February 25, 2012 00:00 By Manote Tripathi
Traditional tastes meet modern presentation in the intimate Chef's Table banquets at Sala Rim Naam
Vichit Mukura, executive chef at the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, loves traditional Thai food, but he also wants it to look modern on the table. He manages to please patrons who love fine dining while at the same time ensuring authenticity.
The pinnacle of his success is in the Chef’s Table, a multiple-course feast served to just a handful of diners at a time at Sala Rim Naam, the hotel’s restaurant across the river. It’s also a chance to witness kitchen magic as it’s created.
You get to watch Vichit in action as he prepares your six- or eight-course dinner, complete with all the frenzy and sound effects. For a recent press preview there were nine courses!
Vichit buys all the ingredients on his own during morning visits to markets like Or Tor Kor. We also had brown rice from his own experimental paddy in Pattaya.
“I never knew how fun it is to grow rice,” he said. “I have my own milling machine. And it’s a wonderful experience to be able to eat rice that you grew and milled yourself. That’s my weekend obsession at the moment.”
The first course was Goong Thong Piw Som Sa Gub Khao Foo, a deep-fried bay prawn with sparkling lime and crispy, fluffy red-jasmine rice, again from his property. The sizeable prawn was garnished with salad and lively with the tang from the rind of a bitter orange.
Next was Poo Ja, deep-fried, herbed crabmeat and minced chicken. The dish usually features pork rather than chicken, but the chef is Muslim. In this case the religious stricture proved a blessing. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of cilantro root, garlic and pepper infused in the crab and chicken along with eggs, coconut milk and fish sauce.
Vichit reckoned it was time for sorbet to prepare the palate for the delights still to come. He whipped up Wan Yen Tom Yum, with a taste akin to real tom yum that left our mouths watering.
The next course was Ped Ob Takrai Grob Gub Bamee – roast duck with crispy lemongrass and garlic egg noodles. It was slightly sweet and garlicky but set off by the tang of tamarind juice. Your’re supposed to chew a little dried chilli with the duck.
Then there was Tom Yum Pla – spicy grouper soup with lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves – the most aromatic dish of the night thanks to the herbs. The white fish flesh was firm and the soup quite spicy. In terms of Thai flavours, it was the epitome of what soup should taste like.
Next was Goong Nueng Prig Manao Nom Sod, which is steamed blue river prawn with a spicy sauce and white egg. Three ingredients did the trick here: lime juice, egg white and fresh chilli. I couldn’t get enough of the salty-sour juice on my plate and wished there had been bread to dip in it.
The heaviest course of the night was Kae Yaang Gub Saranae Rae Makham – grilled lamb with Thai mint and sweet-and-salty tamarind sauce. Where else on earth could you have lamb with tamarind and edible flowers?
Served with brown rice, with its characteristic natural fragrance of pandanus leaves, the dish tasted great with the tamarind sauce. You eat the yellow blossoms of dok sanoh (sesbania) and you’re astounded at how well flowers pair with lamb.
There was yet more rice from Vichit’s farm in the next course, Pla Hima Nom Khao Khing Grob – fried snowfish with green rice and crispy ginger. In this case the rice was five months old, still soft and milky. He boils it in stock and adds the fish and ginger. The result looks like your morning porridge, but it was a gentle finale for our evening culinary journey.
Dessert was red-jasmine-rice ice cream served with the Thai dessert known as “yellow bean pocket”, with shredded coconut meat and sugared sesame seeds. This is ice cream that will make you forget about traditional Thai coconut ice cream forever. I never knew brown rice could be so versatile.
We did indeed learn a lot about rice and cooking in general. “With the Chef’s Table,” Vichit said, “I want to show that Thai food can really be appreciated here at home, and not just overseas.”
A true feast
The six-course Chef's Table dinner costs Bt2,900-plus and the eight-course version Bt3,900.
Seating is limited to just four to seven people. Reserve your place at (02) 659 9000, extension 7330, or email@example.com.