Bangkok’s largest inner-city restaurant is big in every detail, including reputation.
Richard Mcleish heads to the Seafood Market & Restaurant to see if it can meet expectations and deliver on its iconic signage’s promise.
by Richard Mcleish.
Mention the phrase “If it swims we have it” to any Bangkokian, and they will instantly know what you are talking about. Whether they have been inside the Seafood Market & Restaurant (89 Sukhumvit Soi 24, Klongtoey, Bangkok; 02 261 2071–5; www.seafood.co.th) or not, the neon-infused blue sign that stretches over Sukhumvit Soi 24 is one of the city’s great landmarks, immortalized in cultural tombs such as “Bangkok Days” by Lawrence Osborne. But those who venture inside to test the validity of the great claim are in for a surprise.
The restaurant is positioned on an expansive 11-rai plot of land that lies the middle of the developed soi. Flanked by towering residential condos, it’s a stalwart and kick-back to the old Bangkok with its grandiose proportions and gaudy décor to match. It’s the biggest inner-city restaurant of the capital by a country mile, lending its scaling from its major target—the Chinese—although Middle Easterners have joined the fray of late. Reportedly there is room for more than 1,500 diners, perhaps confirmed by our table number – 357. Facilities include an outdoor garden area for smokers, function annexes and 14 VIP rooms upstairs that are appropriately ornate and resemble a gaudy set from “Scarface”. But downstairs, in the expansive main room, is where the bona fide market action happens.
As you enter through the sweeping front doors, you’ll notice the throng of chefs expertly maneuvering huge woks full of morsels engulfed in juices and flames. It’s the perfect appetizer, launching your sensory expectations for the impending buffet onslaught inside the room ahead. Through the doors, the huge room rolls out in every direction with a sea of tables and countless staff dispersed among them like buoys to guide you through the oceanic expanse. You’d be particularly unlucky not to find a table with this scale of proceedings.
Once settled, it’s time to head to the neon-drenched market that lines the back wall of the room. It is also in proportion, offering a long buffet of seafood on ice, as well as an extensive vegetable and fruit section and a drinks corner that stocks a good selection of new and old world wines as well as spirits. Grab yourself a shopping trolley (really), and take advice from the helpful staff who are on-hand to guide you through the all-important selection process. We liked the look of the blue crabs and Maine lobsters, both still alert and watchful, as well as the big array of fresh produce to balance your meal out. It’s a shopper/foodie’s paradise, and the shared look in the eye of many punters is testament to the thrill of selecting your own dinner.
With a full trolley, head to the check-out where the ever-helpful staff make suggestions about the cooking techniques to bring out the best of your selections. Then it’s back to the table to let the chefs do their best. In what seemed like no time, colorful plates of deliciousness began to emerge on the lazy Susan before us. The chefs had indeed converted our selections into huge monuments of gastronomy. With big as the theme, there was nothing left to do but eat up; eat up big.
We started with curry crab, which was fleshy and fresh. Then we enjoyed a steamed snow fish served in a delectable Chinese-style rice wine, soy and ginger sauce that countered the sweetness of the fleshy fish. Clams came next, served with another moreish Chinese-style sauce and chilies for Thainess. River prawns sourced from Burma and Vietnam were the fresh-water contingent, and expertly cooked (lightly) in their own juice for maximum flavor. Our helpful waiter emerged form nowhere to draw out the pinkish flesh from the barbed antennae with expert technique. Also involved was morning glory cooked in garlic and seafood fried rice to round out the feast.
It’s no surprise to learn that the restaurant is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and with longevity comes loyalty from staff – no mean feat in this city and something that money can’t buy. The longest serving member of staff proudly toured us around the VIP section, while other staff attended with purpose. Such subtle touches help soften the kitschiness of the surrounds and smooth the transition from marketplace to restaurant with style.
Seafood Market & Restaurant is perfect for groups of infinite size (seriously), as well as those looking to go large-scale on a seafood buffet with some of the freshest offerings around. Naturally, going on an empty stomach is advised.
Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.