…there is always a place – a corner or two, a few blocks or a square – that is brightly lit well into the night. These are the night markets of Thailand and they are filled with people, food and noise, as flames lick around woks and wood smoke fro charcoal grills lingers in the still night air… They contain everything that lures a Thai out: good food, people, atmosphere and laughter – the Thai world on a plate. It really is all about food… David Thompson, Thai Street Food.
Noodlies caught up with David on 23rd December to talk about Nahm, his new Bangkok restaurant, a personal homage to the street food of the people that he loves so much. And I’m surprised, Nahm seems to be on everyone’s lips. Our hotel concierge gave us a nod of approval and seemed genuinely surprised we got a reservation on the same day we arrived in Bangkok, ”it’s always booked out” he said.
Nahm is located in the Metropolitan Hotel a hip, modern, urbane Bangkok 5-star. The restaurant is only a few month’s old, opened on 2 September. The design is striking, warm from the wooden floor, screens and tables with a honey glow from clever use of spot lighting. It’s designed by award winning architect, Koichiro Ikebuchi.
The Celadon plates, produced by a local Thai manufacturer, Mengrai Kilns, are simple and functional respecting the Thai street food tradition.
But what about the food?
We sampled every canapes on the menu, chilli relish with pork scratchings and quail eggs (above front), crispy grilled noodles with prawns pickled garlic and bean sprouts (above back), grilled mussels (immediately below), pomelo grilled prawns wrapped in betel leaves (further below).
They were all fascinating, small bite sized pieces that packed so much flavour and texture, crispy in the case of the noodles, smoky in the case of the mussels. But my favourite was the prawns in betel leaves (below), such wonderful complex flavours that worked so well together, fresh tartness of pomelo, sweetness of the palm sugar and of course the complex punch of the betel leaves. Everything left you wanting more.. I guess that’s intentional.
We also had two soups, which reminded me so much of home cooking in Vietnam, there would always be a soup served with dinner. The crab and snake gourd soup with egg tasted simple at first, but then comes the intense flavour that is unlocked after the first second.
Of course, I was expecting the clear soup of roast duck to be strong, roast duck always is. But it’s the intensity which bursts forth but then is contained by the shitake mushroom and basil that is so exhilarating.
Don’t underestimate David Thompson’s dishes, they may not be plated a-la MasterChef, but that’s intentional, this is painstakingly prepared home-style Thai food and here, love goes into the preparation and cooking, not presentation. The stir-fried bean curd with prawns and pork below might look straightforward enough, but the silky, sensual taste and texture of the bean curd is heavenly.
The coconut and tumeric curry of blue swimmer crab, you won’t find on the menu in Australia. I’m particularly fond of the consistency which is not too dry nor too watery, this one is subtly but incredibly rich at the same time.
The spicy shrimp paste relish with assorted vegetables, sweet pork and deep fried mackerel is food the way many Asians have at home, mixing several dishes and together with fresh greens. The fish was oh-so crispy.
It’s so hard to nominate a favourite dish from this stunning menu, but on the night there were two for me. Firstly the lemongrass salad of prawns, crispy squid and pork with toasted coconut. It just tastes so fresh with the lemongrass and then unlocks so many other different vibrant flavours. A must have!
I couldn’t find this on the menu, I think it’s a special which David kindly sent from the kitchen, fish innards simmered with chilli and our waiter warned us that it’s “nuclear” hot. Yes, it was but it was also incredibly complex in flavours, smells, texture balanced so wonderfully with our jasmine rice.
Everything went down wonderfully with a glass of Grosset ‘Springvale’ Watervale Riesling suggested by our helpful sommelier.
And then there was dessert. David wouldn’t let us leave without sampling all the desserts on the menu. And these were as home made as you can get, admittedly with much more wonderful flavour. But be warned Thais like their desserts sweet! But first some rose apple to prepare our taste buds for dessert.
Then jackfruit simmered in coconut cream with steamed sugar palm pudding, classic Thai dessert.
Sapodilla steeped in coconut cream with yellow bean and cashew nut pudding and deep fried shallots. This dessert is interesting in so many ways, firstly you won’t be able to get it in Australia because sapodilla is a fruit that hasn’t gained popularity outside south east Asia, shallots might sound weird in desserts, but it’s very common in Asia, and finally the white/clear strips you see below are lightly candied paw paw, utterly delicious.
But again, there can only be one dessert favourite, and I must admit I’m swayed because it’s David’s favourite dessert as well.. durian in white sticky rice might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s not as pungent in this dessert as you would find eaten fresh but it still maintains a wonderful creamy, heavenly consistency.
David Thompson clearly loves Thailand and Thai food and you see it here in classic home-style cooking that is honest, faithful and utterly delicious. It’s brave and gutsy for a farang to open an upmarket Thai restaurant in Bangkok and he’s copped a bit of flack for it. I really think the critics should reserve their judgement until they’ve experienced Nahm, Bangkok.
If you’re coming to Bangkok, Nahm is a must, the Nahm set menu consists of a selection of canapes, your choice of a dish from each section of the main courses and dessert is an incredibly reasonable 1,500 baht (a little over $A50. But here’s a tip, it’s regularly booked out, so make sure you make a reservation.
Australian David Thompson is a Michelin awarded chef and has been cooking for almost 30 years. But it was living in Bangkok in the 1980s that spurned his love for the country, its people and food. He returned to Sydney and fell into a restaurant in Newtown, which was renamed Darley Street Thai. That restaurant moved to the Cross, where it stayed for 10 years. Around that time he opened another restaurant called Sailors Thai down in the Rocks. In 2001 he moved to London and opened Nahm. It’s still operating. In September this year, he opened a restaurant in Bangkok, also called Nahm. He’s the author of two highly successful cook books, Thai Food and most recently Thai Street Food.
Noodlies and guest dined as guests of Nahm and the Metropolitan Hotel, Bangkok, thanks David, Arlada and Kantarit.
27 South Sathorn Road
+66 (0) 2 625 3388