Nahm, Bangkok: Review date December 26, 2014
Overall score: 6.8/10
This was my third visit to Nahm, the multi award-winning Thai restaurant under David Thompson. My first was to its original incarnation in London at the Halkin Hotel just after it won a Michelin star, the first Thai restaurant in the world to do so. It was a work lunch during my time at CNN when one of the guests – ostensibly launching a magazine – subsequently turned out to be a convicted fraudster and con artist. I should have known when she ordered herself multiple cocktails at lunch.
My second visit was in Bangkok for lunch a couple of years ago with my brother and his wife and only reconfirmed what was clear at the first lunch, namely that there is no more accomplished master of Thai cuisine than Thompson. It was a brilliant meal, complex and nuanced flavours at every turn, each a revelation to a table largely unfamiliar with the rich map of Thailand’s regional cooking.
So my first Nahm dinner was eagerly awaited, especially given the festive feel on Boxing Day and the extra excitement bought on by having been named the best restaurant in Asia in the San Pellegrino top 50 awards.
Even a decade after its heyday, The Metropolitan Hotel still retains an easy charm and cachet of cool. Nahm is located off the lobby, behind a sliding door which opened a few minutes late to let in those waiting to dine.
The dining room is smart if unremarkable, brickwork pillars contrasting lots of black lattice wood in a nod to the ancient Siam capital of Ayutthaya. The tables, some of which overlook the pool, are generously sized and simply dressed with no tablecloths or crystal, no Christofle or Riedel, the idea presumably to let the food be the focus, a lesson in Thai humility. Music is Hotel Costes meets Buddha Bar, the generic scourge of so many venues in Asia.
With the exception of a tasting menu for the table – which doesn’t work with a vegetarian – dinner is wholly à la carte. But first to cocktails, a ‘Siamito’ of Thai Whisky, brown sugar, lemongrass, ginger and lime that slips down easily and feels medicinal, in a good way.
‘Ma hor’ is a little amuse-bouche of minced chicken, shrimp, nuts and palm sugar served on pineapple, a sweet explosion, doing exactly what an amuse-bouche should by raising excitement and expectation for the rest of dinner. (7.5/10)
After the success of the amuse, fish and meat jumped out amongst the canapés in the form of the simply but sexily entitled ‘pork and lobster with shredded ginger and Thai citron’. Unfortunately the pork was wholly MIA, obscured visually and also on the palate by an overwhelming surge of ginger. It also killed the lobster for a second time and even the usually-unavoidable citron. 6/10
I headed north to Chiang Mai for the next dish, a larp salad of guinea fowl. After a couple visits to northern Thailand I knew broadly that the flavours are generally more intense and the chillies more liberally used than elsewhere. Amidst the usual Thai salad backing singers of cabbage leaves and green beans, employed to counteract the waves of heat, the overall impression was burnt meat and searing chilli. Any delicate guinea fowl flavour was obliterated. It was over-caramelized to the point of bitterness and could have been any minced meat – they’re the black spots in the photo below. There were sprigs of herbs and a couple of small tomatoes so I tried adding these to temper the mix. No dice. Try as I might, I really didn’t enjoy it. 5.5/10
Two dishes down and two duds was absolutely the last sequence of events I was expecting in my third visit to Nahm. My wife was having a much better time across the table with her yellow curry of cauliflower and lentils, which ticked all the boxes you’d expect.
The last chance for savoury salvation came in the main of ‘coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi lime’. I’d been tipped off to this dish by a review from Pinay gourmand Francis Sadac. There was something about the words ‘blue swimmer’ that led me to expect part or all of a crab appearing, but instead a small bowl of creamy curry with white meat flakes was bought to the table. Here was Nahm back on its game, delivering the balance of flavours that was sorely lacking in the first two dishes, sharp hints of calamansi contrasting with bursts of heat amidst the coconut cream. It was undeniably good, if not spectacular compared to Nahm dishes I’d previously enjoyed. 7.5/10
A side dish of Pak Wan again demonstrated the ease with which Thai food can be so remarkable, the classic green leaf with garlic and mushrooms being laughably good for such a simple dish. (7.5/10)
It’s a risky generalization given the size and diversity of the continent, but desserts are usually the lowest priority on Asian menus. Nahm offers a choice of eight from dessert guru Tanongsak Yordwai, with ‘Load Chong’ or ‘pandanus noodles with black sticky rice, water chestnuts, tapioca and coconut cream’ winning our vote. I immediately wondered how much effort the kitchen had put into it as it appeared within three minutes of ordering. Where was the subtlety, the innovation, the skill, the thought? Unfortunately, nowhere. It wasn’t bad, just really average. (6.5/10) In common with most of dinner, I had just expected so much more from Nahm. Service was polite and efficient, while the total bill, including a great bottle of Wallace Shiraz, was 7568THB, ie HK$1805 or US$232. (7.5/10 for ‘experience’)
Nahm, The Metropolitan, 27 South Sathorn Road, Tungmahamek
Bangkok . +66 2 625 3388 http://www.comohotels.com/metropolitanbangkok/dining/nahm/menus