Monday, May 9, 2011

Kha: innovative modern Thai cuisine

A few years ago, when the HortPark first opened, I chanced on a restaurant at the park, very quaint and nicely designed. I tried only the phad thai, and found it to be quite good...not classical phad thai, but more avant garde - with the clever use of ingredients.

So when I received an invitation to do a tasting at Kha at its new location at 38 Martin, I jumped at the chance. So, bear in mind that this is an invited review.

Owned by the same people who also own Jia - a wonderful boutique hotel in Hong Kong, the decor was modern, but distinctly Thai.

Showing the main dining room...from the photograph left, there is a small door which opens into Kha's sister restaurant - Graze, and Australian inspired eatery.

They also have a small private room, perhaps sitting 12, and nicely decorated:

We started with the two signature welcome drinks...the first...with a mocktail name of Ruby Starlet

Made with lychee juice and fresh lime juice, frozen like an icee...and dressed with promegranate and fresh mint leaves, the drink is just perfect for a hot, humid day. It was superbly refreshing.

We also trie dthe other mocktail...the Dragon Eye...

Made with lychee juice and fresh lime juice as well, but trimmed with a nice big lychee and fresh mint leaves. Interestingly though both the drinks are based on lychee and lime, they tasted different. The Dragon Eye was a little sweeter, but also very refreshing, though I prefer the Ruby Starlet as a great aperetif and respite from the outside.

We tasted 3 appetizers and 3 main off we start with the appetizers.

Wagyu beef salad:

This is a typical twist to tradition. Beef salad is quite a typical Thai salad...but the use of wagyu in place of local Thai beef (or even Australian Angus in the more upmarket eateries in Bangkok) is a nice twist. The wagyu is cleverly grilled just shy of medium rare - the only way to eat wagyu without spoiling it with overcooking. The julianned vegetables - I tasted mango, cucumber, carrots. Nicely done.

We also tried the crab cakes

Called Tod Man Poo...the traditional name for crab cakes in Thai, the cakes tasted more like very good Californian crab cakes than traditional tod man. The dish was served with a green mango salad.

And the third appetizer was a rather interesting deep fried chilli fritters.

This was interesting. The batter was a bit thick, and very crispy. The chilli was stripped of its seeds, and kind of mild, and stuffed with minced pork. Very tasty, especially when dipped with one of the three sauces. In particular the Malibu Chili is interesting. The other two being Tom Yum Mayonnaise and Lemon Mustard

The dishes are rather generous serving sizes, so order accordingly or be very hungry...:-) At this point, the three of us sharing the meal was feeling a bit full, but then came the main courses:

As a bridge between appetizer and main course is the tom yam kung

A winner for me...this dish was done more traditionally than avant garde. A very large, very fresh prawn sits center stage. And supported by no less than 3 smaller prawns within the sour, spicy soup. Very nice.

Next...the duck curry:

Instead of the more traditional roast duck used in a thick red or yellow curry, this one had grilled duck...with skin removed, perhaps to make it more appealing to the diet conscious, and in a beautiful, luxurious curry.

The curry was very good. Beautiful flavours meld seamlessly with the rich coconut milk. And the duck meat providing nice bite to the concoction. Interestingly, we found whole grapes and lotus seeds in the curry. Eaten with the fragrant jasmine rice, this dish makes the whole lunch for me.

We also had the char grilled sea bass with lemongrass

Though the fish was very fresh...not a big feat these days, especially for sea bass which is farmed nearby and delivered live to restaurants and wet markets. But the grilling was quite expertly done. The green mint sauce a good complement to the succulent fish. However, I find despite the ingenuity shown by the chef and cooks elsewhere, they did not do such a good job at elevating this dish above the ordinary. Don't get me wrong, it is very good, but given the exciting flavours and tastes offered by the duck curry, the fish did not impress me.

The tofu was next:

Known by the romantic name of Papa Adun's Phad Tow Hu...the tofu is wonderfully creamy and rich when you bite into the nice crispy skin. The sauce was piquant and lifts the rich creamy tofu to another level. Very shiok.

We also had a bowl of vegetables, to balance our meal

The baby kai lan was fresh, and nicely wok fried...very lightly cooked so the vegetable remained crunchy.

Then the desserts.

The standard bearer of Thai desserts, the red ruby

This was rather de rigeur. The chestnuts in the red rubies were large, plump and succulent. Only a touch of coconut milk provided some richness. The dish was not overly sweet as many Thai desserts can sometimes be. Nicely balanced.

We also had the grilled mango with lime sorbet, with a thick creamy mango sauce

The mango was very sweet, and goes very well with the spunk and tartness of the sorbet.

And the traditional Mamuang khao niaw

Traditional to the core, but the Kha twist is in the thick coconut milk flavoured with pandan leaf. The mango was sweet and fresh, and goes well (of course! Thousands, perhaps millions of Thais swear by this combination of taste) together.

Overall, Kha serves excellent Thai inspired cuisine. If you are looking for true traditional Thai, either Royal Thai or street Thai, perhaps there are better restaurants elsewhere. But for a fresh look and taste of Thai cuisine, Kha offers a lot to the diner. Beautiful decor. Good service. Great food. The prices are a little on the high side, but not extremely so, given the quality.

38 Martin Road
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