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Review: Tuk Tuk in Hongdae

restaurants | November 27, 2015 | By

IMG_0976Yeonnam-dong, just off Hongdae, is very trendy these days, which is enough to make me hesitant to go there, since I’m about as trendy as cardigans and corduroy (both of which I am planning to wear this weekend). But I make an exception for food, so I’ve been to check out Tuk Tuk, a Thai place that’s made lots of waves since it was opened a while back.

IMG_2042It’s very popular. On both my lunchtime visits, although we were seated immediately, the place was busy despite it being well after 1pm. On a Friday or Saturday night, you might struggle.

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Tuk Tuk is part of a small but growing chain of Thai restaurants in the area which also include Soi, just down the street.

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The interior is really nice, the lighting a little bit dim – this is a decent place to take a date. My lunch date was focused solely on the food, which was good because I was hungry. Service, despite the numbers of people still showing up towards 2pm, was pretty fast.

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The menu is extensive – so many pages, in fact, that I’ve parked it at the bottom of this post as there are too many photos to put in the middle here.

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Those little deep-fried shrimp cakes are a favourite whenever I go to a Thai restaurant. I can certainly say that these were among the best I’ve had. They’re often rubbery, but these were incredibly light and fluffy.

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With a soy sauce dip to make them a bit more interesting, they disappeared quickly.

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On both of my visits, I’ve had a dish of spicy stir-fried flat noodles, which comes with your choice of chicken, pork, beef or prawn. The chilli in this is real and noticeable. I was less wild about the addition of carrots, cherry tomato and broccoli, none of which are vegetables I’ve encountered in my travels in Thailand. Nevertheless, authentic or not – and “authentic” is a much-abused term, and everyone knows that there’s a massive difference between northern and southern Thai cooking, and most stir-fries in Thailand are basically Chinese recipes anyway, and yadda yadda yadda, there were cherry tomatoes in the noodles – it’s not a bad dish, but I don’t know that I’d order it again.

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The chicken panaeng curry was somewhat more successful. The foundations of this curry is a paste of peanuts and spices which are cooked in coconut milk to make a nutty, salty-sweet sauce. This version was… not bad. I would have liked a bit more spice – panaeng curry isn’t hot even when done properly, but this was quite anaemic. Luckily there are the usual dried and vinegar-soaked fresh chillies at the table to amp things up. No sign of any basil in the sauce, either, which was a fault – those green bits in the photo are chopped lime leaves.

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Even though I would have wanted a richer, spicier sauce – and indeed, after years struggling with the recipes in Thai Cooking, by David Thompson, I can make a better version myself – it was still pretty more-ish. For 10,000 won (which includes a bowl of boiled rice), it was also decent value. It was consumed very quickly.

IMG_0980A meal for two, with one appetiser and two mains (and no drinks), was around 30,000 won – not cheap, but not extortionate either. Given that we both left satisfied, I’d say it was fair value for money. But I noticed that there were a lot of pretty pricey menu items on there – literally everyone at every other table was eating a yellow soft shell crab curry which sells for 27,000 won, and they are flogging glass noodle salad with a BBQ’d half chicken for 24,000, which is surely just taking the piss. So, your mileage may vary.

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Afterwards we repaired to Coffee Libre, which is just round the corner and worth checking out.

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Overall? A mixed bag. I’ve enjoyed both my lunches there, but both meals seemed less impressive when I looked back on them later. The stir-fry was tasty but nothing special, the curry likewise. I felt that the food has been Koreanised somewhat. I want to go back again and try more menu items before I make a definitive judgement, but for the time being, I’d say Tuk Tuk is worth a visit, but not worth the hype. Amazing Thailand, on the other side of Hongdae, remains my go-to for Thai food.

  • Category: Thai
  • Price: $$$$
  • Must try:  Shrimp cakes
  • Subway: Hongdae (Hongik University / 홍대역) exit 3.
  • Directions: From exit of Hongdae station, walk up towards the intersection (away from Hongdae) and into Yeonnam-dong. You’ll come to Tuk Tuk after five minutes or so – look for a sign above a GS25, and it’s just tuck-tucked in to the right (see what I did there?), down in the basement. Coming from outside Hongdae, it’s much quicker by bus – the 110 or 740 from Noksapyeong both drop you within sight of the front door – just get off at the first stop after the bus turns right at Hongdae station.
  • Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 12:00-10:30.

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