apart from the random frames on the wall, there are also jokes written in chalk on the walls, which I suspect they change regularly. I won’t give any of them away…it’s something you have to see on your own.
Now finally, on to the food! ALLONSY.
Pussy Cat Got Wet | Tod Gratiem: stir-fried chicken and beef with fried garlic
This was okay. I wasn’t wowed by this one. Felt like it needed more flavour. Tasted much better once dipped in the ketchup though.
I Like Big Butts! | Khanom Pand Na Goong: Deep marinated minced prawns on toast
Anyone who knows me well, knows I don’t really do seafood and I absolutely do NOT eat prawns. MASSIVE EXCEPTION HERE… Yeah, I loved this. It was juicy, crackling, and just made me want to eat only that. How have I never had this dish before? It’s gorgeous. Good call, MM. Potentially my favourite for the night.
Day Tripping Buddha | Keang Keow Waan: green curry with chicken, eggplant, basil, red chili and coconut milk
This was really interesting because I’ve never tasted a green curry where the coconut flavour was so pronounced. I wasn’t used to it at first, but halfway through gobbling up the soupy, creamy curry, I decided it was definitely adding an interesting tone to the dish, and gave it a different twist, which I appreciated.
Malibu Stacey | Gai Pad Med Mamuong: stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts, onion, chili paste and dried chili
This was average; we asked for this one to be very spicy, but clearly MM and I have heightened senses of spice tolerance, because we hardly felt it pinching our spice nerves. But I’ve a feeling those who can’t handle spice are better off asking for a medium or not spicy dish (will point out here that each dish can be ordered according to your level of spice). Where the meat or veggies were swimming in the sauce at the bottom of the plate did I find happiness – there the spices really mingled with the food and made me a happy person indeed.
The Name’s Bond, James Bond | Pad Thai
Decent pad thai, and tasted good when mixed and drenched in the green curry we ordered. This was MM’s favourite dish from the night.
Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango
Why didn’t the desserts have weird names? I’ve absolutely no idea. Anyway, this is a staple dessert I have every time I go to a Thai place. This one didn’t disappoint either. The perfect blend of sweet mango (but not sickly sweet) with the sticky, gooey rice.
Fried banana with sweet sticky rice and coconut sauce
I must say MM was influenced by the naughty menu when she reacted to the fried banana in front of us, haha…I don’t know if I liked the hot banana with the hot rice, but they also had an option of fried banana with ice cream and I’ve a feeling it’ll work better in that combination.
One thing I liked about the dishes is that they all came piping hot. The food was fresh, honest and each dish had pretty good portions (I know it looks like we ate a lot…well, okay we ate a lot, but to be fair, we hadn’t had lunch in preparation for our quest!).
The staff members are friendly and didn’t seem to object to my flash going off in the dark, pseudo-Gothicesque room, with the psychedelic lights. Not pictured is the full black chandelier on the other end.
When we arrived there, it was just us and another table occupied. When we left, people were jostling for seats. Oh, how busy it got! That surprised me given the tucked-away nature of the place. I think it’s a restaurant that does well based on word-of-mouth. I’d recommend you book if you’re going later in the evening (we got there for 7pm) and if you’ve a big party.
Going to Smiling BKK is an adventure in itself. You’ll be on a mission finding it, then you’ll be shocked at where it turns out to be located, and then will giggle away reading the outlandishly hilarious names on the menu.
Oh one more thing, if you’re into alcohol, sorry it’s not licensed!
Maybe you won’t have the best Thai food of your life, but it’ll be authentic, affordable, and since it has some good items on the menu, it overall makes for a fun time out.
Pussy Cat Got Wet Dhs 30
I Like Big Butts! Dhs 32
Day Tripping Buddha Dhs 34
Malibu Stacey Dhs 38
The Name’s Bond, James Bond Dhs 32
Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango Dhs 25
Fried banana with sweet sticky rice and coconut sauce Dhs 25
2 x Sprite 10
+ Service Charge Dhs 10
TOTAL Dhs 226
Getting there: Cruise down Al Wasl Road in the AUH-DXB direction. After you pass Safa Park, keep an eye out for the Emarat petrol pump on your right. Once it arrives, take the first right (which you’ll know is correct because this right is just before the post office), then take the first right again. You’ll basically be on the internal road parallel to Al Wasl Road at this point. You’ll pass a few villas and on the left will see some convenience stores including something called Kadouche and a place called Taste Village. Park anywhere there; no parking meters yay. You’ll see a mustache-laden Mona Lisa in the alley next to these stores.