February 19, 2017

Bangkok 2017 day 2: a painfully long dinner

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I'm on a mission to check out more fine dining Thai restaurants in Bangkok, and among the usual suspects - at least for us tourists - is Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin.  This sister location of the Danish restaurant holding a Michelin star for its modern Thai cuisine sits on the ground floor of the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, and the very high ceilings here provides a nice and relaxing feel while dining.  This feeling of tranquility was enhanced by seating us in one of the booths with very high backs - helping to shut off some of the noise from our surroundings.  Unfortunately, neither the service nor the cuisine were relaxing.

I had gotten some unenthusiastic feedback from a couple of friends who had tried the cuisine here before, but I was undaunted.  I'm a big fan of chefs who try to deliver modern versions of traditional cuisines with long histories - especially when molecular/modernist techniques are involved - so I was always curious about this place.  Tonight was the opportunity to check this box.

Our welcome drink of chilled lemongrass and pandan tea seemed to be a popular choice among restaurants in this city, but thankfully it's also one that I love.

There was never any question that I would be taking the "Journey" tasting menu, which includes 10 courses preceded by a number of bites.  Halfway through the menu, I would come to the realization that this was simply too much food to stomach.

Wasabi yoghurt - the kick from the wasabi was really strong, and my nasal passages got cleared in a couple of seconds.

Cashew nut meringue - pretty savory thanks to the soy sauce, but sweet at the same time.  Reminds me of the sauce from red braising (紅燒).

Cashews in bag - the fragrance from kaffir lime was pretty prominent.

Street Food:
Prawn cracker - with lobster mayo on top.

Chicken satay - peanut sauce is frozen into a "meringue" and placed on top of a thin piece of crispy chicken skin.

Chiang Mai sausage - the glass dome was lifted to let the smoke escape and fill the air.  A piece of smoked coconut was skewered along with the sausage.  Speaking of the sausage, it was very delicious and undoubtedly the best of the bites.  Incredibly soft casing with an amazingly soft filling that almost felt like mashed potatoes.  Very nice and smoky flavors, and a nice spicy kick.

Tuna tartar - such a pretty presentation to have the tuna tartare inside a floating lotus flower.  Spicy kick on the backend.

Kai toon - egg flan in miso soup, topped with bonito flakes and roasted garlic.  Honestly I dunno why the chef thinks we can pick up a chunk of flan with a stick and eat it gracefully...

Miang Kham (เมี่ยงคำ) - I love miang kham, and here they've decided to help us make them instead of having us DIY.

Peanuts, dried shrimp, shallots, ginger, and palm sugar paste on a wild betel leaf.  They didn't add chilis for me because I had told them that I can't take very spicy food.  Pretty nice.

Then came the different elements of our first starter, laksa based crab-on-crab cornetto - at least, that's how all these little bits were listed on the menu.  Only, nobody explained to us that these were all part of the same course... and certainly not that the cold coconut scented towel they suddenly presented to us was actually part of the dish.  We didn't even touch it.

Grilled squid with egg yolk dip - nicely grilled and dipped into raw quail egg yolk.

Oyster tempura with misomayo sauce - the French oyster was pretty tasty as a カキフライ.

Crab cornetto - the cornetto came with yellow curry ice cream topped with crab meat and dried shrimp.  Pretty decent.

Laksa soup - I had no idea that I was drinking laksa, because it didn't taste anything like the laksa I know - whether Singaporean or Penang assam.   Not really spicy, just savory.

Then came the remaining 9 of the 10 courses...

Seabass with apple and celery salad and spicy meringue - I thought the execution of the seabass was fine, with crispy skin and decent texture in the middle... almost like marble goby (筍殼魚) that is often found in Thailand.  The spicy meringue tasted of coconut and lime, and we were told the sauce drizzled on top of everything was made with passion fruit juice, orange juice, and mashed raw garlic... even though the menu said yuzu (柚子), garlic, and palm sugar - minus chili for me.

Tom ka with baby corn and chanterelle mushroom - this dish was totally WTF.  Our server told us that the chef wanted to serve two different versions of the soup - warm for the man and frozen for the woman.  HELLO?!  WTF are you trying to say???  That women are cold and frigid?!  Who arbitrarily decided on this?

There were chanterelles, pickled shallots, baby corn, kernels of sweet corn, crispy chicken skin, coriander, and garlic oil in the bowl.  The crispy chicken skin was indeed very crispy, fatty, and satisfying.  The flavors were actually decent, and this bowl did taste like a tom kha gai (ต้มข่าไก่).

The "for her" version was made by pouring the soup into a separate bowl and adding some liquid nitrogen to flash freeze the liquid.  Same ingredients but completely different texture.  Hello Kitty was not a fan, but I'm more accepting of these molecular gastronomy dishes.

Salt-baked carrots with scallop and tamarind, lemongrass - Hello Kitty hated this dish.  I didn't hate it, although I was kinda scratching my head a little.  The carrot was very soft and a little savory.

The scallop was cooked mi cuit, so there was absolutely nothing wrong with the execution.  But we didn't understand why it was paired with the sauce made with tamarind, lemongrass, and dried shrimp.  There was sweet, tangy, and unami flavors all in one... but somehow just didn't jive.

Foie gras with pineapple caviar and ginger foam - I honestly didn't taste any flavor whatsoever in the foam.  The foie was well-executed, with a crispy exterior and a soft interior.  The plum wine sauce was very sweet, but with an added kick from lots of ginger.  Didn't seem to find any "pineapple caviar"... and funnily enough while the name of the dish on the menu listed "pineapple caviar and ginger foam", the list of ingredients below the name included "ginger caviar and pineapple foam".  Consider me confused.

Lobster served with kra chai and red peppers - there were three types of crackers on top: shrimp, beetroot, and bell pepper.  Served with dots of bell pepper purée on the side.  The bell pepper used to make the chips were so burnt the chips tasted bitter and unpleasant.

The lobster underneath was nothing less than a tragedy.  If you're only boiling the lobster for 5 seconds as the menu states, presumably the point is to let the diner taste the natural and fresh flavors of the premium ingredient.  So why the fuck would you add some heavy and pungent sauce on top of it?!  I don't know where those pungent notes were coming from - perhaps it was finger root (กระชาย), or perhaps it was the oyster sauce that delivered strong mineral flavors.  In any case, this wasn't pleasing in the last bit.  Complete and utter FAIL.

Beef massaman with potato, five spiced soup DIY noodles - thankfully this dish worked out beautifully.  The Australian grain-fed beef short rib was perfectly executed and had just the right amount of fat to impart those satisfying flavors, as the peanuts in the massaman curry dominated.  Served with what looked like dehydrated kale (it says winter cabbage on the menu), mashed potatoes, and potato confit in clarified butter.

The DIY noodles asked diners to inject the tofu in the syringe into the bowl of lukewarm five spice soup.

Well, this DIY stuff may be cute and fun, but as I remarked to some people, it's "so 2003"...  We've seen this a long time ago and novelty has definitely worn off - at least for some of us.

At this point we had run out of bottled water, and Hello Kitty was reluctant to open a new bottle... so she asked for some tea.  And this is when a plate of petits fours suddenly appeared on the table - with the tea.  It's probably the first time I've ever had petits fours BEFORE my dessert.  These were chocolate and peanut bonbons, coconut marshmallows, and some dark chocolates.

Lemon foam with Thai basil sorbet - the basil ice cream was made with a touch of mint, and sat on a pile of lemon foam flanked by wafers of lemon meringue.  There were also some basil leaves and a drizzle of basil oil.

"Flower shop" - Hello Kitty wasn't gonna touch this with the proverbial 10-foot pole, saying that it reminded her of jasmine-scented tissue paper from Tempo.  I myself enjoy floral desserts, and didn't mind in the least bit the combination of jasmine foam, lotus ice cream, elderberry sorbet, rose petals, rose jelly, and chrysanthemum meringue - the last of which tasted nothing of the flower.  While enjoying the sweet, floral, and refreshing flavors of this dessert, my taste buds were suddenly jolted by the presence of very savory, dehydrated capers.  WTF was that?!  What was the point of throwing in this monkey wrench?!

Mango sticky rice - thankfully the meal ended up a very delicious dessert.  I loooove mangoes, and this re-interpretation of the Thai classic ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง was very well done.  Underneath the cotton candy drizzled with coconut syrup were chunks of cold stick rice, mango sorbet, and mango purée.  Very, very yummy, and very, very sweet.

This was a very long and excruciating dinner.  There was simply too much food here.  A 10-course menu with this kind of portion size would be substantial enough, but this was preceded by a bunch of nibbles.  That might have been fine had the dishes been all hits, but unfortunately it was not the case.  Quite a few of the dishes lead to some WTF moments, and the lobster was borderline revolting.

In discussions afterwards, the question of "Do they know what they're doing?" was raised.  I think that the kitchen knows exactly what they're doing, but unfortunately we just don't happen to like whatever they're doing.  The consensus between Hello Kitty and I is that the snacks were much stronger than the last nine courses.

In case anyone is wondering, this is a place I wouldn't bother going back to, and certainly not going to recommend it to anyone who asks.

We made our way back towards the area where we were staying, and met up with Da Jam for a drink at Vogue Lounge Bangkok.  It's a great place for a drink at night - given the cool, comfortable breeze and the outdoor setting.  Too bad our friend Vincent Thierry was out of town...

This was a pretty good negroni, and it's easy to see that they got themselves some very expensive ice machines in order to make these crystal-clear ice cubes...

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