When it comes to scrumptiously good Thai cuisine, Mango Tree never disappoints. Together with the ambiance, set in the very exclusive Souk Al Bahar with views of the magical Dubai Fountain, the restaurant is the perfect choice for a very special dinner out.
How did Mango Tree get its name?
The story is one of legend. Hailing from a lineage of restaurateurs, Pitaya Phanphensophon has an inborn love for cooking. Given his culinary skills, it was inevitable that the little restaurant he had started with his wife in Thailand was a raving success.
The restaurant ran into its third month and still had no official name. ‘What shall we call it?’ his wife asked. Looking at their little restaurant, the tall, ancient mango tree that took center stage came into Pitaya’s focus. It’s branches leveled outwards forming a natural canopy over the tables. Never one to complicate things, Pitaya declared the name to be ‘Mango Tree’.
That was over 30 years ago. From these humble beginnings, Mango Tree has branched out of Thailand and continues to offer an unmatched Thai dining experience across a number of cities worldwide including Tokyo, London, Jakarta, Manila, Hong Kong and Dubai.
Ever so humble, Pitaya Phanphensophon declares ‘I am not a chef… but I sure am a good cook!’
Pitaya Phanphensophon has published a recipe book entitled ‘I am Not a Chef’. The book is loaded with 65 Thai, Asian and Western recipes, and can be bought from Amazon.
We dined at Mango Tree – Souk Al Bahar this weekend. As always, the restaurant was packed with diners. If you want to sit at the balcony and enjoy scenic views of the Dubai Fountain, ensure you book well in advance. It is the perfect setting for a romantic dinner date.
With a 4 year-old in tow, we decided to dine indoors for respite from the increasing summer humidity (not the best option, we thought, given we were planning to down extra spicy Thai soup!).
Mango Tree’s interiors are an attractive take on modern architecture with subtle hints of Asian fusion.
The table is set up with beautiful cutlery, and the bright orange of the menu cover must be an ode to fresh, ripened mangoes!
Like most Thai restaurants, Mango Tree offers a plate of complimentary prawn crackers with sweet chili sauce dip while the menu choices are being evaluated.
The mad weekend rush does not deter the friendly demeanor of the restaurant staff. We are assigned a host for the evening who diligently goes through the menu with us, and quizzes us on our preferences in order to give us a more personalized list of options.
We started off with a shared bowl of Tom Yum Goong.
Mango Tree’s Tom Yum Goong is a delightful play of hot and sour enriched with delicate flavors of exotic herbs like galangal. The portion size is perfectly suited for 2, and is loaded with a generous helping of plump, juicy prawns.
Our appetizer choices included Som Tum Thai and Koong Phad Naa Phrik Takrai.
Som Tum, the ever popular Thai green papaya salad, is one of my all-time favorite Thai dishes and the one at Mango Tree does not disappoint. The salad was refreshingly good, and well marinated with the tangy-salty base of lemon and fish sauce. I could eat this whole plate all by myself!
Koong Phad Naa Phrik Takrai is a Thai appetizer I have not tried before. It is a part of Mango Tree’s newly launched Healthy Menu, and comprises of butterfly tiger prawns that have been marinated in a special curry paste, char grilled and served with a garnish of herbs.
Aren’t the prawns photogenic? The outer layer has a delectable crunch, and the inner flesh of the prawns have retained their moist, juicy freshness. Cooked to perfection, these prawns taste so good that it is hard to believe they are listed under the ‘healthy’ section.
For the mains, we had yet another dish from the ‘healthy’ menu. This is the Pla Yang Hor Bai Kluay Samun Prai. Basically, this is the fish of the day, marinated with a special Thai seasoning and steamed in a parcel made of banana leaves.
The banana leaves parcel opens up to reveal a fish that is still steaming hot. A spicy concoction of fresh Thai chili and fish sauce is served on the side as a dipping to liven each bite, but even on its own the dish has a beautifully delicate Thai flavor and the fish is succulent and moist. I am beginning to think dieting does not have to be bad news after all!
When dining at a Thai restaurant, we always have an order of noodles, and the most popular of Thai noodle dishes has to be Pad Thai.
We went for Pad Thai Talay. ‘Talay’ is the Thai word for ‘ocean’ or ‘sea’, and when paired with ‘Pad Thai’ it means the noodles have been stir-fried with a seafood mix.
Mango Tree’s Pad Thai Talay not only looks spectacular, but is generously big enough to serve two hungry adults. This dish had the perfect balance of sweetness without overshadowing the savory hot Thai flavors. The amount of seafood mixed in was proportionate enough to ensure a forkful came up with something from the sea! I especially loved the beautifully done scallops in the dish. Sadly, with all the other dishes filling up the table, we couldn’t do justice to the Pad Thai Talay. Mental note to self: remember Mango Tree portions are made for two!
Another Thai favorite of mine happens to be Gai Phad Crapow.
Gai Phad Crapow is essentially a very simple dish consisting of finely diced up boneless chicken that has been stir-fried with garlic, chili and fresh Thai basil. We even make our own version at home. However, ours doesn’t even come close to the one at Mango Tree!
Mango Tree’s Gai Phad Crapow is full on flavor. The chicken has been chopped up almost to the consistency of mince, and the full-bodied sauce it was served in looks deceivingly light given the powerful punch of flavors it delivers.
Gai Phad Crapow goes beautifully well with plain Thai Jasmine rice.
Another dish we had with the rice was the Gaeng Pet Ped Yang.
Isn’t the presentation stunning? Gaeng Pet Ped Yang is a traditional Thai roast duck served in red curry. Mango Tree’s version happens to be one of their signature dishes, and for good reason. We couldn’t get enough of how beautifully tender the duck meat was, and the red curry, mixed in with fresh chunks of pineapple, was exotically satiating with the subtle hint of a tropical punch. A must-try dish for any Thai cuisine fan.
As a side dish, we had Phad Phak Bung Fai Paeng.
This is a stir-fry of phak bung, a water spinach native to Thailand which is known as ‘Morning Glory’ in English. The dish has a subtle spinach-like taste, and goes beautifully with rice and Thai curries.
And did I mention our drinks?
Hubby had the Oriental Bliss, a fruity blend of cranberry, pineapple and guava juice blended with Matusalem rum and topped with Cointreau.
I had the Blue Lagoon. Doesn’t it look like a Smurf got stuck in a blender?! This sweet, heady sip consists of a special blend of apple and lime juice mixed with Southern Comfort, Amaretto, Midori, Blue Curacao (for the pretty bright blue coloring!) and a touch of Angostura.
Yes, Mango Tree has a liquor licence!
Given the scrumptious lineup of authentic Thai dishes and a breathtaking location sure to impress the biggest of cynics, it is of no wonder that Mango Tree at Souk Al Bahar has become a family favorite in our books.
However, Operations Manager Vishal Godya doesn’t want Mango Tree to be memorable for the Dubai Fountain views. He doesn’t even think the stunning ambiance is of much importance. For Vishal, a restaurateur with an impressive CV boasting of some of the biggest names in the UAE hospitality business including Burj Al Arab (the only 7 star hotel in the world), it is the food being served that should take center stage.
Vishal’s innovative stance has pushed the boundaries of Mango Tree, and the ‘Healthy Menu’ happens to be his brainchild. Vishal also believes offering superior service and unbeatable deals will turn visitors into regulars.
For the first time ever, Mango Tree is also planning a special Ramadan menu. How the restaurant plans to pull off an authentic Thai menu with an Arabesque festival flavor will be interesting to see. Stay tuned!
Mango Tree is located on the first floor of Souk Al Bahar (near Dubai Mall and Burj Dubai). For reservations, call 04 426 7313.