The Faubourg Ste-Catherine was a frequent point of convergence for me during my first decade in Montreal. As a university student in the late 90s, the art deco "mall" served as an entertainment hub thanks to the bygone Sharx Pool Bar and movie theater it housed in its basement. Later during the mid 00s, it would become a lunch destination when my work colleagues and I got wind of – what was then – one of the city's best-kept secrets.
Tucked away on the second floor was a fast-food Thai counter by the name of Cuisine Bangkok. While not exactly a household name in those days, the little operation did amass a cult following thanks to its signature pad thai and stir-fries. Efforts to expand to a sit-down restaurant across the street were short lived, while the eventual gutting of the Faubourg saw Bangkok relocate to the Village in 2017, placing it beyond my habitual radius.
The move would not last long however, as news of the eatery's return to its birthplace surfaced early last year. More than a decade since my last meal here, I finally returned with anticipation and a desire to relive a long-lost experience.
The Faubourg's interior visual appeal was never its draw. It seems a decade of upheaval and renovations have not reversed this. The labyrinthine space feels more claustrophobic than ever, with narrow hallways connecting small areas separated by walls everywhere. There are no open spaces, atria, skylights or any of the design cornerstones I associate with a mall.
Rechristened as Mama Bangkok, the Thai counter is located at an upper-floor corner with barely any tables around it. That did not appear to bother anyone other than myself, given the absence of any eat-in crowd; everything is clearly geared towards takeout and delivery apps.
An interminable menu comprising close to 100 items can be loosely broken down into appetizers, pad thais, pad see ews, fried rice and other stir-fries, with a dozen variations of each. Two of Bangkok's signatures were its affordable prices and customizable heat levels. I was happy to know these drawing cards still held; main dishes fall in the $10 to $15 range and asking for a higher spice degree is guaranteed to burn!
Our two soup starters – tom yum and wonton – were generous in portion, full of flavour but a little watery in consistency. A fried rice with Thai basil and beef was ultra fragrant, tasty and given a crunchy treatment thanks to scallions and bell peppers. Finally, the famous pad thai checked all the boxes associated with this quintessential Thai staple: sweet, salty, sour, tangy, fresh and crunchy.
All form of human interaction has been removed at Mama Bangkok, as diners place and pay for their orders themselves via a touch-screen terminal. The food was promptly prepared but handed in takeout containers, regardless of whether one was eating on the premises or not. All of this, in addition to an absence of chopsticks, left much to be desired when it came to "customer service".
While I was pleased with the food I sampled at Mama Bangkok today, it somehow fell short of my expectations. It's hard to tell whether it did go down a notch or is it simply my memory and nostalgia placing it on an exaggerated pedestal. Either way, their stir-fry and pad thai is on par with what could cost you $20 at a fine-dining restaurant. Considering the price point here, you are getting good return for your dollar.
As far as the Faubourg is concerned, its new incarnation is but a shadow of its former self with Concordia University gobbling up a huge part of it and its street-side shops completely occupied by big-box restaurants. At least with Bangkok, it's nice to see one of its tenants from thirty years ago return.
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.