Smiling BKK, you can Thai me any way you want

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“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).

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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).

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!).

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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.

FooDee Ordered:

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 

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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. 

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23 thoughts on “Smiling BKK, you can Thai me any way you want

  1. Shaahima

    I just KNEW this was the ‘strange’ place you were referring to the other day. So glad that shady little joints like these are around in Dubai.

  2. Drina C | Eaternal Zest

    Love the pictures Devina. The reason they have that board up is because they used to allow a “bring you own policy”- for booze that is.. and someone warned them that they’d get into trouble.. so they discontinued a very popular routine.My personal opinion as far as their food is concerned is that their food was excellent… i mean ACE thai food a couple years ago… for some reason, the quality has averaged out.. not bad.. but not as great as they used to be.Having said that, I have noticed all their seafood is pretty damn good… in fact, I would say go for the seafood and ignore the rest.

  3. DerrickPereira

    One of my favourite haunts. Without a doubt, they serve the best Thai Iced Tea in Dubai. Noticed a banner in one of your pics that said a new Smiling BKK was opening in a hotel, did they mention anything about where and when?

  4. didipaterno

    My friend recoed this place and this means that it IS good. I can’t wait to try it sometime soon 🙂 Hard to find authentic Thai eats this part of the world. Hoping that this would redeem the instant Pad Thai tasting ones I had from Chimes

  5. FooDiva

    Gosh you do make me giggle 🙂 I haven’t been here in years – and I too got very lost the first time I visited. Loved the surreal concept and atmosphere but the food did not impress at all, so looks like that’s improved. I think if we’re looking at teeny home-grown Thai concepts, Lemongrass is my fave.

  6. Devina Divecha

    Haha Shaahima – proof of our weird connection 😉 Long live shady joints!Sarah – you’d enjoy the weirdness of it all I think. Let me know if you do go! What do you think they’d say to a bunch of Fooderati popping up, all toting DSLRs haha?

  7. Devina Divecha

    Punit – Menu names were a hoot. I think we should tell them to rename their desserts too…they were languishing by being literal haha.FooDiva – Haha, glad I could make you giggle. I’ve actually never been to Lemongrass, so thanks for the suggestion. Will definitely try it out 🙂 I still think the food was elevated by the randomness of it all…it’s average enough with some cool things thrown in.Sidiqa – DOOOOOO IT!!! Go go go go!

  8. Devina Divecha

    Drina – Oooooh I didn’t know that. The alcohol board makes sense now. Yeah I found the food was average, with random bursts of inspiration. But thankfully the food wasn’t bad, or else I’d have been really disappointed! I’m such a picky seafood eater though…must try getting over my issues!!!

  9. Devina Divecha

    @DerrickPereira Oh no, I didn’t try the Thai Iced Tea! Okay, you’ve given me a good reason to go back. Next time for sure. And as the mark of the best journalist ever…I didn’t ask about the hotel banner :(@didpaterno Instant Pad Thai? Haha…I even liked the Pad Thai at Thai Chi…that was pretty good.

  10. Sheryn

    That’s awesome! I’ve been lost in that area plenty but have never found any gems! Is the Emarat petrol station you’re talking about the one with the Picnico or the one without?Hahaha, I imagine they just got tired/bored/in a hurry at the end of the menu and decided not to try to name the desserts creatively. Thanks for the detailed directions D!

  11. dina

    This is such a lovely post!! I admire that u tried prawn and liked it 😀 A must try, I must say this is a very memorable -adventurous post which i enjoyed thoroughly..would love to go- just to read the menu.. FAB pics.. Ur getting awesome at this 😀

  12. Devina Divecha

    Sheryn – Welcome! If you do go there, tell me what you think. Sorry, can’t recall if the Emarat has a Picnico or not (what is that anyway?). I’m hoping my directions are clear enough though :-/Dina – Thanks! Yeah I’m proud of myself…although my friends are telling me minced prawn doesn’t count haha. I’d like to think of it as a step in the right direction! Thank you, thank you for alll your comments 🙂

  13. IshitaUnblogged

    AMAZING! I feel like checking this out right away – more from the visual take than the gastronomical take. I drive thru this road every day of my life in Dubai – I have never seen Monalisa. Or may be she appears only durin gthe night. I loved this post!

  14. Devina Divecha

    Ishita – Awesome, let me know if you try it out. Haha I think she’s lit up at night so it’s easier to spot 🙂

  15. Devina Divecha

    Btw @DerrickPereira I went back to Smiling BKK and asked about the new location, and the waitress said nothing had been confirmed yet so she couldn’t tell us where it’s going to be.And I had the Thai iced tea. SO GOOD.

  16. DerrickPereira

    Now I’ve got a craving for that Thai Iced Tea! Might just swing by Smiling BKK this evening. Another drink to try, if you haven’t already, is the Horchata from Maria Bonita so so sooo good!Hmmm, looks like they are keeping it under wraps. Will see if I can dig up more info on that.

  17. Devina Divecha

    @DerrickPereira I’m going to be there tonight with the colleagues! So funny, I called the restaurant to reserve a table and when the lady asked how many people, I said: “8 or 9”, she went: “OH MY GOD” and disappeared. Someone else (presumably the manager) came on and said both of the long tables for a bigger crowd were booked at the same times, so they’re positioning us on two of the booths instead. I doubt you’ll have place to sit if you pop by between 7 and 9!!

  18. Pingback: Pantry Café and a new Dubai neighbourhood

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