In Bangkok, Issaya Siamese Club is one of the city’s prettiest restaurants, housed in a 100 year old villa surrounded by tropical gardens. Its new sister restaurant in Hong Kong is located in the not-quite-as-romantic Causeway Bay, up in Soundwill Plaza with its burgeoning spread of international restaurants.They’ve done a good job on the interiors, from a warm Thai welcome to an inviting bar space with proper seats and sofas, well spaced. The dining room extends around the open kitchen, leading to an inviting terrace overlooking the harbour and throngs of Sasa shoppers below.
One thing is clear though, this is not your average Thai restaurant. Owner Ian Kittichai has ensured that the original made the prestigious list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and the menu and plating in Hong Kong demonstrates that this is probably his ultimate target once again.
So it’s high-end Thai, more so than anywhere I can think of in town. Do not, however, ask if they have Pad Thai. I guess it’s akin to walking in to The Fat Duck and asking for egg and chips. Well you’d probably get egg and chips there, just made from dehydrated unicorn bladder.
The music hits home immediately, beautiful and uplifting Brazilian bossanova called Aldeia de Ogum by Joyce. Depressingly I bought the Blue Brazil album 20 years ago, but here it’s reworked with some magic from Fatboy Slim.
The menu offers a number of unfamiliar dishes – and certainly no pad thai. One key difference with another high end Thai, Nahm, is in the levels of heat. Maybe they toned it down for a farang, but all the dishes could have benefitted from a couple notches higher up the Scoville scale. It’s worth checking when you order.
But overall this was a very accomplished dinner, with some innovative plating and presentation. Case in point, a deconstructed old favourite of prawn and papaya salad, or Somtum Thalay. It didn’t need to have the salad elements in a plant pot, but why not add a bit of theatre and fun to dinner? It was an excellent version of a classic, the salad mixing Hokkaido scallops, tiger prawns and crab in a chili and lime dressing.
The food comes quickly, which makes a refreshing change from certain places where days of your life seem spent waiting during tasting menus. Next is the vegetarian’s banana blossom salad, Yum-Hua-Plee. (Incidentally, they have a solid selection of vege options, not always easy in a cuisine based on shrimp paste) It’s stacked and packed with good stuff, heart of palm, crispy shallots and roasted peanuts in a chili jam dressing with tamarind that I would happily put on almost any food:
Back on the meat side, a really good spice-rubbed pork baby back ribs. They’re glazed with their house-blended chili paste and sugar cane. Cooked twice, apparently, meaning these bad boys are so tender that they fall apart if you so much as look at them the wrong way.
Rice was wayyyyy healthier than normal with five different beans and garlic, mixing up the textures and tastes and making you feel slightly less guilty about the carb-o-rama.
Of course its main role was to soak up the sauce under the Paneang Nua, or Australian veal cheek simmered in spices, coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves.
The biggest surprise came at dessert, with more culinary theatre. I’ve experienced presentation desserts before, once at the brilliant Glass in Berlin and also the Mandarin Grill in Hong Kong, but this was the first time with Asian cuisine.
A banana leaf is the easel on which the dessert is created – it involves, deep breath: a coconut crepe, fresh coconut sauce, fresh coconut with salt, passion fruit foam, mulberry foam, crumble and white chocolate and shards of dark chocolate.
Again it’s fun and the resulting mess is good stuff that you’re happy to trawl through. Only the dark chocolate seems superfluous, but hey, who’s complaining about chocolate?
Along with a couple cocktails and a very nice glass of Rioja, the damage was just north of $1200, the check kindly taken care of.