The news about Pla Dib closing down spread like wildfire. The conversation of those who are concerned usually involves “No way!” “Yes way! They’re building a freaking condo” What is he going to do next?”. In only a short while, it became our urgency to rush over to Pla Dib and schedule an interview with Prew, the owner, to find out what happened, what’s behind the long lasting success and what is he going to do next.
To think about it, despite being the number one most well-known restaurant in Ari, I haven’t had a chance to connect with him officially until now. It’s sad to say that if not now we’re going to have to talk about Pla Dib as history. That’s why today I’m very eager to tell you the whole story of Pla Dib from the beginning to the end from the perspective of none other than Prew himself.
For those who don’t know, Pla Dib is an asian fusion restaurant with meticulously sourced ingredients and an eclectic menu. It’s situated in an old converted house just opposite to the entrance of the ministry of public relations. It’s been a staple hangout spot of the nightclubbers for 23 years. Don’t be surprised if you brush your shoulder against celebrities here, they are one of the common crowd.
“We’ve been open for over 20 years. I didn’t think too much about it at first. I just love cooking, been this way since as a kid. I just wish we had a nice restaurant where I live and so we don’t have to go all the way to Thonglor. There weren’t many to choose from back in the day. There wasn’t even the ministry of public relations, just an empty land with a fence made of metal sheets. The only one I remember is Suan Kularb restaurant further up the street, that’s the real oldie; they moved from the army I think”.
Not only a good restaurant that was lacking in Ari, but also condos and any hotspots as well. It was a purely residential zone. The only thing that stood out was an array of big houses of the military officers and high ranking government workers’ family houses. The kids knew each other and formed a bicycle gang, roaming the streets. Prew himself is undeniably one of those boys who grew up from these big houses as his last name is not a stranger to the political scene in Thailand.
“My dad loved to cook and eat. Because of my dad, I had a chance to try food from many restaurants that were considered exotic back then. French and Italian cuisine, these were only available in expensive hotels. My grandmother was a chef and a friend of Princess Bejaratana, she cooked for her in the palace in Sukhumvit. So we kind of inherited the traditional Thai recipe from her”.
(If you’re curious to try this recipe, you can do just that at “อย่างเก่าก่อน” restaurant in Phaholyothin 11. It belongs to Prew’s cousin)
“I became serious as a cook when I was studying abroad. I was cooking for my friends and roommates whom, by the way, had a horrible diet. There weren’t many options at that time, especially good asian food, unless you’re in a big city”.
Prew studied furniture design in the USA during the late 90s and in 1997 bad news from home arrived to him. His father passed away in a car accident, followed by the Tom Yum Goong financial crisis. Consequently Prew had to abandon his education and return to Thailand to help his mother cope.
In the 80s-90s this house here used to be occupied by a bar called “Johnny Walker” and then it’s changed to a place called “Forget Me Not”, a real old-fashioned place with a pool table and stuff. I don’t remember seeing this place as a house before. After I’m back for a while, I noticed that nobody was renting the place; I know the land owner and I wasn’t doing much apart from DJing so I thought this could be a great opportunity for me”.
“The name Pla Dib means Raw Fish. It’s originally the name of my design firm I founded with my friends. It’s deceptively simple but it’s all about the technique and quality of the ingredient, so I decided to call my restaurant that but in Thai. We didn’t do anything to promote ourselves. We barely had a sign! There’s a black address platform outside. We did as much as writing “Pla Dib” with chalk on it, that’s all”.
Unlike restaurants these days, it didn’t start off as being an instagram sensation and people rushing to check in to this place. Pla Dib enjoyed slow and stable success over the years. They made a small fortune to slowly renovate small areas of the restaurant one by one until it looks the way it is today. It’s worth mentioning that every piece of wooden furniture here is designed and made by Prew himself. That’s where his education in design comes to light.
“We’re a community venue so what I wanted to do is geared towards community benefit. You see that patch of unused land behind the house? Back then it was an abandoned area where people dump their trash and where robbers hid. So we invested in renting the area, turning it into a greenhouse. People in the Soi came around to water the veg too, you know? But then they increased the rent. I was like, are you insane?”
Twenty years have passed, Pla Dib has matured from the hip hotspot of the night to the neighborhood’s staple. Ari has also developed into an upscale area full of new rival businesses from outside with a thicker budget and modeled for a success. Being named ‘the only’ is no longer true and ‘the first’ does not really matter.
I’d be lying if I say I’m not disappointed with Ari. Our neighborhood is different the way it is. It’s not Sukhumvit or Thonglor. People like it because it has a homey feel to it, unlike anywhere else. It’s one of the few places in Bangkok where most people still know each other. But now it’s becoming less and less so. I have tried, many times actually, to build and preserve a community, to run activities but it was not successful in the long run. The land value became so high that it’s impossible to buy a plot of land here and not expect to make a lot of money out of it”.
Prew is one of the many fierce neighborhood’s ‘Key Players’ of Ari Samphan whose voice can be heard in public hearings of development projects that might cause harm to the neighborhood. Many locals place their trust in him speaking for them. On the other hand, I can confirm from my experience of talking with real estate developers, that Ari residents are revered as the people are not only conservative but will go out of their ways to protect the neighborhood. Some projects never seen the light of day because they can’t prove how their development will improve the neighborhood’s wellbeing.
Over the years, however, Ari is losing its unique charm of big quiet suburban houses. Pla Dib’s customers have grown out of their taste and the next generation did not pick it up. Either way, those are not the real reason why Pla Dib was closed down. In late December 2022, Prew heard from the land owner that the house was sold to an investor and that he had this certain amount of months to pack and leave.
“I’m not as young as I was before. After this I don’t want to do something much more simple but for sure it will be about food”.
When one adventure ends, another just starts. I am excited to share with you that the next project of Prew will only be a few minutes walk from Pla Dib. Something that involves chicken and rice, like in this instagram post here.