You know you're in the right place when you see the Thai flag — and the line outside (yes indeed, Montee is invariably full)…
…and the giant inflatable Singha bottle…
And you can be confident the food is going to be good when the menu on the wall is written entirely in Thai*. It is.
Here are a few of the things we have tried and enjoyed at Montee… Starting with the attractive "mandala" of kung chae nam pla…
the yam talay...
and the tod man pla — which are standard issue, except for the extra chopped garlic and chili in the dip (most Thai places in Tokyo just serve the sriracha neat, straight out of the bottle).
So far so good, but there's plenty on the menu that's a whole lot more interesting. Such as the sai krok Isan.
These sausages are an Isan specialty, made from pork and steamed glutinous rice and left to ferment until they have a very distinctive sour flavour. Sai krok are not common in Tokyo. The chefs at Montee make theirs in-house.
They're pan-fried and served hot with slivers of ginger and raw cabbage on the side.
Excellent with some of the sticky rice on the side. And yes go ahead, use your fingers to fashion that rice into little balls — but be warned, it comes straight out of the steamer and it's HOT). They do also serve Jasmine rice.
What else is good? Well, as mentioned, the "Thai-style okonomiyaki" (banh xeo) hits the spot nicely. It looks quite simple, with only a few morsels of seafood to be seen, but underneath the thin pancake you find a nice mound of wok-fried bean sprouts.
And then there are the clay pots: we haven't tried the tom yam kung yet, but the kaeng som has a lovely rich sweet-sour tamarind broth with plenty of vegetables — six kinds, they say, though we didn't stop to count them — to go with the shrimp.
It's actually cooked in the kitchen — you wouldn't want that small dining room to get hotter — then brought to the table in the clay pot, which sits over a candle to keep it warm.
But the best thing about Montee — besides the sense of being wafted over to Thailand — is the fact that it is really a family-run operation. Takahashi-san (on the left) owns the restaurant; his wife handles the front-of-house business, taking orders and serving; and that's her parents out back in the kitchen. Talk about home cooking!
So is this the most authentic Thai food in Tokyo? That, of course, depends on what you mean by "authentic". Yes, this is about as close as you will ever get to eating great Thai home cooking. But no, in as much as no one involved actually comes from Isan.
Father, mother and daughter are actually from Sukhothai. But the previous chef at Montee was from Isan, so they just carried on serving pretty much the same menu. If I hadn't asked, though, I'd never have known the difference.
* The actual menu is in Japanese as well