Thailand’s best restaurant and other natural disasters

Hysterical fits of laughter are not generally recommended for fine dining establishments. Especially if said restaurant is manned by the kindest of service staff and bathed in soft lighting, soothing background music and the faint murmurs of content diners. Nor is it appropriate at the top restaurant of the foreign country you happen to find yourself in.

But, you know, sometimes it happens. You get a subtle frown from the impeccably mannered maître ‘d, a glare from the over-dressed blonde at the table next to you, and you take a sip of your severely over-priced mineral water in an attempt to calm down. But then you go back to snorting about the chives in your dessert.

Let me explain.

Being an avid restaurant-goer, and having just been joined in matrimony by an equally pliable diner, I could not envision visiting a foreign country without us trying the best of the best.

So when our Thailand honeymoon included a short stay in the bustling capital of Bangkok, it simply had to include dinner at Nahm, the city and country’s top restaurant. (It was the sole representative of Thailand on the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for 2013, and number three on the S. Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list.)

Nahm is run by Australian-born chef David Thompson, a widely acclaimed expert on Thai cuisine, who has cooked across the world and been around the Thai food block a few times. For Nahm, he scoured century-old Thai cookbooks and found obscure but big-flavoured dishes, many of which haven’t been seen or cooked for years, and infused them with modern-day elegance. Thompson believes that the traditional Thai meal is an exercise in balance, which is gained by a lively chemistry of hot and sour, sweet and salty tastes.

And lively it was.

We decided on the set menu, eliminating the need to navigate the lengthy à la carte menu, thinking that if we left the decisions to someone else, we might be pleasantly surprised. However, what followed were six courses of beautiful, yet completely bewildering, food.

I really would love to sing the praises of this utterly gorgeous restaurant and most pleasant dining experience, but to be honest, I can’t really comment on the quality or originality of the food. It’s obviously of an exceptionally high standard, but I – we – unfortunately just did not get it.

From the amuse-bouche through to the canapés, salad, main course, dessert and petit fours, we were presented with impeccably plated food that shocked our taste buds to their roots – if that’s even possible. Mr Thompson does not kid when he says he balances hot, sour, sweet and salty.

The one constant throughout the meal was the use and availability of a sweet and salty shallot garnish. Made from finely chopped shallots, fried with palm sugar, garlic and salt, the delicious condiment was perhaps the one part of the meal that we will try to recreate at home.

The salad course included a prime example of chef Thompson’s philosophy: deep-fried soft-shell crab with pomelo, chillies and coriander. The heat of the chillies, combined with the sour grapefruit, sweet accent of crab, and omni-present salty shallot garnish, made for a thoroughly delicious dish – one in which the chef’s chemistry experiments made complete sense.

The main course, however, included a few wilder strokes. We received an abundance of small bowls, which we eagerly shared. On offer were an aromatic curry of wagyu beef and sweet potatoes with cucumber relish (scrumptious, albeit a bit too sweet); assorted stir-fried mushrooms with spring onions and ginger (my personal highlight); grilled pork cheek with smoky tomato sauce (unfortunately not very memorable); crab and snake gourd soup with egg, pepper and coriander (say what?); and a very scary looking – and tasting! – salted duck curry with sour tomatoes.

We tasted everything, bar the snake business, which we just stirred to give the impression that we had. Extremely bad form, I know, but by that stage of the evening we had used up our experimentation quota and were trying to save space for the Thai cupcakes that were coming for dessert.

Dessert. Well… definitely the climax of the night’s bafflement (cue aforementioned hysterical laughter). We shared two plates: one with the promising Thai cupcakes, some fresh, yet unripe, mango, and sweet mint and chilli sugar, and the other with coconut cream, orange blossom, mung bean and persimmon and almond cake. I might be wrong about the latter’s constituent parts, as my recollection is overshadowed by its resemblance to a bowl of yoghurt sneezed on by a giant. Or at least what I imagine that sticky situation to look like.

As for the Thai cupcakes? It will suffice to say that my idea of such a thing does not include a soft ball of dough filled with coconut custard and chopped chives. Yes, chives.

If this were a low-budget American TV drama, this is when the lesson would be revealed: if you are not familiar with a particular cuisine (being able to make Thai green curry and having enjoyed numerous pad Thais doesn’t count), it is very difficult to judge a restaurant that is clearly pushing said cuisine’s boundaries.

So I won’t be writing a formal review, and I definitely won’t be offering my services to the people at S. Pellegrino just yet. For now, I will stick to working my way through the menus of Kitima and Yindees. And buying some palm sugar.

By Anelde Greeff

Nahm, Metropolitan Hotel, 27 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok 10120

+66 2 625 3388

Love Asian food? Check out our list of the best Asian restaurants in SA.

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