Restaurant Review: nahm

There’s been a lot of buzz about nahm, a new Thai restaurant that opened in Bangkok last year. The restaurant is run by an Australian chef David Thompson who specializes in Thai cuisine. Thompson opened a Thai restaurant by the same name in London and it was the first, and, for quite a while, the only Thai restaurant with a Michelin star.

The big hoopla about his restaurant in Bangkok is the chef himself. Many Thais did not appreciate the idea of a farang chef proclaiming how Thai food should be made. Thompson didn’t help with his open claims to go back to traditional Thai food that has been overlooked in favor of tourist fare such as pad thais.

We went to taste the food for ourselves. The restaurant encourages their customers to order the set menu option, seven courses. I went in thinking the set menu is a pre-determined collection of dishes featured for the night/week/month, where the chef likes to dictate what one’s ideal whole dinner should be. Instead, we are given a menu with a selection of all the dishes and told that the set menu is for us to pick which dishes we want. That quickly damped my interest in ordering the set dinner. I believe the idea of a set menu involves more work from the chef to pick out which variety of dishes complement each other. If we are to mix and match ourselves, we might as well pick a la carte and have more control over how much we are eating.

The restaurant charges an overlap steep 1200 baht corkage fee. What a disappointment as I had a couple of sauvignon blancs I was ready to pop open.

The food was delicious. I am not sure if I can say the food is true to its traditional roots. What I did notice right away was how well cooked the dishes are. I have found Thai food to be very indifferent to cooking technique. A lot of dishes are simply stir fried, everything mixed in all at once, tossed and mashed together until hot to serve. Or slices, shaved, dices, spiced, tossed then served. The food served in nahm, on the other hand, is a demonstration of how Thai food would look like when the culinary arts and techniques are applied.

Simple things stood out. In our chicken mussaman curry, the chicken was not deboned as they usually are. I was about to resign to myself to having to attack the meat on the bone in a very undignified manner. The meat peeled right off. That doesn’t happen unless the chef knows how to take great care in the preparation, treatment, and cooking of the meat.

Restaurant Review: La Table de Tee

As someone who studied French, albeit horribly, for six years, I cringe hearing how people around me pronounce the name of the restaurant. The only word we agree on is “Tee” the name of the chef who runs this joint.

La Table de Tee is an awesome awesome find. Tee is a professionally trained chef, hailing from Thailand but studying the culinary arts abroad. He brings back his knowledge by crafting a set menu of Thai-French fusion dishes.

It takes guts but his restaurant offers set meals only. No a la carte ordering. And the menu changes reguarly. That takes work. I applaud his confidence and courage, neither of which is unfounded because the food is absolutely heavenly. Elegant, yet unpretentious. The textures contrasted one another, the flavours and seasoning distinct without being overpowering.

The night we went, we had the following menu:

Tiger Prawn Cream & Sweet Basil Soup
Crab Tortellini & Garlic Salad
*********************
Salmon & Coriander
or
Hot Basil Risotto
*********************
Chicken & Lemon
or
Duck & Thai Cinnamon
*********************
Bananas Parfait & Coconut
Peanuts Macaroon & Marshmallows

Unlike many set menus, the portions were not tapas-size. Rather, they were at least twice without being too heavy or too much. The courses were served over an unhurried pace, allowing you to linger and savor the flavours. Even after the licked-clean plates were wisked from under your nose, the staff would wait before serving the next course. By dessert, we were full, but not disgustingly so.

Sadly, I had to cancel my last reservation. As I promised the manager, I will be back, though.

Book in advance. This places seats only about 40. They don’t take walk-ins. Because they never have the space.

Saffron Coffee

Saffron is a rarity: they actually have good coffee. Almost unheard of in Southeast Asia (excluding Indonesia). It came as a recommendation to try their banana mocha frappuccino. No thanks. But I’ll take a coffee. Regular. Delicious. I had to buy two bags of beans and even that may not be enough.

They are a typical cafe in Luang Prabang, by all appearances. Open entrance, open air. Their menu included the typical espresso drinks and blends. And they added their own mixes, hence the banana mocha. I still sampled someone else’s order and it actually is not bad. Note: this is coming from someone who actually doesn’t like bananas.

The cafe also offers a decent selection of sandwiches and paninis. I highly recommend the roasted chicken panini, very very yummy.

A shop that sells good products, and promotes fair trade? What’s not to like?

Restaurant Review: Queen of Curry

This restaurant popped up in our radars when it showed up as the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor.com. So on a rainy, sticky, traffic-logged evening, we all tramped over from our respective corners of the city.

First, we all had a heck of a time finding the place. Most of us were late, wandering or driving around the neighborhood with no clear idea where it is. There’s not webpage for this restaurant. The address provided in TripAdvisor was right but the map link was so very wrong. Or old.

I also discovered the the odd soi numbers increased while the evens decreased on Charoenkrung Road, therefore walking up, up, and up the wrong direction. I went to the Google Map destination and found myself sidestepping puddles in a narrow alleyway that could have meant trouble if I weren’t Asian.

Eventually, after a flurry of phone calls, text messages and asking for directions, we all made it to the restaurant. It was so annoyingly close to the Sky Train Station, the very one I got off 45 minutes ago.

It was a mom&pop shop, run by a family who probably lived in the back. The small restaurant had only six tables, three of which was lined up to accommodate our party of 9. Thank goodness I actually thought to call and make a reservation.

The yellow curry was phenomenal. Different and sweet but absolutely delicious. The penang was good as reviewed, but not the best I’ve ever had.

At the end, would I call this Bangkok’s Number One? No. It is good, but not exceptionally so. Considering that Bangkok has thousands of restaurants, I suspect this one made it to the top of the list because it had so few reviewers, most of it positive. It was worth a try for those of us living here, but not a trip out of the way, across all of town, for visitors.

Restaurant review: Erawan Tearoom

Hyatt hosts the Erawan Tea Room, a favorite ladies’ afternoon gathering point for us. I usually order the Thai tea set for a fat rate of 220baht plus incidentals. Their set team menu includes a sampling of classics such as khao niew memuang (mango sticky rice), kanom krok (crispy rice pudding dumpling), satay moo (pork satay). And a few fusion items such as scones with chiang mai strawberry jam. The menu looks long but it really is just one piece of each item, which collectively make two small plates of finger food. Given that tea at the Oriental Hotel is easily almost US $100, the Erawan offers a great bargain and a full meal.

One mustn’t forget the tea when talking about afternoon tea. They too offer a wide range of teas, from the traditional English teas to local fruit teas to their own Erawan blend dark teas. I’ve lost count of the number of times I went out for tea only to be swerved a Twinings tea bag which I could have brewed at home. Their tea comes loose-leaf style in a pot that they can refill with hot water. For coffee drinkers, the set menu comes with a coffee option.

The ambiance is the extra whipped cream on top of the already affordable delicious place. The chairs are lounging style without losing the support one still needs when sitting up for a meal. The furniture is a blend of tables that look like the belong on a patio with chairs that one would expect on a sundeck, all without being too wicker-ish. The advertised glass walls overlooking¬† the Erawan Shrine is a bit overblown. Perhaps, if you were sitting right up at the wall, you’d see both the shrine and the chaos of one of the biggest intersections of Bangkok. For most of us, we are set further in the restaurant, enjoying a room with a lot of sunlight, light traditional Thai music background, and a low hum of conversation.

Restaurant Review: Isao

This was a rare recommendation from a friend. As the reader and adventurer of our group, I’m the one usually looking up new places to try. This one is now one of my favorites, a rare repeat spot for me.

Isao Sushi Restaurant is tucked away on Sukhumvit Soi 31 between two rather neoned-out restaurants. One is a pizzaria, which I will cover later. The other one, I never really paid attention since I hone in on the sushi when I go. Yes, I get that focused on this one.

Usually, when ordering sushi, I have my usual pieces I’ll get like salmon, eel, and tuna. I hate the labor intensive work of going through lists (yes, restaurants, this pseudo-foodie uses pictures) and ordering one by one. C’mon. As if arriving hungry wasn’t stress enough on my temperament. Granted, I am spoilt. My relatives run a Japanese restaurant and they knew my childhood favorites and would have them ready at a moment’s notice whenever I am visiting. Dining out in sushi places is a relative new practice for me.

Back to Isao. Isao’s biggest feature is their large selection of their own rolls. Their menu comes in categories. Tuna. California rolls. Signature. Crispy. Salmon. The rolls have been grouped in logical themes. Within each roll type there are variations around the central theme. Various types of tuna rolls and wraps. The rolls come in healthy portions, with all the ingredients wrapped. I have never had a ingredient that wasn’t fresh. Even in a busy roll, the distinct texture of salmon would still stand out. Whoever the chef is, s/he did the homework and tested which ingredients blended well together, how to mix the textures up, and give each bite the biggest bang for the baht. In other words, the chef has done the work of selection and combination and I just sit back and enjoy the meal.

Yes, it's smiling at you!

Restaurant Review: You & Mee

Located in the ground floor of the Hyatt Hotel, it’s a popular recommendation I give for our out-of-towners because of many of their fear of getting sick from the food. It’s easy to miss, though, set in a corner of a little maze of hallways, it sits on a slight platform of raised hardwood which always gives me a sense of stepping onto a stage every time I enter. There is no wall separating the dining area from the foot traffic, with only a cast iron railing, as if they were making a restaurant look like a large patio. Seats outside the store space are actually cast iron chairs with a matching glass-top table.

Food options: Buffet of a sampling selection of classic Thai dishes, a noodle bar, and a small dessert counter. A la carte, the focus is on noodles. I tried the dinner buffet once and found it underwhelming. In a city of native Thai cooking, the quality of the buffet was mediocre.

The absolute must-have: khao soi gai. Northern chicken curry noodle soup. The one Thai dish one eats with chopsticks as primary utensils vice the spoon and fork. A delicious blend of red curry paste, coconut milk, yellow noodles, and chicken. The serving size at You & Mee is huge. A boat of a bowl, really. And each time I manage to slurp the soup clean.

A worthy bargain for less than 200 baht, depending on which drink you order to supplement the dish.