‘Yeah, but why Wangjing?’ we selfishly asked when Amy Li’s Thai venture Pak Pak opened last year. She’d gotten Vietnamese down
pat with beloved, classy hutong hideaway Susu, which she started with husband Jonathan Ansfeld. Pak Pak was a return to a cuisine Li had flirted with earlier on, and it was a good move – very good. But while the
second floor of a corporate building outside the Fourth Ring Road is convenient for some lucky souls, those of us languishing further south were left dying for a bite.
Thankfully, the second location of Pak Pak is in a more central location – and it’s totally killing it. Sat squarely in the heart of the CBD, the space has been tricked out with gorgeous white, green and blue panes of pressed glass that run above a long bar that looks into the kitchen. It’s all clean lines and modern, yet throws off a relaxed vibe. We could easily imagine
comfortably tucking up at the bar during peak hours.
The menu’s massive, portion sizes are huge and the flavour’s always on point. Start with sai
krok isan (58RMB), little nubs of northeastern-style sour sausage that are delicious – tangy and ineffably light – on their own but meant to be paired with a pickled carrot, a slice of chilli, a spring of coriander and a sprinkling of toasted peanuts, before being swaddled in
a lettuce leaf. A brilliant tom kha gai (58RMB) coconut soup speckled with chilli oil practically vibrates from
its lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves.
It’s a great prelude to the
gaeng phanaeng neua (58RMB),
a decadent and truly banging panang curry. You choose a type
of beef (tenderloin or brisket) for the aromatic dish, but it doesn’t really matter which you pick. It’s the inexplicably buttery potatoes that make jaws drop.
Is there anything that the kitchen isn’t good at? We have our doubts. The pad kuai tiao kaprau (48RMB)
– wide rice noodles stir-fried with egg, scallion and chilli and blanketed in Thai basil – is perhaps the least transcendental, but also the most basic. Noodles. Fried. Delicious. And you should see what they can do with mashed potatoes. Man farang mash (48RMB) comes out the size and colour of a mutant orange, blended with red curry and spiked with ribbons of bird’s eye chilli and lime leaf – totally delightful and kicking with spice.
We hardly even skimmed the surface of the menu, but we already know enough to know that Pak Pak’s the next restaurant we’re going steady with.