BANGKOK, March 6 — For really tasty and authentic Thai beef noodle soup, you have to track down the dingy kui tio (flat rice noodles) stalls by the roadside, replete with tuk-tuk smog, right? Wrong. In fact, the best Thai beef noodle soup I’ve had in Bangkok wasn’t alongside a sketchy, crowded soi (street) but inside a luxurious (albeit still crowded) shopping mall!
Located on the fourth floor of Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok’s most prestigious shopping hubs, Nuer Koo is a corner noodle shop by the escalator, not even quite a full-fledged restaurant. A large statue of a black cow takes centrestage, the only obvious hint to the passing rush of mall-goers that this sparsely-decorated space offers anything remotely beefy.
Indeed, the ambience of the shop is more minimalist Scandinavian with wooden furniture in various shades of blonde. Aside from the black cow, the only nod to its Asian offerings is the feature wall of china plates — a veritable sea of blue and white — next to the kitchen.
Nuer Koo (pronounced “nua kooh”) means “soulmate” in Thai but is also a play on the word for beef. Evidently the owners — a group of friends hailing from three different families: Surachanee and Suraparp Limatibul; Phongwarut, Phongpisit and Tirawan Pangsrivongse; and Prae and Pumi Sarasin — believe the right soulmate will add flavour to one’s life... and that “soulmate” is beef, of course.
How Nuer Koo takes the beef noodle soup concept further is by focusing on premium cuts of meat and a rich, slow-boiled broth. Imagine sublime Bangkok street food levelled up with higher quality ingredients (not to mention better hygiene).
Now, serving street food in shopping malls and high-end hotels is hardly a new phenomenon but any fan of “hawker cuisine” will tell you that the sanitised copy often pales in comparison with the original. Simply put, street food taken out of the streets lack soul.
Where Thai beef noodle soup is concerned, the taste test naturally lies in the soup. Too many restaurants serve noodles in a bland, tasteless broth. Others add MSG to the broth to make it more flavourful but this is a cheat that has poor returns after the meals (expect to down copious glasses of water).
Not so here. At Nuer Koo, the soup is slowly boiled over long hours to produce a well-rounded flavour yet retain a bright colour. The original broth, an aromatic clear soup, that is beefy yet light on the palate. For hardcore lovers of beef, the bone marrow beef broth is more intense in flavour thanks to a bone marrow reduction blended with a secret savoury sauce.
Both types of soup are served with noodles of choice (either the flat, wide kui tio noodles or sen mee, a type of rice vermicelli), slices of nuea pueay (beef stewed till it is tender), bouncy beef meatballs, beef tendon, bean sprouts and chopped spring onions.
Those who are carb-phobic will delight in bowls of pure sliced beef in this rich beef broth. No noodles needed. Nuer Koo offers six types of beef cuts: sirloin, shoulder, under-rib, rib eye, Australian Wagyu and Japanese Kobe. Naturally, the different grades of meat vary in pricing: from a pleasing 235 baht for the shoulder cut to 950 baht for imported Kobe beef.
If you enjoy decent marbling and that silky, melt-in-the-mouth texture, then consider splurging for the premium selections of either Wagyu or Kobe. You won’t regret it.
Nuer Koo also serves a clear pork noodle soup, brimming with all manner of porky goodness — sliced, minced and even the innards. Upgrade to a bowl of kui tio moo dam, made with Japanese Kurobuta pork, for another decadent hit.
The usual condiments abound, such as fish sauce and ground peanuts, but the most addictive has to be a spicy chilli-vinegar paste made from pounded dried chillies; the perfect dip for the barely-cooked strips of beef and pork.
Too full for more? Ah, but other dishes — smaller, bite-sized treats — await discovery during repeat visits. Fish balls (luuk chin plaa) are firm and sweet, made with the freshest catch from Phuket. There are fragrant deep-fried Chinese chive cakes, crispy tofu skin and my personal favourite, steamed tofu stuffed with minced pork, just like the way Grandma made it.
However many times you drop by Nuer Koo though, no visit is complete without a bowl or two of that luscious beef broth that’s good to the last drop. It’s official: this is a bowl with soul.
Level 4, Siam Paragon, 991 Rama I Rd, Pathum Wan, Bangkok, Thailand
Open daily 11am – 9:30pm