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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Nahm in London, such a waste of 100 quid!!

So here it is, my long awaited review of Nahm. Sorry I kept you all waiting for days, wasn't playing hard to get really, just was very busy since I got back. Anyway, I hope you found it worth the wait.

As our friend Simon said, I had a low expectation of the place, and it was definitely met. I went there not really expecting a great and authentic Thai meal, rather was hoping for a well-executed if somewhat westernized Thai dinner. Not that I questioned if David Thompson could really cook Thai food, but I believed authenticity was dictated more by the customers than by the chef. I hardly expected an up-market London restaurant, one with a Michelin star no less, to be a truly authentic Thai place.

Simon and I in our best garbs (The good Mr.Majumdar in his velvet waistcoat beat me hands down in the dressing up department) got to Nahm for our dinner reservation at 8. The place was very dimly lit with oddly yellow flattering-no-complexion lights. There was not a Thai face in sight, neither among the service people nor the clientele. That wasn't a good sign. The menu was brought to us by an Australian waiter who stood by the table reciting the mantra of the place, which was basically telling us to order the set menu. There was no explanation why the menu was constructed that way, only to tell us to pick one from each category. His manners reminded me of those of the flight attendant reciting the your-nearest-exit-may-be-behind-you speech.

The menu was in slightly oddly transliterated Thai accompanied by corresponding explanation in English. There were some interesting items that one may not see so often at normal Thai places, such as Nahm Prik Makaam Boran, and Dtom Klong Pla Grop. I was at once intrigued and skeptical. A few items in the menu were things I rarely order at restaurants in nor out of Thailand, the reason being they were so hard to do well that I just didn't bother. Mi Krob and Green Curry for example. By looking at the menu alone, it seemed that David Thompson had at least attempted to serve Royal Thai dishes.

Simon and Jay Rayner told me about the semi-apartheid among service people at that restaurant, so I came prepared to speak Thai and order in Thai just to stir things up a little. Unfortunately the Aussie blue-eyed boy who came to take our order couldn't decipher a word out of the names of the dishes I tried to order in Thai, so I ended up having to use English. Oh well.

Here's what we had…

Ma Hor
Small squares of pineapple and small mandarin segments topped with minced prawns and chicken simmered in palm sugar and topped with deep fried garlic and shallots

These were, as Simon said, inoffensive little things. They tasted fine, but appeared to have been mixed for a while before they arrived at our table so they tasted sort of old. The fried shallots were over done so tasted a bit burnt.

Mii Grop
crispy Thai noodles with prawns, beensprouts and chinese chives ( garlic chives ) topped with a cage of crispy egg.
Simon polished off both his plate and mine. I myself found this unpalatable. The egg net was mushy, and, as with the “crispy” noodles, tasted of the oil in which they were cooked. The seasoning was overly sweet, completely missing the fine balance of sweet/sour/salty and a citrusy undertone of the original dish. I found bits of kaffir lime leaves in the mix, they had no place in this dish.

I was truly surprised by the bad quality of this plate. As I said before, I went there not expecting a great authentic Thai meal, but I at least expected things to be well-executed. This Mii Krob tasted old and sloppily done. This just wasn't a good start.

Yam Pbetyang Sai Lamyai
A salad of mallard with Thai basil, cashew nuts and longons ( small fruits )
I found this dish to be badly done as well. The salad dressing was so-so, not too good, but didn't miss the point completely as in the Mii Grop. The problems here, however, were the quality of the ingredients and the execution of the dish itself. The small pieces of ducks were chewy, and tasted decidedly bland. I found the huge chunks of shallots in the mix particularly offensive. Biting into one of those gigantic piecse of shallots, some almost 1cm thick, one could taste nothing but the sharp pungency of raw shallots. Paper thin slices of shallots, on the other hand, would have taken on the taste of the lime and fish sauce dressing and harmonized the flavor. Thai salads are meant to be eaten in small mouthful, with each ingredients partaking in every bite. The ingredients thus should all be cut, sliced, or chopped into small pieces. This Yam was just badly done!

Dtom Klong Pla Grop
A soup of smoked fish with tamarind.
I was sort of looking forward to this dish. This is a specialty of the Southern part of Thailand, where the Pla Krop (smoked fish) originated. The soup, when done well, is perfumed with the smoky fish.

When the soup came, I took a huge whiff and barely recognized the scent of the Pla Krob. The soup itself tasted overly salty and sweet, with a barely discernable sourness from the tamarind. It was just not balanced well. I thought the dish wasn't completely beyond repair, and asked for some lime juice to restore the balance of the flavor. The waiter struggled a bit with my request, perhaps he thought I wanted a lemonade or some such thing. After a few minutes of explanation, he came back to the table with a small bowl of lime juice. A mere teaspoon in each soup bowl restored the soup to a balance. This wasn't rocket science---it really surprised me that no one in that kitchen fixed it before it arrived at our table. Feh.

Nahm Prik Makaam Boran
Spice tamarind relish with sweet pork and betel leaves.
This was my favorite dish in the whole meal. The sweet pork, which could stand to be in smaller bites, was tender and tasty. The tamarind relish was brightly flavored, and in perfect balance of sour, spicy, and sweet. The texture of the relish may have been a bit of an acquired taste, but I found it quite good.

Geng Gwai Pla
Green curry of monkfish with Thai aubergine, wild ginger and basil
I took a bite of this curry and must have made quite a face as Simon immediately took notice. I found it offensive. The curry was bitter and tasted green. The various eggplants in the curry were just overdone. I thought for a bit about what really was wrong with it, at first blaming the bitter eggplants, but finally it dawned on me. How obvious! It was because the fresh curry paste hadn't been cooked long enough in the oil to get rid of the raw taste of the herbs. That was the problem. How could this happen in a starred kitchen I had no idea. Badly done, again.

Pla Tort Nahm Sahm Rot
Deep fried royal bream with three flavoured sauce.
This one was hohum. The sauce was a good balance of sour/sweet/salty/hot as it should be, but the whole dish was just ok. I found the presentation a bit odd, we got a tail end of a bream, deep fried and covered in the sauce and a very generous sprinkle of fried shallots. It looked more like something we served in a servant's quarter than a Royal Thai dish. For almost 100 quid per head one would think we deserved a whole fish!

During our savory course, the Australian Maitre D' came by the table to inquire about the meal. I told him it wasn't good. He appeared surprised and interested, prompting me to explain what I thought was wrong with the dishes. I started with the Mii Krob, and was about to launch into the other dishes when he interrupted me and said he would go into the kitchen and let the chef know about my dissatisfaction. He disappeared toward the general direction of the kitchen and never returned.

That concluded our savory, next came the desserts..

Grathorn Loy Gao
Santols simmered in perfumed syrup
Kanom Chan Bai Dtoei
Pandanus flavoured layer cake

I ordered this dish out of curiosity than anything else. Santol is a great tropical fruit that does not travel well, but I was hoping for this much money Mr. Thompson could really manage to bring it to a London table. The sweet cold soup came, with not a santol in sight. Swimming in the “jasmine perfumed” syrup and “jasmine perfumed” iced (overdone?) were chunks of Lychee, not Santol.

I waived a waiter to our table to inquire about the missing Santol, the silly misinformed man pointed at the Kanom Chan (Layered Cake) and said “that” was Santol. After a few words back and forth arguing about the meaning of the word Santol, he disappeared toward the kitchen to ask the chef about it. Like the Maitre D', he never returned.

As for the Kanom Chan, Mr.Thompson should be ashamed of using the name of a lovely Thai dessert to label his dirt-poor imitation. The layer cake à la David Thompson was a pasty, tough, and tasteless crap, a far cry from the tender, sweet, fragrant and extraordinarily beautiful layered cake (Kanom Chan) of Thailand.

Kao Niaw Mamuang
Mango and sticky rice
The texture of the sticky rice was great, though it was overly sweet, lacking the saltiness to balance the taste. The single slice of mango on top of the rice tasted of nothing. In San Francisco I often serve sticky rice with in season nectarines if I couldn't find mango of good enough quality, because using mediocre mango in this dish would just be beside the point.

Kanom Mor Geng Kanun
This one is even a bigger shame than the layer cake. The taste of this Kanom Morgeng was offensive, the texture weirdly resembled something your dog regurgitates after a tummy ache. The real Kanom Morgeng of Thailand is a delicious dessert of caramelized egg, palm sugar and coconut custard, mixed with either bean paste or taro paste. The texture should be sort of a spongy crème caramel. Kanom Morgeng is baked in a large square tray until a golden crust forms on top while the inside is still soft and gooey yet retaining its shape even after cutting into serving portions . How this glorious dessert could lend the name to the shapeless pile of pus at Nahm was beyond me.

Thus concluded the meal. The bill came to be nearly 200 pounds. This meal would have been ok had it been 20 quid a head, it was practically highway robbery at 100!


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