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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Nahm Thai Restaurant Review - Metropolitan Hotel, Sathorn Rd., Bangkok

Nahm Premium Thai Restaurant by chef David Thompson at Metropolitan Hotel, Bangkok 

Overall Score  9.5/10
Taste   4.5/5
Ambiance  5/5
Service  5/5
Value   4/5

Nahm - Thai Restaurant on BuMRes.com

Nahm is the world class Thai restaurant established by renowned Australian chef, David Thompson who is passionate about traditional Thai culinary arts.  The original Nahm is located at the luxurious Halkin Hotel in Belgravia, London.  There, Nahm was awarded a Michelin Star, which it held until 2011.  Being one of the first Thai cuisine restaurants on the planet to earn the star (the other one is Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen), its reputation preceded its arrival in Bangkok in 2010. The reason why Michelin withdrew the star from Nahm in London is unclear.  It might be because Chef David Thompson has been putting his greatest effort into the Nahm in Bangkok where he has access to more local herbs and ingredients, making the Thai food he presents at Nahm more true to its origins.  The new Nahm has undoubtedly been a huge success, receiving the distinction of being listed in World’s 50 Best Restaurants in April of 2012.

If it were only the Nahm in London that is supposedly the best Thai restaurant in the world (according to Michelin), for a Thai like myself  it would be quite disappointing that it wasn’t located in the homeland of its cuisine and not presented by its people.  To be honest, I went along to Nahm with a negative attitude because I couldn’t believe that a foreign chef could cook Thai food better than a native chef.  After my experience at Nahm, my point of view completely changed.  It was all because of the food; the finer details showing how David Thompson has carefully crafted his way into the heart of Thai cooking impressed me most.  He greatly respects our local ingredients and presents the food in a very authentic and very traditional way.  I must admit that I am now proud to see a foreign master chef obsessed with the food and the culture to be found in the Thai culinary arts, and putting forth remarkable Thai cuisine for Thai people.
I dined at Nahm with a group of Thai friends wanting to prove that the rumours about the world renowned Thai cooking by an Aussie Chef.  We found Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel on Sathorn Road, a modern luxurious hotel in the business district of Bangkok.  The small scale of the hotel contrasted to its grand service.  We were welcomed by hotel staff as we exited the car and guided to the comfortable lobby seating to wait since we got there about fifteen minutes before opening (dinner hours are 7.00 – 11.00pm).  With unpredictable traffic on Sathorn road during rush hour, we had headed out early to be sure we caught the reservation on time.  Reservations for Nahm should be made at least two weeks in advance, and if you’ll be in Thailand for a short visit, you should reserve the table prior to your trip.  This place has been fully booked every single day since the award in April.  We were the first party to arrive and by about 8pm, every table was taken.  I believe none of the other customers that night were Thai, though our waiter said that Nahm has been welcoming more Thai customers lately.  My generalization on Thai restaurant goers – they will spend money on expensive Japanese meals or other cuisines in five star hotels but they won’t pay for expensive Thai food. However, regardless of the price, there are a couple of Thai restaurants in Bangkok that I want all my Thai friends to experience.  One of them is now of course, Nahm.  The other must-try premium Thai restaurants with an authentic taste are Patara Fine Thai Cuisine @ Thonglor and The Local by Oamthong @ Sukhumvit.  However, Nahm’s dinner set offered the most accurate approach to dining Thai.  

The elegant environment of Nahm was created by a Japanese interior designer.  To me, the impression was classy with a sleek, modern appeal.  The overall composition is beautiful but it doesn’t express much Thai style.  What seemed to be the most related to Thai architecture were the red brick posts that reminded me of the ancient brick stupas in Ayutthaya.   Many round tables in the restaurant are the intention to promote the sharing of the dishes in the center.  .  There are indoor tables, private rooms, and patio seating.  The patio is next to the hotel pool, offering a relaxed atmosphere.  Our party of four chose to sit inside to enjoy the air conditioning. 

The service at Nahm went without a hitch.  Waiters and waitresses seem to be well trained and very knowledgeable about the food.  Our waiter was very professional and knowledgable.  He described to us in much detail of the culinary thoughts of Chef David Thompson.  At Nahm, he told us, customers are encouraged to go for the dinner set.  If everyone is in for the set, they will have to choose the dishes together for sharing.  For a party of any size, pick four canapés, one salad, one soup for each person, four main dishes, and three desserts. The portions of each dish will increase with the number of dinner sets for your party. There are good amount of choices to pick for each types of food.  Since we wanted to try more main dishes, we decided to go with two dinner sets and four a la carte dishes and two extra desserts. The menu at Nahm changes seasonally; some popular dishes stay and other dishes are added based on available ingredient depending on the season.  Full menu is available for your viewing in the tab menu.  

Our meal started with the old fashioned complimentary snack, Ma-hor.  None of us have ever heard of this menu before.  Ma-hor is made with a crumble of sticky sautéed mix of pork, shrimp, peanuts, and herb seasoning.  Its prominently sweet flavor is contrasted by being served on fresh sour fruit.  On this occasion, it was pineapple.  I believe that other times the Ma-hor is presented on orange.  The crumble reminded us of something Thai people are familiar with – the stuffing of Saku Sai Moo.  This complimentary start was a nice subtle flavor in one bite; sweet and sour.  

Our four canapés were served all at once.  Each of them was served in proper containers, perfect for each dish.  Since sharing is the norm at Nahm, light weight dishes were key for being easily passed around the table – good thinking by the Chef.  Of the four dishes, our server recommended we start with the mildest one up and finish with the most intense one.  First on the tongue was the Saku Sai Pla-chon.  The stuffing is much like the topping of the Ma-hor but made with fish and is wrapped inside a clear tapioca flour ball.  This one was nothing special to us – it looked just like any ordinary Saku in Bangkok except I could taste the high quality ingredients.  Next canapés, the Kanom Bueng Gai Kem or rolled crepe with salted chicken and fresh Longan. It was a new creation for us but the appearance is more or less oriental.  However, made with Thai ingredient and Thai seasoning, the taste was quite Thai.  The Longan added a delightful character to this starter. The third canapés was the Gor-lae with Thai mussels, served in skewers.  The mussels were marinated in Thai curry and slightly grilled. It was enjoyed with lightly pickled cucumber.  Gor-lae is a traditional Southern dish, rarely found in restaurants in Bangkok.  

The last and the best of the canapés was the Kao Tod Nam Sod or Crispy preserved pork salad served with Bai Cha-plu (green leaves).  This one is hand food; fold the Bai Cha-plu to a cone shape and fill it with the salad.  The special touch put on this dish was that the Bai Cha-plu leaves were picked young, so they were soft and had a milder smell than most Bai Cha-plu found served elsewhere.  This Nam Sod was tastefully done.  Usually this salad is served with lettuce.  Bai Cha-plu was a charming alternative.  The first course of Thai canapés at Nahm was enjoyable.  The taste was very Thai.  I liked the unique character of the crepe and brilliant idea of the pork salad with green leaves. The other two canapés were nothing too exciting.  

Shortly after the canapés, it was time for the main dishes.  Again, all dishes came together at once.  We saw seven dishes and two soups arrived.  Let’s start with the two items from the “Yum” or Salad section.  Yum Poo Nim – Salad with deep fried soft shell crab with Pomelo, chilies, and coriander.  The natural sourness that came from the Pomelo was as prominent as the chilli, which concluded the salad into the spicy and tangy flavor taste over the crispy soft shell crab.  It was a wonderful combination of diversity in tastes and textures.  The second salad was the Yum Hoi Shell – a salad of grilled scallops, with chilli jam and Thai basil.  This menu was made with good quality scallops and the overall context was typical Thai.  

For the soups, we had the Kang Jead Ped Yang Maprao Onn - clear soup of roast duck with Thai basil and young coconut.  The broth was made with fresh coconut juice, which I found to be very creative but too bad that I found the flavor of coconut juice (usually served chilled as a beverage) mixed with the duck quite awkward.  Opposed to the first soup, the Tom Yum Gai Sai Hed Fang - Hot and sour soup of chicken with straw mushroom, lemongrass, chili, and lime was basic yet super delicious.  Its intense flavor was best over the rice.  At first I thought it was just like any ordinary Tom Yum but there was a kick to it, which I really liked.  I didn’t know what it was so I asked the waiter about it.  He found out from the kitchen that there was fried garlic added; an unusual ingredient for Tom Yum that made a distinct difference. The Thai dishes were presented in the most authentic and ordinary way, and yet were full of surprises.   

Now we are getting into the main dishes from our fine dining experience at Nahm.  The three best ones will be mentioned here.  The first and  best of the meal was the Lon Goong Pak Sod Pla-som – Minced prawn and pork simmered in coconut cream with young chilies, shallot, and coriander, served with fresh vegetables and deep fried cured carp.  I have had the Lon Poo or coconut cream paste with crab so many times.  My grandma is the best cook of this dish and she still is.  Nonetheless I must say that David’s Thompson Lon Goong was quite delicious.  How he served this dish, with crispy preserved fish, was just brilliant (it’s usually served with various types of chili pastes).  I was surprised to see these two dishes merged and became one.

The second best main dish was the Kang Kati Poo Ma – coconut and turmeric curry with blue swimmer crab and calamansi limes. The crabmeat was essentially fresh and sweet by itself.  The perfectly thickened sauce of the turmeric curry further complimented the crabmeat. It’s no wonder this dish was the most popular one of all.  Despite all the praise I’m heaping on it, there is no way that this dish would be as delicious without the special steamed jasmine, the heart of all the dishes served here at Nahm.  Steamed white rice at Nahm is unique.  David Thompson only chooses the rice from Surin (a province in the Northeastern region of Thailand), which is the most premium quality rice found in Asia.  Moreover, he floats a handful of jasmine flowers in the water overnight to use for steaming the rice.  So, the jasmine rice has a light flowery scent which is believed to increase the appetite of diners as they enjoy the special jasmine rice together with every main dish. 

The next dish is definitely meant to be eaten with rice.  The Kang Bai Yor Neau Yang – curry of grilled Wagyu beef and bai yor is an intensely flavored curry.  I am pretty sure many expats and tourists hate one rare ingredient added to this dish: the Pla Rah or preserved sardines.  I personally hate the stink of these sardine chunks.  Many Thai people like this stuff in their papaya salad (Som Tum Pla Rah).  I can’t believe that this curry turned out to be such a delicious one, even with the Pla Rah.  Don’t be scared to try this dish.  I hate Pla Rah but I loved it. An important tip for this curry; with its strong herbs and spices, it is best eaten over rice.  The waiter told me that every dish at Nahm is heavily spiced because the blandness of the rice provides a balance.  

The last two main dishes at Nahm were just not as impressive.  The first one, Moo Pad Tao Jiew – or stir-fried kurobota pork with yellow beans and ginger, actually reminded me of a Chinese dish.  It was just the most common stir-fried dish with meat, veggies, and oriental sauces.  The taste was nothing exciting.  The second dish was Pad Kratiem Dong Sai Goong Gai Kai – stir-fried prawn, chicken, and egg with pickled garlic.  Contexts in this dish were appetizing.  When I saw this dish on the table, I thought it would be delicious but I was disappointed by its taste.  I expected to get more of a sour taste from the pickled garlic.  These two dishes didn’t fail.  They just didn’t impress me and my friends as much as the other ones.  

By this time, we were very much satisfied with the wonderful main course dishes.  The exquisite Thai dining journey continued as we got into the desserts.  We had four desserts and all of them made me think “Amazing Thailand!” It was unbelievable.  Being a Thai, I have never been so keen on old fashioned Thai desserts.  I always thought that they were too sweet.  Nahm has totally raised the standard of Thai desserts up to a miraculous level.  First to come was the Lod Chong Song Krueng or Pandanus noodles with black sticky rice, water chestnut, tapioca, and coconut cream.  Believe me; I never liked this dish anywhere.  In the street, this dessert is usually made very sweet and added with crushed ice to keep it cold.  The ice later melts and weakens the coconut cream, so in one bowl of Lod Chong, the taste starts from very sweet to watery in the end.   In contrast, the Lod Chong at Nahm was served chilled without the ice.  The various ingredients used were good quality; perfect portions of each type, such as corn, taro, black sticky rice, coconut slices, and green noodles.  Most importantly the taste was only slightly sweet.  It was the best Lod Chong in my life! You have to try it!  

The next dessert was durian with sticky rice.  It was an expensive type of durian, known as “the long stem”.  I was impressed with how it was served with mangosteen, which is the queen of fruit in Thailand. It is a good natural remedy and antioxidant, which is opposed to the Durian.  Durian is a considered to be the fruit that brings “heat” to the body.  If you didn’t know already, Durian cannot be consumed with alcohol because the mixture turns toxic.  After that was the Pistachio pudding and golden tear drop with perfumed mung beans. The presentation was beautiful.  We really liked this one a lot, too.  My friend declared that it was so delicious, that he considered it a pudding from heaven.  Yeah, he overreacted – lol...  One other special dessert was the tako with fresh longan.  Tako is steamed coconut cream and sweetened flour in banana leaves.  This tako had very rich coconut cream; good one!  We also received two kinds of complimentary desserts.  One was the sour mango with green wasabi sugar powder; the green powder will be new for any Thai diners.  The last was the petite four.  They were very new to me.  I liked the one that looked like a cookie; so it was a surprised to find that it was hollow inside.  These petite four were lovely, tiny and intricately created.  It was a perfect wrap up to the most incredible authentic and traditional Thai meal at Nahm.  

Nahm truly impressed me and my friends greatly.  We may have had a negative attitude regarding the chef David Thompson, but on this visit, his Thai culinary creation captured my heart and proved that he really knows what he is doing.  Let’s give a round of applause to the guy.  To all tourists and expats, Nahm is definitely a must try.  You will experience the authenticity of Thai cuisine in a very luxurious way.  I promise you will enjoy the uniqueness of the food at Nahm, food that you will never find elsewhere.  I hope that Thai people start to care more about the exquisite Thai culture embedded in the complexity of Thai culinary delicacies, and learn to appreciate a restaurant of their own culture instead of spending comparable bills for sushi or French cuisine.  Nahm is an ideal choice for Thai people to realize the greatness of Thai Cuisine. 

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