Jim Thompson extends its culinary wings with adventurous variations on Thai classics
THE RICH heritage and exquisite silk styling of Jim Thompson are now reflected in the delicate Thai cuisine of its new fine-dining restaurant, Spirit.
Located on quiet and shady Soi Som Khit in downtown Bangkok, the restaurant exudes harmony with its lush green garden, covered patio and glass-wrapped indoor dining areas. There are welcome echoes of the splendid architecture at Jim Thompson House, similarly set in a tropical garden.
Spirit, a new restaurant by Jim Thompson, boasts a warm ambience, with glass panels overlooking a lush green garden.
Boiffils Studio – which conceived the revamped Emporium and Siam Paragon – has fashioned the restaurant from two connected mid-century houses, retaining existing big trees. The place is further warmed by wooden floors, custom-made furnishings, wall coverings and pivoting fabric panels in the nostalgic sepia tones of Jim Thompson prints that evoke New York’s Central Park.
The outdoor bar and covered terrace up front area are perfect for an aperitif or digestif with their views of the surrounding vegetation. Adjacent is a large windowed kitchen where the chefs can be observed at their labours. The restaurant can accommodate 72 guests inside and 37 outdoors.
The menu created by Montri Virojnvechapant is billed as contemporary Thai cuisine and about 25 per cent of the dishes are complemented by flourishes of Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Peranakan Chinese, reflecting the cultural adventurism of the original Jim Thompson, the American silk magnate who began all of this.
Montri learned how to make classic Thai dishes from Mom Pattama Chakrapan Na Ayutthaya, who prepared meals at Sukhothai Palace for Queen Rambai Barni, Queen Consort to King Rama VII.
“Though we maintain the authenticity with complex layers of taste, we’ve deconstructed the dishes to give them modern flair,” says Montri.
The curry pastes are pounded in-house with a mortar and pestle and the coconut cream is made fresh every day.
Many chemical-free ingredients come straight from the Jim Thompson Farm in Pak Thong Chai, Nakhon Ratchasima, including the rice grown and milled there.
“The farm can now supply jasmine and sticky rice, free-range duck eggs, snakehead fish and catfish, coconuts and tamarind paste,” says Montri, who credits his skills in modern Thai cuisine to his master, ML Tor Kridakorn. “We’re planting sugarcane, coconuts and water lilies there and digging more fish ponds. A 1,000-rai area is being developed as an organic farm.”
The dishes at Spirit can be ordered a-la-carte and in a tasting menu – five courses for dinner for Bt1,500 or Bt2,000, and four for lunch for Bt800.
Montri offers me samples from the three tasting menus, starting with an amuse bouche of four morsels inspired by classic dishes from the four regions of Thailand.
Perched in a spoon is a boiled quail egg atop pounded, grilled eggplant with garlic, shallot and chilli. Corn som tum is given a contemporary twist with a dollop of spicy jelly stuffed with corn. A bite-sized, deep-fried coconut prawn, a droplet-shaped chicken cream eclair, and a southern-style, deep-fried fishcake with herbs, turmeric and shaved coconut round out the first offering of appetisers.
Four more titbits arrive. There’s miang kham, the traditional herbal snack here refined with a miang sauce of sugarcane and tamarind sharing a mesh ball with roasted cashew nuts, roasted julienne coconut, ginger, onion, chilli and a cube of lemon. All of this sits on a chaplu leaf.
Ray rai nah poo is bites of steamed rice-flour angel hair pasta topped with coconut crab mousse and infused with kaffir-lime juice. Goong chak pia is a toffee-shaped, deep-fried shrimp with plum sauce. And gaeng kra dang tom yum pla ga pong is a spicy terrine of snapper.
Luang Prabang Salad
The refreshing Luang Prabang Salad (Bt240 on its own) is an adaptation of a famed dish of that Lao town. In the original version, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, watercress, mint, coriander and spring onion are topped with chopped peanuts, boiled egg, crispy shallots and creamy dressing. Thinly sliced cucumber plays a lead role at Spirit, as do cherry tomatoes, tomato wedges, Chinese celery, sliced spring onions, roasted cashew nuts, dried shrimp, steamed chicken and boiled quail eggs.
Gaeng liang fuk thong kati sod
For soup, I opt for gaeng liang fuk thong kati sod (Bt250). Gaeng liang is traditionally a spicy mixed-vegetable soup with shrimp paste and peppercorns, but here we find pumpkin cream soup with coconut cream foam. Fragrant lemon basil still delights the nose. Alongside are thin, crisp pumpkin crackers.
Gaeng om nuea
Another appealing soup is northeastern-style gaeng om nuea, which is normally made with chicken or pork and bears the distinctive scent of dill. At Spirit, Montri double-boils beef for a consomme and adds diced oxtail and dill, covering the dish with crispy puff pastry (Bt320).
Yum tua pu goong yang
My main course is yum tua pu goong yang, spicy wing-bean salad with grilled prawn (Bt580). Here the beans aren’t chopped into small pieces as usual but cut into oblongs like French fries and steamed. Large, grilled tiger prawns are placed on top and the mix is dressed with slightly spicy nam yum and another boiled quail egg. Crunchy with roasted coconut, peanuts, shallots and garlic, the salad arrives with steamed rice, half dyed yellow with saffron and the rest green with pandan leaf.
“We don’t cook the rice from the farm in an electric cooker but a steamer,” says Montri. “Steaming is a slow process and produces fluffier, more tender rice.”
Pa naeng si klong nuea
Another Thai classic, pa naeng nuea – beef in a curry of ground peanuts and coconut cream – is made here with Australian short ribs, creamy peanut red curry sauce and steamed pandan rice (Bt430).
Gaeng keaw wan si klong gae
Gaeng kaew wan (green curry, Bt470) is reinterpreted with a New Zealand lamb chop in curry dressing with mashed coconut. On the side are the meat of a young coconut and pickled green papaya carved into floral shapes.
Surprise of Lotus for dessert
For dessert, Surprise of Lotus is remarkable. Sharing the plate are a cake of steamed lotus stems atop julienne coconut meat, lotus-stem meringue tart, and coconut ice cream made with lotus root and stem.
The culinary adventure ends with petit fours, but the serving is five morsels. You get the baked cake kanom farang kudee jeen, Thai-Muslim butter cake kanom badin, Thai-style shortbread keep lum duan, the crown-like thong ek, and kanom hun tra (steamed mung beans wrapped with egg nut).
The food is unwaveringly pleasing to both palate and eye. Food stylist Ekarin Yusuksomboon came up with the lovely plating design.
The “Shadows” pattern on the dinnerware by Patra Porcelain depicts shadows of plants growing at Jim Thompson House, based on the design by designer Paul Heredia.
Spirit is on Bangkok’s Soi Som Khit, right next door to Central Chidlom.
It’s open daily for lunch (noon to 3) and dinner (6 to 11).
Make reservations at (02) 017 7268-9 or www.SpiritJimThompson.com.