Address: 1 Wellesley Street
Phone: (09) 973 4304
Open: Lunch: noon-3pm; dinner: from 5.30pm daily
The Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; All The President's Men) summed up Hollywood in his terrific 1983 memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade with the single memorable line "Nobody knows anything".
What he meant was that nothing in the movie business was sure-fire: dead-cert projects flopped and unlikely ideas became hit films.
It's a useful thing to keep in mind in the restaurant-reviewing business. Places that I privately predicted wouldn't last a week, don't just survive but thrive. (On the other hand, genuinely excellent eateries don't die almost immediately after a week for lack of custom, and that happens with movies all the time.) So I would not dream of predicting how the inner city's newest Thai restaurant will do, but it seems to me the odds are stacked against it.
It occupies the large and hallowed room that generations of Aucklanders have known and loved as the London Bar. There's nothing much wrong with that, except that the refit seems to have consisted of the placement of two statues on the staircase, some new tables and a thorough vacuuming.
I have a soft spot for the London Bar. The Professor and I courted there - there remains some disagreement about who was courting whom but it seems to have worked out - and I have spent many a happy hour over a pint of Guinness waiting for the next screening at the annual midwinter film festival.
But the place doesn't really scream Phuket or Chiang Mai, if you get my drift. You pick your way past the revellers outside Murphy's Irish Bar (in my case this involved stepping round a group of German-speaking Morris dancers, which added a neatly surreal touch to the evening) and tread the comfortingly grubby carpet of the staircase.
Bangkok (a name as inspiring for a Thai restaurant as Murphy's is for an Irish bar) did not, at the time of writing, have a liquor licence. The staff said they were waiting for council approval, which suggests a depressing bureaucratic inefficiency since the place has been a pub for about 100 years and presumably complies with requirements. In compensation, or as an opening special, the bill was discounted and we braved the Morris dancers for a pint downstairs between courses.
If the ambience wasn't up to much, the food was good. There are fine Thai places all over Auckland so the competition is hot and Bangkok meets the challenge without slaying all-comers.
Appetisers of deep-fried squid and little curry pastries were disappointing - like finger food for a bad wedding reception - but the soups, of which we had one each, were fragrant and interesting. Likewise the curries, which mixed super-fresh vegetables with meats (you get a choice in each case) in complicated and tantalising sauces.
The whole snapper - virtually compulsory in a Thai place - came in a fish-shaped dish which struggled to contain the sauce because the table (or perhaps the floor) was so uneven. The challenge of holding it level while we spooned sauce into our mouths was fun, but I was less impressed with the idea of having a flame burning under it. It was theatrical, but the fish was perfectly cooked already; we blew the fire out.
So Bangkok's better than not bad; it's actually quite good. Whether that is going to be enough, I would not have any idea.
$117.30 for three*
Soups/appetisers: $9 - $10.50
*(Discounted by 15 per cent)
Ambience: Large quasi-English pub
Vegetarians: Dedicated section on the menu
Watch out for: Morris dancers
Bottom line: Better than bog-standard