Monday, November 1, 2010

Thai Fusion: Lerk Thai

This is an invited review by the fine folks at Lerk Thai

Fusion cuisine. Sounds exotic. One of the first times I tasted a meal touted to be fusion was at the Fischerzunft in Schaffhausen in Switzerland. The restaurant has one Michelin star and was quite an experience. But fusion cuisine need not be lofty. We actually eat quite a lot of fusion cuisine here in Singapore. Even my native Peranakan cuisine is a fusion of Malay and Chinese. But we seldom think of it this way.

When I got the invitation to do the tasting at Lerk Thai, I was intrigued by their fusion style cuisine. Interesting methot. There were many such fusion restaurants that literally dot Bangkok. And almost every western or European restaurant (read Italian, French, Spanish) in the city is usually able to whip up a local Thai the cooks are usually Thai. I also have a few Italian-Thai favourites in that city. But I believe this is the first, anyone has tried to do such a fusion in Singapore (perhaps there are others, but I am not (yet?) aware of them)

So off to the Centerpoint store I trotted. Occupying the place which was vacated by another Thai Restaurant, Lerk Thai was decorated more like an upmarket cafe. Service, when we were there...this is afterall a Media Lunch...was excellent. Brisk, quick, polite, and the wait-staff were very knowledgable.

So how's the food? In a simple pronouncement...good, with some qualifications.

First off the menu was specially designed by the chefs - Head Chef Sompran Saengard, and ably assisted by dessert chef Kachai Preedaporn. And deliberately fusion and interesting.

We started with Thai Salad

This was a twist of the traditional Som Tam. We also had a sampling Som Tam, and this was testament that the chef could excecute well without the fusion cap on. But the Yum Hait Gai Krob was interesting. Prepared live by Chef Rattakan Peapoo, it consisted of a combination of 3 mushrooms (shimeiji, golden and straw) in a som tam style dressing and topped with crispy chicken strips. I found this dish to be quite excellent. The textures were particularly pleasing to the palate - the soft, almost mushy mushrooms complemented well with the crispy chicken. The sauce was quite well done.

The next dish was a soup:

Tom Yum Talay Num Sai...this is a version of the traditional Tom Yum...done with a clear soup. Seafood ingredients of prawns, cuttlefish, sliced fish and mushrooms were added to a very nice stock which I suspect is chicken based. The soup itself was tasty, with a sharp tart and spicy note. And the seafood was reasonably fresh, and cooked just right.

The following dish came with a bit of fanfare. The head chef Sompran himself preprared this live:

I found this a little less intriguing. The beef was well braised - soft and tender. Sompran had braised this carefully in a pressure cooker, and had used the shin of beef - traditionally a tough cut, but rendered tender and almost jelly like by the cooking method. On its own, the beef was rather tasty. The spagetti was done on the soft side of al dente...I would have preferred a firmer pasta. But the part which I had some trouble with was the lack of sauce. The spagetti was almost nude...on its own. And the beef stood by its side...seemingly a bit lonely. I would have liked the dish more if Sompran had drenched the spagetti with his braising liquid.

Thai Tang Hoon is a hot favourite of mine. One of the restaurants I frequented when in Bangkok is a curious place called Soi 5 Eating House...right by Sukhumvit Soi 5. They do a very nice tang hoon with river prawns...and in the traditional method...a mini-wok lined with herbs and pork fat, then tanghoon, prawns tossed into the mix with generous portions of peppercorn. Then baked.

The Woon Sen (tang hoon in Thai) served in Lerk Thai, though nothing like the Soi 5 version, reminded me a bit of that.

The tang hoon was cooked perfectly. Characteristic in its springy texture, clear, and had well absorbed some of the gravy tossed into the wok during the frying. Nice.

We next sampled a chicken dish.

Doesn't look like chicken? Well it is, and I found the dish to be quite spectacular. Slices of chicken is probably tenderised with a hammer, and coated with a batter. The batter is dipped in a bed of sesame and deep fried. Kailan is also juliened and deep fried to a crisp consistency. The combination with the spot of mayonaise is superb.

Morning Glory is a standard Thai dish...stir fried, with some fish sauce, and chilli, it serves as an excellent tasting meal with rice.

What is different with this dish was that instead of leafy parts of the vegetable, the chef elected to use the stems. These were sliced into strips, and flash stir fried with soy sauce. The stems remained crunchy and fresh tasting. Quite nicely done, I must say.

And finally the dessert. This was the highlight of many. The full selection of traditional Thai dessert is offered. But as an innovation, Lerk Thai also offered smaller portions as a trio, so that diners can do a tasting of the various desserts.

For eg, like the above combination of Thab Tim Krob (Red Ruby with coconut milk), Lord Chong Naam Ka Ti (Chendol with Brown Sugar and coconut milk) and Ma Muang Ban Sacu (mango with pomelo and sago).

And one of my favourites - the glutinous rice with mango

More traditionally portioned desserts were also available, like the Tago shown below - Thai Pudding with coconut jelly in a pandan cup.

The desserts all taste good...a bit on the sweet side, but this is par for the course for desserts, especially Thai desserts.

Overall, this was an excellent menu. My only hesitation on the taste was the spagetti. The other dishes are all definitely quite good.

Lerk Thai Restaurant
176 Orchard Road, #01-59-62
tel: 67352292
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