I love Thai food, so what does the best Thai food restaurant in the world taste like? Well, I was in Bangkok for 5 days, let’s find out. They offer a lunch set menu at $41 per person, making it by far one of the cheapest restaurants from the S. Pelligrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant list.
The lunch set menu options are not super varied, so between me and my friend, we covered a good portion of the menu. But the food, the food right? Who cares about any of this… was it in fact the BEST Thai food I had ever eaten?
Was it the BEST meal I had ever had? From purely a flavor standpoint?
Was it worth $41? Absolutely. Times a thousand. A million. I freaking loved it.
One word of note: it was insanely spicy. I am not sure if they will adjust the heat down or not, because, well, we didn’t ask. They said, “That’s spicy,” and we nodded. Then she said, “It’s Thai spicy,” and I said, “yeah, that’s totally fine.” Because I am full of shit. Apparently. And I like to bluff random wait staff and pretend I am a bad ass with spice. I am not. I’m a middle weight. At best. It’s been 3 years since I was last in Thailand. Once upon a time, I was something of a bad ass, but “Thai Spicy?” sure, yes, technically I can eat it, but it makes my ears ring. This was no exception. When they say “spicy” they mean, “you will literally burn your esophagus eating this, which might sound strange now, but only because you have never, ever eaten anything this hot.”
Anyway, I warned you. There were lots of dishes that were just normally spiced too. Don’t be crazy. (Or do, it feels great afterwards, when you’re just buzzing all over for hours after the meal, the latent effect of your body trying to flee the burning inferno you kept shoving into your face.)
First, a confidence building amuse bouche. Not spicy at all. Served on pineapple, a garlicky gooey mouthful. Lovely.
First course. Canapes… this is the egg nets with prawns, wild almonds, and kaffir lime. No spice. Powerfully flavored. Delicious.
The other canapes, blue swimmer crab with peanuts and pickled garlic on rice cakes. These were light and crunchy, no spice to see here.
Then they brought out our mains… this table represents of world of heat. Spicy scallops, yellow curry inferno, deceptively-not-hot-until-you-eat-a-few-bites sweet and sour soup, a mild (and life saving) duck soup, and spicetastic soft shell crab salad.
This curry was the “thai spicy” level the server had warned us about, and it is the hottest dish I’ve ever eaten. Ever. And I lived in Thailand and traveled around SE Asia over two years. The hottest.
It’s also the most lovely and fragrant yellow curry I’ve ever had too. The layers of flavor — and let me geek out for a moment, because this was an ah-ha moment for me, which is to see a Thai curry treated like an Indian curry. And what I mean by that is they really went heavy with everything, the lemongrass, basil, ginger, garlic, curry powder and so on… very much like you find in Indian dishes, where it just heaps super strong flavors on top of each other. Typically in Thai food, at least in my experience, they might do a yellow curry like this and just really highlight the ginger or one element. But this chef turned up the volume on everything, which made it mind-blowingly delicious. It was so good, but also so hot, it was this delicate dance throughout the meal. I couldn’t just eat it all. I could handle two or three bites before I literally started tearing up and involuntarily crying thick tears down my face as my nose ran. But I was so instantly addicted to it, I had to plan all my other eating around cooling down my mouth, so I could tentatively go back to my wicked mistress: that damn minced chicken curry with yellow eggplants and shampoo ginger.
This humble looking soup was another moment where I was just like, “wow.” It’s billed as hot and sour soup of chicken, prawn and wild mushrooms. In fact, my only complaint about this restaurant is that their menu is completely useless, I mean, yes, it is hot and sour soup, but what I really got was this deep, fragrant cilantro perfumed broth. I don’t know how he did it, but instead of just using the cilantro as a garnish, there seemed to be an effort to imbue the broth with that flavor. It was hot (spicy, more of a peppery hot) and sour but it was also like drinking the very light floral notes of really great Thai cilantro (which I will contend tastes different from cilantro from other parts of the world). So added to my mental to-do list: figure out how they made this and the recreate over and over again forever.
Then we had a salad that was a special for the day. Soft-shelled crab served over crispy tea leaves. It felt sort of Burmese in the execution, but it was amazingly good. The crab has a sweet glaze on it, the salad was spicy and everything had a nice toothsome crunch. Oh my god.
This was another special: the scallops. Beneath this cilantro, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf heap were perfectly silky little scallops. The clear fresh line of lemongrass cut through everything like a knife.
And finally the soup that made finishing this meal possible. It was not spicy at all, so I would return to it between each dish. It was probably my favorite dish of the meal because it surprised me so much. This was listed as clear soup of roast duck with Thai basil and young coconut but the big surprise was anise. I hate the flavor of anise. Except in the rare cookie if it’s used lightly. But this soup surprised me because it was relatively strongly flavored but balanced against the heavy stock from the duck, it worked. I liked it. Loved it really. I would never had thought I’d be slurping down anise flavored duck broth but there you go. It cut right up to the edge of my discomfort with that flavor but didn’t cross the line. Basil, broth, coconut, duck, mushrooms and anise. Fantastic.
You know how I said it was super, fantastically, stupidly spicy? Well we didn’t fail in our mission. We ate almost all of it. It took us two hours, an emergency glass of milk ordered from the kitchen and two full bottles of Pelligrino, but oh was it worth it. Yum. I will have that food memory forever.
Afterward our dessert included shaved ice, and thank god for that. It had jackfruit and mangosteen in it, I believe, although if you told me there was papaya and durian, I would believe you because by then my mouth was dead to me, it had given up and shut down for the day.
We closed the place out (they only serve lunch until 2). In Bangkok? Debating about Nahm? Go, it’s worth it.