Several years ago, Nashra Sakhawat, CEO of Soi 71, Fantasium, Source and a mother of two beautiful children, dreamt of having a family oriented Thai restaurant to create authentic Thai cuisine with a taste of the original street food found in Thailand. The dream came true in 2010 with the grand opening of Soi 71, a restaurant that has been thriving for the past eight years despite the obstacles thrown at their way.
Soi 71 began with a very skilled chef who has been with them since their inception. “I have been very lucky to find Chef Sudawan Laddasri since our very first day. She is a woman and it is always great working with a woman. She is strong, knowledgeable and highly experienced with the art of food making,” mentioned Nashra. A woman of her calibre has deeply inspired the growth of Soi 71.
“Ever since I was a child, I travelled to Bangkok frequently. Even now, when I go and I find something that really catches my attention, all I have to do is take a picture, take down the Thai name and the description and Laddasri will replicate it and make the exact same thing, if not better. So now, I can say with confidence that I have better Thai food in Dhaka than I ever had in Bangkok,” added Nashra.
Soi 71 provides truly authentic food from the Thai perspective of our parents' generation. All the chefs under Laddasri are just as experienced, and even now, if something does not pass her standard – she will not bring it to the table. It is a very delightful journey for Nashra, with Laddasri managing the kitchen for years. She has brought all the necessary herbs, spices and ingredients that they need from Thailand. The Thai embassy has a very close connection to their restaurant. Therefore, all their produce originates from Thailand.
Soi 71 is built on ideals to provide healthy, nutritious and delicious food for all their customers, “I feel this really beneficial for us, instead of having greasy, oily food, with no nutrition,” said Nashra. Thai people do not really have allocated meal times as they snack a couple of times in a day. This is why Soi 71 is open from 12 noon to 10PM without any break in the middle. No longer is Nashra a believer of fixed meals such as lunch and dinner. It is not a healthy habit; instead, she persists on having small snacks throughout the day, which is greater sustenance for the body.
Nashra's husband has been a constant inspiration and help in creating this magnificent restaurant. He went to Bangkok with her to scope out a chef, and accompanied to buy decorations, new items and anything else needed for the restaurant. He also set up the kitchen. Being an engineer by profession, he decided where the air conditioner, stove, exhaust fan needed to be to make the environment perfectly balanced, while she did the interior by herself. The interior is designed to be very minimalistic with natural elements- air, water, and fire to create a Thai sanctuary for the customers.
The interior consists of a saltwater aquarium with stones from the ocean and marine fish, an indoor waterfall, natural plants and the perfect amount of lighting, sound, space, and music. Nashra has always loved the Alfresco available everywhere in London. In Dhaka that is nearly impossible. One cannot sit by the road and enjoy a roadside meal. Instead, she incorporated the idea of alfresco to an indoor space. Nashra introduced an indoor alfresco with a canopy, providing a faux outdoor experience. Soi 71 also has created an outdoor garden and seating area for people seeking a little comfort after a long day at work. The seating includes huge umbrellas with side panels that will sustain even in storms, letting customers enjoy dining while watching the rain.
Private rooms are also available at Soi 71 for customers who would like some privacy for meetings or precious family time. The private room can accommodate up to twenty people, and has TV and karaoke set up. Both branches of Soi 71 have play areas for children, private rooms, and outdoor gardens with daily live grilling. The play area is very intricately designed to look like a treehouse where kids can climb up, play, read, draw and watch cartoons.
Their menu is rich with ingredients containing medicinal properties. These Thai herbs have been known to fight diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases, lower high blood pressure, prevent cancer etc. Meanwhile, the taste is also very pleasing for the palate. Soi 71 special dishes include soups, grilled items, steamed items, fusion items too.
From the menu, slight grilled beef is a must-try for everybody. Steamed fish with chilly and lime sauce is also a must-have. If you ever have a cold or sore throat, order their clear seafood soup loaded with Kalanga, which is good for boosting immunity. Non-Vegetarians can try the stir-fried minced chicken with basil leaf. Customers can easily customise with their preferred level of spice and heat. For the vegetarians, try the mixed vegetables with oyster sauce. The restaurant ensures that even the broth is vegetarian.
The cherry on top of their exquisite menu is the wide variety of desserts available including chocolate fudge, cheese cake, apple pie, caramel pudding (a Soi 71 specialty) , Thai traditional sticky rice mango - a very popular Thai item, mini cupcakes and rich, thick brownies.
From the very beginning, Soi 71 always targeted a family crowd. “Anyone is of course welcomed, but when I first opened Soi 71, I was expecting my son. I was eight months pregnant when we did the opening. At first, I made a play area because my daughter was also 2 years old at the time. From then, it instinctively became a very family friendly place,” said Nashra. “We include a child menu in addition to our regular menu to cater to the children,” she added. Over the years, everything has been evolving, from the décor, upholstery, menu, but their quality has always been top notch.
Quite recently, Soi 71 moved from their original location, in Road 71, to a commercial property to ensure proper safety and security for their customers. They have also branched out to Uttara.
Having, branched out in Uttara, Nashra confirms that Soi 71 will not be mushrooming all over the city, because their quality must be maintained. The layout is very similar to Gulshan 2, however, the customers in Uttara are very dynamic, with young crowds who prefer low calorie, healthy snacks between lunch and dinner.
Photo courtesy: Soi 71
Soi 71 addresses:
Concord Bkash Tower
Road 48, House 11/A, Level 1, Gulshan 2
17 Sonargaon Jonopoth, Sector 13
Seventh and eighth floors