By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
OPEN FOR just one year, Lhong Tou Cafe in Bangkok’s Chinatown has made a name for itself by offering a new take on such favourite Chinese snacks as shumai, wonton dumplings and buns.
Housed in an old shophouse, the cafe has only nine tables and a maximum of 30 seats. No reservations are taken and diners have to get a queue number from the machine at the front and usually have to wait a long time whether going for lunch or dinner.
Known for its doubledecker tables, popular Chinese cafe Lhong Tou spreads its wings from Chinatown to downtown Bangkok.
In response to popular demand – and complaints from customers about the long queues and no parking lot – the cafe has just opened its second branch in downtown Bangkok at the Market mall, opposite CentralWorld on Rajdamri Road. Double the size of the Chinatown shop, the downtown outlet can accommodate 60 diners excluding at the outdoor terrace that will open soon.
The interior is identical to the original store. Loyal customers can still spot the familiar street-style neon signage in red and green bearing the cafe’s name in Chinese lettering. The signature double-decker tables originally designed to cope with the small space of the first branch also make an appearance here.
“Our solution to the compact space of our first store in Yaowarat (Chinatown) was to put an upper deck above the lower seats. The structure is made from metal pipes and wooden planks. It’s like a mezzanine floor and it can be reached by climbing a ladder. Customers love it and enjoy climbing up. Most want to sit on the upper deck,” says Wannayos Boonperm, a co-owner in charge of design concept.
Wannayos has teamed up with the Voranate brothers, Nithi and Itthi - the guys behind the steakhouse Meat Bar 31 on Soi Sukhumvit 31. The siblings also serve as consultants to a number of restaurants and advise on interior design and the food concept.
Wonton soup and steamed shumai dumplings
“Lhong Tou means the head of the dragon and we adopted it because our first shop is located next to the Odeon Circle, the gate to Bangkok’s Chinatown. Tourists come to Yaowarat to try a variety of Chinese foods so they will hop from one restaurant to another. We wanted to become a pit stop on their culinary route, so we positioned ourselves as a cafe rather than a restaurant by serving Chinese-influenced snacks instead of heavy meals,” says Nithi.
Though none of the owners have any Chinese ancestors, they offer the Chinese snacks that people living in Yaowarat normally eat but present them in a more contemporary style.
“Chinese food at Yaowarat is not like what you can find in Hong Kong. It’s a mix of Chinese and Thai. That’s pretty typical and is what makes the Chinatowns in different cities so varied. We want our place to become an everyday cafe so the prices are affordable. I can say that the customers don’t need to spend more than Bt200 per person for both food and drinks,” adds Itthi, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef.
A set of congee and side dishes
Congee with a variety of side dishes is a popular Chinese breakfast usually enjoyed with family members. Instead of featuring it as a feast, Itthi presents it in individual servings, placing a bowl of congee and a variety of eight sides – fried Chinese sausage, dried shredded pork, pickled vegetable, salted egg yolk, boiled peanuts and seasoned mushroom – in a large bamboo basket. Priced at Bt129, it’s an all-day breakfast dish that’s much in demand.
A small soup bowl with three pieces of shrimp wonton dressed with goji berry (Bt59) is as tempting as the steamed shumai dumplings with three fillings – minced shrimp, minced pork and Chinese chives (Bt69).
Durian lava bun, mini BBQ pork buns, steamed shitake bun, and fried lava bun
For fried snacks, go for minced shrimp wontons (Bt69 for five pieces), shrimp spring rolls (Bt59), or shrimp dumplings wrapped with potato threads (Bt79). The fried chicken marinated with Mala sauce from Sichuan peppercorn, chilli and various spices is also worth trying and not too much numbing and spicy. It goes for Bt79.
Other popular snacks are fried lava bun with creamy custard and salted egg yolk oozing out (Bt29), five pieces of fried mini BBQ pork buns (Bt49), and a piece of durian lava bun (Bt59). There is also a steamed shitake mushroom bun (Bt59) that comes in a mushroom shape and is stuffed with seasoned mushroom.
Hot anti-ageing tea
To complement the food, customers can order a pot of hot anti-ageing tea consisting of osmanthus and butterfly pea flowers (Bt160). For cold drinks, opt for the refreshing butterfly pea lemonade (Bt70) or butterfly pea Thai milk tea (Bt75, only available at the second branch).
Lhong Tou Cafe is a big hit among Chinese-speaking tourists who account for about 60 per cent of the customers.
Iced butterfly pea Thai milk tea
“We didn’t expect to draw a lot of Chinese-speaking tourists to try our food,” says Nithi. “In addition to the flavourful taste, customers come to get an experience for which they are happy to spend. Unlike some restaurants where customers come to try a famous and particular dish, our cafe integrates all elements.”
“Some tourists just visit Bangkok once and complain that they missed the chance to eat at our restaurant. Our answer was to move closer to them by opening the new branch in the areas popular among Chinese tourists. In addition to Chinatown, the popular tourist spots are the sacred Erawan Shrine and the Pratunam shopping area,” adds Wannayos.
Clay pot rice with crispy chilli and garlic, crispy pork belly and soy saucemarinated egg yolk
As the second branch also attracts office people, particularly during lunchtime, five clay-pot rice bowls with different toppings have been added to the menu. Ranging in price from Bt139 to Bt169 a bowl, they include clay pot rice topped with Chinese sausages and egg or with chilli, garlic and crispy pork belly.
Chinese plum bingsu
The refreshing dessert that is only available at the second branch and perfect for sharing is Chinese plum Bingsu (Bt95), which boasts Chinese plum snowflakes served with fresh lychee and peach and lychee bubbles.
THAT TASTES SO GOOD!
Lhong Tou Cafe’s second branch is on the ground floor of the Market mall, opposite CentralWorld on Rajdamri Road.
It is open daily from 10 to 10.
Call (064) 935 6588 or visit “Lhong Tou Cafe” page on Facebook.