Nahm Bangkok: It’s all about expectations
Nahm, by award-winning chef, David Thompson, is famous for being ranked as the Best Restaurant in Asia by UK’s Restaurant Magazine for 2014.
Needless to say, that when our friends scored lunch reservations (being guests of the hotel where it is situated); our spirits were high, and expectations, even higher.
It is said that Mr. Thompson has studied and drawn inspiration from ancient Thai cookbooks to revive centuries-old cooking methods and recipes. While I absolutely cannot claim to know too much about Thai cuisine (except that I am a big fan of those flavours), I could certainly get a sense of that from the menu – which had no signs of any of the well-known and popular Thai dishes.
To sample the chef’s mastery, we picked the set menu (THB 1500++ per person), which got us two canapes, one salad, one soup, one curry, one stir-fry/steamed/grilled dish and two desserts.
The amuse bouche was a pork, tamarind and palm sugar mixture served on a small piece of pineapple. It was a lovely blend of sweet and sour, and left us eagerly anticipating the meal to follow.
Next came the canapes – a thin crepe stuffed with prawn, coconut and pickled ginger and a crispy rice wafer topped with crab with peanuts and pickled garlic. We all agreed, in retrospect, that these were the highlights of the meal, simply for their unique and delightful combination of flavours.
The soups followed next – a clear soup of roast duck with Thai basil and young coconut for me, and hot and sour soup for the rest of our party. We’d just about had a bite of those, and the waiters brought out all of the other dishes – since Thai cuisine is meant to be had family style, and most dishes – whether soup, salad or curry, are eaten along with rice.
It was just as well, because the hot and sour soup was HOT (but yummy), so a quick dunking of some rice was surely needed. The duck soup, on the other hand was mild but intensely flavourful and went down easily by itself.
All four of us went for the salad next – chiang mai larp of guinea fowl, which turned out to be even HOTTER that the soup (that’s why they have salad with rice, DUH!). I gave up on the salad after a while, but Hubby and our friends went determinedly at it, watering eyes and running noses notwithstanding. No “toning down” to pander to westernized palates here (and I salute them for that!).
The mildly spicy minced chicken curry with yellow eggplants the slightly sweet yellow curry of cauliflower and tomatoes (for our crustacean allergy-afflicted friends) were more up my alley – delicious, and very different from the Thai curries I’ve had before.
The steamed coral trout with beans and pickled garlic, though gorgeous-looking, was a sad disappointment for all of us – it was totally bland and even the broth was completely lacking in any taste.
For dessert, there was a delicious sweet thai wafer with poached persimmons and duck egg noodles (which was gone all too quickly, in a single bite) and a refreshing mixture of thai fruits served in a cold and tangy syrup, that almost served as a palate cleanser.
Did it live up to my expectations for the “best restaurant in Asia”?
Don’t get me wrong. It was good meal, just not “WOW”, except for a couple of dishes.
And that made it just a tad disappointing for me.
But then, the tag of the best restaurant (or top 10 or top 50 for that matter) is a heavy cross to bear. And let’s face it – it is dependent on individual palates, preferences and experiences, which are extremely subjective.
If I forgot about those expectations and simply looked back at the meal – it was an eye-opener; providing an exciting (and delicious) glimpse into the depth of Thai cuisine, beyond the usual array of raw papaya/ mango salads, Tom Yum/ Tom Kha soups, minced basil chicken/ pork, red/ green/ yellow curries, pad thai, etc.
Go expecting some unusual dishes, unique flavours and warm service in a pleasant ambience; and you certainly won’t be disappointed!