Hot but so so good! Nahm, Bangkok
It’s an early morning in August and Mookie & I arrive from Singapore into Bangkok to stifling humidity. Arriving to the Metropolitan by Como (Nahm is within the hotel complex but currently hiding secretively behind a formidably large black door) we check in and are pleasantly surprised at both the relative inexpensive room rate and the very generous size of the room. We spend the afternoon relaxing at the hotel and freshening up after the trip. We make our way downstairs from the room for dinner and to try was is currently (2014), arguably, the best restaurant in Asia.
David Thompson is now a celebrity chef with his Thai Street Food TV series and also books on Thai food, Thai street food and Curry. He is clearly a world recognised authority on Thai cuisine. Oddly David Thompson is Australian born so it felt a little strange to be flying from Sydney to Bangkok to eat Thai prepared by an Aussie. David’s efforts prior to Nahm Bangkok include Nahm in London which won a prestigious Michelin star, the first awarded to a restaurant specialising in Thai cuisine. Prior to London, David held the title of best Thai restaurant in Sydney for eight years with his Darley Street food restaurant. The man himself is not working the night we are dining.
The flowers in the restaurant are the first thing I notice upon walking in behind the waiter who met us at the front door and is now leading us to our table. They are beautiful purplish orchids and make a lovely setting. The restaurant is quiet but I am sure that is about to change. We pass a decorative piece of 4 tall glass vases with deep green orchids back-lit by a fluorescent pane. Our table is cozy and surprisingly private. The waiter presents the menus and I peruse the wine list – its pleasantly good. I probably should have matched an old world Riesling, Gewurztraminer or new world Sauvignon Blanc, but I see a Puligny Montrachet and can’t help myself. The decision on wine is one I will regret further into the meal, eventually abandoning the bottle and sending it to the kitchen for the staff. However at the start of this culinary adventure, its a lovely accompaniment to the canapes.
An amuse bouche arrives. A triangle of sweet Asian pineapple with a pork chilli compote on top and a parsley leaf with shred of pepper. It’s a great start and when the canapes all arrive at the same time, we dive in immediately. It is a soulful gathering of dishes bursting with flavour. From Salted perch with chillies, ginger and green mango on betel leaf; crab, peanut, pickled garlic on rice cake; grilled mussel skewers; prawn and coconut wafers with pickled ginger; all the dishes are delicious and most work well with the Chardonnay, although the ginger becomes an increasing challenge.
One thing to note is that, true to Asian style, the dishes continue to be all served together. So the impending onslaught of every main and side resulted in a very crowded table which was fun in that it highlights the feast, but differs from traditional degustation which allows for discerning break between each course to allow for digestion. Hint: you are going to be very very full.
The mains arrive thick and fast and we are overwhelmed with the plethora of colourful and creative dishes. We feast on Thai vegetable and fruit salad with tamarind, palm sugar and sesame dressing. Its fresh and lovely and the sesame is a welcome touch. Kaffir lime with smoked fish relish with sweet pork, salted fish dumplings, coconut poached bamboo and vegetable. The poached bamboo is lovely as is the combination with the sweet pork. Aromatic curry of prawns with cucumber served with pickled vegetables. A soft but flavoursome curry, the pickled vegetable is a nice counter-note. Scallops stir fried with spring onions and chilli is a lovely milder dish with very sweet scallops.
Now for the kicker, the smoked fish curry with prawns, chicken livers, cockles, chillies and black pepper. The waiter warned me when I ordered that this was a dish intended for the locals and even they considered it very hot (first warning ignored). This is the very first time that I have ever had to stop eating just due to the unbelievable spiciness of the dish. It was heaven to taste but burned like the fiery pits of hell! At this point, the wine didn’t work with anything, in truth alcohol just isn’t a good match for such spicy food. Forgetting that I was in a hotel and could have requested the remaining half bottle sent to my room, in a heat-induced delusional state, I gifted it to the kitchen. Mental note to self, heavily spiced Thai curry works with coconut juice or similar but definitely NOT white burgundy.
Mookie also step away from the table and reclines, fanning herself to dissipate the heat. Yum, but ow. Yumow – our new word for thoroughly delicious but spicy-to-the-point-of-pain. We probably should have agreed when the waiter offered to tone done the spiciness – silly Barang. Then in a deft move, the empty plates are cleared and instantly the desserts appear. Fast fine dining at its best.
The palate cleanser green mango with salt and green chilli. A lovely local snack interjected to the meal, and most welcome. David Thompson’s signature desert – Coconut ash pudding with poached bananas – for Mookie and she is in heaven again, all the molten lava of the mains is now blissfully forgotten. I try the custard apple in coconut cream with sesame biscuits which brings back childhood memories of my father breaking the fresh custard apple apart and sharing it among his six kids. It’s creamy and lovely, but obviously not as good as the signature dish that is giving Mookie fits of blissful rapture. I wonder if I could get that bottled to go :P?
Sated to the point of being chronically overfull, we pay the inexpensive bill, thank the staff and wonder whether we can roll all the way up to our room. Thanks David, Nahm is a delicious experience with great food at a surprisingly great price.