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Thank You Mr. Boonchang!

Ban Thai, Laugavegur 126, 105 Reykjavík
28.5.2014
Words by Björn Teitsson
Disclaimer: It's hard to put into words how happy I was when my editor gave me the news that I was about to review my favourite restaurant in Reykjavík. And this is something that I will wholeheartedly admit, to anyone, any day. Living on this island way up north in the Atlantic, it is only natural that one might seek to quench one’s thirst for adventure through exotic dining and the ever, oh-so lovely, colourful, smouldering members of the capsicum family. Yes, I mean chillies. And there are a lot of them at Ban Thai.

So my companion and I pretty much knew what we were getting ourselves into. The kitsch nineties decor, brown hues, strange ornaments and cheesy Thai pop music—Ban Thai has it all. This might, of course, sound unappealing to some, but to me, it's a dream. Tómas Boonchang, the restaurant’s owner and front man, is a master in his own right. When I walk through the doors of Ban Thai, I trust him 100% with my wellbeing.

Ban Thai also offers a take-away menu consisting of 12 different items. This is hereby recommended to everyone. But inside the restaurant, the menu is gigantic. I mean—it's huge. It has over 150 items! This would certainly be considered problematic in any other restaurant, but I refer to my previous statement—I trust Mr. Boonchang. The number of items pretty much means that you will possibly (or most likely) have to wait a bit longer than in your average restaurant. This is, however, stated on the first page of the menu: “This is not a fast-food restaurant, it takes time to cook everything from scratch, nothing it pre-made.” But the wait is easy, and worth it—especially with a couple of Singha Thai beers (590 ISK) by your side.

My companion and I decided to try out some of the starters for once and ordered the Ban Thai Sampler (3,290 ISK), an amalgamation of various dishes including spring rolls, deep-fried shrimp, deep-fried vegetables and marinated meatballs on a stick, served up with a delightful sweet and spicy dipping sauce made from rice wine vinegar and fish sauce. Nothing to complain about; a nice way to start off the evening.

For the main course, my companion chose the Ginger Curry (2,290 ISK) while I chose the Pad Ped (2,190 ISK). These dishes are not for the faint of heart, but please note that there are plenty of items on the menu that suit those with less of a tolerance for heat. All of the items on the menu that are quite hot are marked with a chilli symbol, a rating of one through five—five obviously being the hottest—and that is pretty damn hot. The hottest dishes available in the country, I’d say (and if not, I would very much want to know where I can get something hotter, please.)

The Ginger Curry is marked with three chillies. My companion chose chicken in his dish, as customers can usually choose their protein—chicken, beef, lamb, shrimp or tofu. The ginger curry is hot, yet well-balanced. The sauce has a coconut milk base that brings a sweet, cooling effect to the spiciness. It’s a curry-based dish with a nice amount of coarsely grated ginger, bringing another dimension to the heat of the dish. Truly a feast for the senses: colourful and vibrant, they really make the taste buds work overtime.

The same can be said for the Pad Ped. Marked with five chillies, it is still the mildest of the five-chilli dishes (of maybe seven in total). It is curry-based, with a little coconut milk to bind the flavours together, bringing a certain balance to the dish. (This is, of course, coming from a seasoned—pun intended—chilli enthusiast.) The dish is balanced, but still brings about the excitement, the sweat, the high you crave from a dish at this mind-blowing Scoville level. I have seen people have nothing short of an out-of-body experience while eating this dish...and loving every second of it. That's basically it. There is a natural high that comes from the chillies. It's a delight, and it's addictive. And the comedown is nothing to laugh about, either.

After the meal, my companion and I were both quite sweaty, and both flying a bit on the wings of capsaicin. My companion decided to make his landing even smoother by ordering one of four dessert items available: a deep fried ice cream. This was a first-time try for the both of us (I got a taste, of course) and it was a delightful surprise. The crunchy, sweet batter made for a very nice contrast to the soft, cool ice cream inside. Very tasty.

What is left to be said? For fans of Thai cuisine, this is as authentic as it gets in Iceland. For chilli-fanatics, this is as hot as it gets in Iceland, hands down. This has been tried and tested. And the prices are excellent! To me, the quality of the food is really up there with the best of them. Anywhere. But dividing price by expectations and outcome...Ban Thai stands head and shoulders above the rest. Not just Thai restaurants. Every restaurant! Thank you, Mr. Boonchang, my trust in you remains, unabated.

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What We Think: Best Thai food in Iceland. Without the slightest doubt.

Flavour: Spicy, salty, savoury, sweet, exotic.

Ambiance: Kitschy and cheesy, but fitting.

Service: Can be slow if crowded. Sufficient.

Price for 2 (with drinks): 6-8,000 ISK (a steal!).

Rating: 5/5
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