Saturday, April 22, 2006


The Halkin, 5 Halkin Street, London, SW1X 7DJ
Nearest Tube: Hyde Park Corner
Cuisine: Thai
Telephone: 0871 2238097

With much anticipation I finally get to try the great Nahm - the world's only Michelin-starred Thai restaurant. After eating at his first restaurant Sailor's Thai in Sydney several times and reading his extremely well-researched tome on Thai Cookery, I looked forward to tasting the cuisine of the man the Thai government asked to establish a Thai cookery school in Thailand.

We chose the traditional thai nahm arharn meal (£49.50) consisting of 6 shared courses: an hors d'oeuvre, a salad, a soup, a relish or light curry, a substantial curry and a stir-fried or casserole dish. Individual ordering is also possible with dishes ranging from £8 to £15 to suit tastes or budget.

We started with an amuse bouche of mar hor (minced prawn and chicken served on cucumber slices) which was followed by latiang. This amazing egg-net construction encased chewy strands of sweetish-coconut flavoured with crab. The pomelo and crispy trout salad with toasted peanuts yam som oo pla tort was a maze of textures - refreshing pomelo chunks, crunchy fish and reslient lime leaf - flavoured with a sweet and savoury sauce. We'd all elected for different soups and my spicy oxtail soup with onions and tomatoes sup hang wua tasted earthy and rich, full of beef flavour and redolent with mysterious aromatic spices. A chiang mai grilled chilli relish with grilled zander-fish followed. This small red pile of chilli and ground dried shrimp was pungeant with garlic and shallots and accompanied the raw cabbage and vegetables well.

Our two curries followed: an extremely hot jungle curry of chopped prawns with heart of coconut and chillies made me gasp but that is the nature of jungle curries. The chiang mai pork curry with shredded ginger, pickled garlic and shallots had a refreshing and aromatic ginger tang and was again very pungeant with onions.

My favourite dish was the double steamed rabbit with pickled mustard greens (known as ham choy in Cantonese) and daikon. This earthy peasant-style dish with the savoury pickles and sweet rabbit meat married perfectly with rice. We also had a firm and translucent deep fried royal bream with a rather sweet three flavoured sauce.

We dined in subdued lighting in a warm light-golden room decorated with subtle South-east Asian accents, e.g. bright red corded ropes in the atrium. The extremely friendly Thai staff gave elegant and knowledgeable service. Although we were only supposed to have one curry and one casserole she offered to make us two smaller serves of each because we couldn't decide.

An exotic range of desserts beckoned and I had a coconut ash perfumed egg custard with jackfruit - quite delicious.

For most people, Thai food is what's eaten on the streets in Thailand, usually cooked in a blazing hot wok seasoned with fish sauce, lime and peanuts. In reality, this method of cooking comes from the large contingent of Chinese traders that lived in Thailand. The old Thai cuisine as developed before Chinese influence made use of slow coal fires and gradual simmering. As such, you don't get the vibrant fresh flavours associated with stir-frying over high heat but an interesting blends and layers as the slow extraction processes develop and release aromas. I also found the food a little too pungeant and strongly flavoured for my liking, but I'm sure it's authentic and what's proper - I'm just not used to it.

If you like your pad thai and green chicken curry as served in pubs and are expecting just a 'better' version, this place is probably not for you. Nahm is quite a different concept and serves Thai food rarely seen outside of Thailand and the royal houses.

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