April 8, 2013

Nom nom nahm

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If there's one thing glaringly missing from my normal diet (and this blog), it's spicy food.  I grew up with ZERO tolerance to spicy food, since there was never any at home, and it took me a long, long time even to just be able to grow accustomed to the spicy side of Southeast Asian cuisine.  Over the last 10 years, as wine became a bigger part of my dining experience, I ate out even less at Thai, Malay and other similar establishments.

I first heard about David Thompson a couple of years ago, as he started to gain fame for his London restaurant.  His fame only grew when nahm opened in Bangkok, and he started showing up on lists like the Miele Guide and that 50-something-thingymajig.  I never did have the opportunity to sample his food, as it's been a while since I was last in London, and I have been boycotting Thailand ever since I found out how they mistreated the Rohinya.

So when my friend David from On Lot 10 asked me to join him for dinner during David Thompson's visit to Hong Kong at the Landmark Mandarin, I didn't really hesitate to say yes.  Truth be told I had been very curious about high-end Thai, especially from a farang…  There must be something in his cooking to make all the other farangs rave about his food…

I arrived during cocktail hour, and was immediately presented with a drink in a martini glass.  This ain't your regular vodka lime… there was vodka, lime juice, lemon grass and chili.  The vodka itself packed a pretty good punch, and the chili made sure that your tongue singed every time you took a sip.

So you can imagine that this drink, even though it seemed cold and refreshing to the touch, wasn't exactly the best way to douse the flames dancing on your tongue after having tasted the lettuce wrap.  Chef David was whipping up the filling for the wraps in front of everyone, mixing deep-fried shallots, fish sauce, sugar, minced meat, basil and lots of chili powder.  I was transformed instantly to a fire-breathing dragon.  Yowza!

There were also some pineapple slices topped with minced pork in a sweet and spicy sauce; smoked mussels with marinated cucumber slices; mandarin orange slices topped with minced meat in sweet and spicy sauce… Quite a few different nibbles before dinner formally started.

We were ushered to our tables so that dinner could be served, and two appetizers showed up in front of us:

Crispy noodles with prawns, pickled garlic and bean sprouts - this was essentially mee grob, but fancier.  The sheet of yellow wrapper was apparently made of fish, although I couldn't really taste much... I think there was a little peanut in the sauce.  A pretty good start.

Cloudy Bay Pelorus - yeasty, a little mineral, somewhat ripe on the palate.  Not very interesting...

Grilled salted fish with ginger, shallots and green mango - while I liked the taste in general, especially the acidity of the mango balancing out the saltiness of the fish, in the end the salt was still a little overpowering.

2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc - floral, sweet, honey, peach, slightly oak at first but then turned really oaky as temperature warmed up.  Ripe on the palate at 13.5% alcohol.

Salad of lobster with pork and Asian pennywort - we didn't know what Asian pennywort was, but it is actually 崩大碗, whose leaves are commonly used to brew tea in Asia for cooling down the body.  The lobster was cut in cross sections, and lemme tell ya, them was some huge slices… so the lobsters must have been huge!

Hot sour fish soup with turmeric and chilies - served with red snapper.  I had innocently allowed a little red chili to float on top of my spoon, and thereby enter my waiting mouth.  A few seconds of contact with the taste buds on my tongue, however, made me quickly realize my mistake.  This baby was HOT!  And there were also little bird's eye chilis, too...  Normally I am not a fan of these hot and sour soups in Thai cuisine, but tonight the acidity was somewhat tempered by the salty flavors.

Coconut and turmeric curry of crab - this was really, really good.  Very smooth and velvety.  A little bit of kaffir lime leaves here with the shredded crab meat, and I avoided those big, green bird's eye chilis...

Double steamed pork with bitter melon and dried squid - I didn't take a piece of the squid, but should have in retrospect...  This was pretty nice, with the main flavors came from the shiitake mushrooms.  Unfortunately it was a little too salty, although interestingly the melon wasn't bitter at all.

Relish of salted duck eggs with sweet pork and vegetables - this was pretty awesome.  The salted eggs were really tasty, and I was fine as long as I steered clear of the green chilis.

The second part of the dish came in the form of fresh and deep-fried veggies.  Besides slices of cucumber and white turmeric, the bulk of this was climbing wattle (cha om in Thai), a type of acacia.  Not bad as a tempura...

Finally there was the sweet marinated pork.  Although some of the pieces were a little tough to chew, I didn't mind too much as I loved the sweet taste of it.  Of course the deep-fried shallots were good, too!

2010 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir - lots of coconut butter in the nose, ripe, sweet fruit, forest, and mint.

Longans steeped in perfumed syrup sesame seed wafers - this was soooo good... The longans on ice were crunchy in texture and refreshingly sweet.  The syrup was VERY sweet, but perfect for me... and the incredible fragrance of jasmine filled my mouth.  Just nice with a few shreds of coconut flesh.

This is the fancy and pretty version of what one sees as snacks in Thailand...

2006 Cloudy Bay Late Harvest Riesling - plastic, botrytis, acetone.  A little sweet on the palate.

Overall I have to say that this was a pretty good meal.  My tongue didn't burn as much as I expected, which was a good thing.  A couple of dishes were over-seasoned, but not disastrous.  I'm sure Chef David had his own take on how the evening went, given how frazzled he was looking tonight (not to mention a little scruffy...).  The first service is always tough for a guest chef, and he had to source a few ingredients locally on short notice.  All in all, I think the kitchen did an admirable job tonight.

Maybe one day when I regain interest to visit Thailand, I will get to eat at nahm in Bangkok and see what it's really like...

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