Nangfa Thai Kitchen – By Ex-Franchisee of Nakhon Kitchen in Bedok
When Nakhon Kitchen first opened at Kovan in 2008, it gained popularity very quickly as they serve cheap and good Thai food in neighbourhood. It has since spawned five other branches – in Bedok, Pasir Panjang, Marine Parade, Holland Village and Ang Mo Kio. I am not sure which one is branch or franchise but we frequent the Bedok outlet because it is near my mother-in-law’s place. But recently, we have seen an interesting change in that area. First it was the closure of Nakhon Bedok outlet, then Nahm Thai Kitchen opened in the same unit. Thereafter, it was renamed Nangfa Thai Kitchen. And now, Nakhon Kitchen re-opened again two units away from Nangfa (original Nakhon outlet).
What exactly happened?
We visited Nangfa Thai Kitchen and spoke to the boss, Michael. We found out that they are cousin of the original owner of Nakhon. A few years ago, they bought the franchise from Nakhon and opened the Bedok outlet. They have to pay an annual fee for the use of the brand’s name but there was no central kitchen for Nakhon. Michael has to hire his own chef to cook and that is the same for all the Nakhon outlets. That’s the reason why you get varying standard in the food quality for different Nakhon outlets. Michael says, when he was still running Nakhon Kitchen, there are always customers who feedback to him that Nakhon Kitchen in Marine Parade doesn’t taste as good.
After serving Bedok residents under the Nakhon brand for many years, Michael decided to get out of the franchise business and start his own brand. He told me, the owners of Nakhon did give him the blessings, hence he opened Nahm Thai Kitchen. But things hasn’t been rosy since then. He was faced with patent issue because it bears the same name as Nahm fine-dining restaurants in Bangkok and London. So Michael renamed the restaurant to Nangfa Thai Kitchen. Guess what, shortly after, competition happens. The owners of Nakhon Kitchen re-opened their Bedok outlet just two units away from them. SERIOUSLY? So I asked Michael, are you still on talking terms with your cousins? He replied, “Not really”.
We visited both Nangfa and Nakhon outlet in Bedok on a Saturday evening and both outlets have got long queue. We picked Nangfa because we wanted to see if it is good and asked what happen. Michael said, even though there was a change in name and tough competition from Nakhon, they are not worried as the same team of cooks still run the kitchen just like the old Nakhon outlet they used to run.
Nangfa means angel in Thai, that’s what they inspire to serve – angelic food and a unique Thai experience. Honestly, I don’t know how unique it is because it looks exactly the same as Nakhon Kitchen. The store front looks the same, the menu is the same, the pricing is (or more or less) the same, the plates and bowls used are the same. I guess the good thing is, because it is still the same team that runs the kitchen, the dishes we ordered still has the same balance of flavours like before. Among many zestily rewarding entrees, we would single out Thai Mango Salad ($5) which looks unassuming but fiery to every bite. This no-frills favorite isn’t afraid of anything, be it spiciness or ingredients.
We always begin each Thai dinner visit with soup. This time round, we ordered the clear Seafood Tom Yum Soup ($6) with tantalizing undercurrent of lemongrass and chillies. Honestly, it was no difference from our previous dinners here when it was still called Nakhon. The soup is aromatic and still has its exquisite balance of Thai flavours. The price is a steal and there is a good amount of prawns, fish and squid in the soup.
Stir-fried minced pork with hot basil leaves ($6) hits the right note of savouriness and spiciness. The minced meat was stir fried with crunchy bean sprouts, onions, red chillies and basil, it’s great with the rice. Other signature items include pandan leaves chicken ($6) and homemade thai fish cake ($6).
Noodle dishes are another Thai given, and the Pad Thai ($5) with shrimp, tofu, bean sprouts and onion was richly rewarding. It has a distinct sweetness and the noodles were as usual, springy to the bite. Drizzle some lime and mix well with chilli flakes makes the dish perfect. We also added some chilli condiments to spice things up a little. Thankfully, homeamde Thai iced lemongrass ($3) and Thai iced milk tea ($3) helps a little with the heat and it is not overly sweet. Dessert menu is not extensive, there is red ruby, mango sticky rice, durian sticky rice or sweet tapioca.
Here’s a shot of Nangfa and Nakhon, beside each other and pissing each other off.
Nangfa definitely has home taste that hits the spot. If you do not get there early enough, be prepared to queue. Considering the freshness of ingredients, the authenticity of the cooking and the generous portions, Nangfa is both a bargain and a rare delight. Actually, we should have visited the new Nakhon outlet because it is a new team of cooks, completely different from the old Nakhon outlet which is now renamed as Nangfa. But well, we will leave it till the next time and perhaps, I will be lucky enough to speak to the owners of Nakhon to hear their point of view.