What’s blisteringly hot? David Thompson’s Nahm, Bangkok

by Forager on September 10, 2012

One of the most popular posts on The Gourmet Forager is one recreating David Thompson’s tom yum goong recipe (Thai hot and sour soup with prawns) – one that is at first glance intimidatingly complex yet once attempted, I found it was simple, reliably reproducible yet no less impressive. The flavours were so punchy and authentic and put previously tasted tom yums to dismal shame – a familiar experience we find repeated with many of his recipes. We’ve found that this Australian-born chef’s Thai cookbooks are so detailed and intimately comprehensive, they’re the only Thai cooking references we need on our bookshelves. And we’re far from alone in that appreciation, his commanding knowledge of Thai cooking is so legendary and widely respected that the Thai government invited him to teach and consult on authentic Thai dishes to the Thais at the prestigious Suan Dusit College – a high if controversial honour indeed for a man still considered a “farang” to many Thais, despite being able to speak, read and write Thai – an achievement that in itself is hard not to be in awe of.

Needless to say, our trip to Thailand earlier in the year also included a mandatory special honeymoon dinner at David Thompson’s Nahm restaurant in Bangkok – the sister restaurant to Nahm in London (the first Thai restaurant to ever be awarded a Michelin star) and not long after we visited, the Bangkok branch was voted into the World’s 50 Best Restaurants at number 50.

Getting a reservation at Nahm wasn’t too arduous, although my original reservation request mysteriously ended up with the London branch, however finding Nahm in person was another matter. Nahm is located within the grounds of the Metropolitan Hotel, a hotel that one might be tempted to (mistakenly) refer to via the shortened name, The Met. The hotel is located on South Satorn Rd in Sathorn, in the Bangkok CBD. Confusingly then a mere 500m away from the Metropolitan Hotel, also located on South Sathorn Rd is a recently erected, fancy, award winning condo building called “The Met“, and quite frankly both the condo’s signage and its visibility in the Bangkok skyline is a lot more prominent than the discreet (hidden) signage at the hotel. We spent 30mins asking staff and residents at The Met for directions, walking up and down Sathorn Rd in the cloying humidity trying to locate the hotel. To make things more surreally confusing, a search on Google Maps for “Metropolitan Hotel Bangkok” will actually show you a photo of and directions to The Met. So if you’re heading to Nahm – check the directions carefully (I’ve provided a correct map at the bottom of this post, verified via Google Streetview) and don’t make our mistake of looking for “The Met” or assuming maps that show the “Metropolitan Hotel” are correct!

Our sweaty workout along the pavements on Bangkok was finally rewarded with the welcome sight of the Metropolitan Hotel and Nahm, a veritable mirage to us with a inviting, calming water feature and the promised of blessed air conditioning within.

David Thompson's Nahm, Bangkok at the Metropolitan Hotel (not to be confused with The Met)

David Thompson's Nahm, Bangkok at the Metropolitan Hotel (not to be confused with The Met)

The restaurant dining room hums with the muted conversation of diners and it is impossible not to admire the impressive floral displays around the room and adorning each table.

The interior at Nahm Bangkok with vibrant lashings of tropical colour

The interior at Nahm Bangkok with vibrant lashings of tropical colour

We’re greetly warmly by the staff and peruse through the menu, but quickly settle on the set menu as we’re keen to experience as many dishes and flavours as possible. We’re told that the set menu is based on the a la carte menu and comprises a number of shared dishes including canapés, a dish from each section of the main courses and dessert. At a mere 1700 Thai Baht per person or about $52AUD in today’s exchange rate, it undoubtedly rates as one of the most affordable world class fine dining meals we’ve had.

But first things first – we’re offered a very welcome glass of Prosecco, followed by 2 intriguing cocktails: the Tom yumtini, the Met Bar’s signature cocktail, which as its name suggests is a martini inspired by a tom yum soup with sharp, bright and zingy kaffir lime overtones and garnished with kaffir lime leaf, and the C3 cocktail, a take on the tom kha soup and a tasty ginger rich, lemongrassy offering.

Nahm Bangkok, Proseccos and cocktails, the Tom Yumtini and the C3

Starting off dinner with Proseccos and cocktails, the Tom Yumtini and the C3

The canapes are all brought out with a flourish, filling our table with delicious looking delicate morsels and assaulting our senses with pungent aromas. I love savoury street food snacks and these looked like they would deliver amazing punchy flavours and textures. We dug in with gusto and they didn’t disappoint.

Nahm, canapes begging to be devoured

Delicious canapes begging to be devoured

Nam poo was a sticky, sweet mound of caramelised pork sitting aplomb a wedge of pineapple. The contrast of savoury and sweet, chewy and sticky with juicy pineapple was divine.

Nahm, Nam poo - sticky caramelised pork served on juicy sweet pineapple

Nam poo: sticky caramelised pork served on juicy sweet pineapple

The smoked fish, peanut and tapioca dumpling featured chewy tapioca nuggets flavoured with incredibly smoky, pungent fish wrapped in edible chrysanthemum leaf. I loved the texture of the gooey tapioca, but the smoked fish was a little too pungent for me.

Nahm Bangkok; Smoked fish, peanut and tapioca dumplings

Smoked fish, peanut and tapioca dumplings

The oddly named coconut cup cakes with red curry of crab that arrived next were unlike any understanding I had of the term “cupcake”. In fact, I swear our waittress called them coconut crab crackers, which given what was presented is perhaps a more apt name. Regardless of whether it’s supposed to be a cupcake or cracker, it was delicious – fragrantly coconutty crab curry paste on a crunchy base.

Nahm Bangkok, coconut cup cakes with a red curry of crab

Coconut cup cakes with a red curry of crab

The Southern-style grilled mussels were small but plump and very tender, skewered and grilled with a hint of smokiness, and refreshed with the paired cucumber bites. They were simple and tasty and made me long for a cold beer to accompany them.

Nahm, Bangkok, Southern style grilled mussels

Southern style grilled mussels

Our favourite of the starters was the spicy pork on betel leaf.  The pairing of salty spicy pork with shallots, crunchy roasted sticky rice and a generous smattering of herbs was sensational. The betel leaf rounds out the flavours and textures adding extra crunch and a hint of bitterness.

Nahm Bangkok, spicy pork with mint, peanuts, crunchy rice on betel leaf

Spicy pork with mint, peanuts and crunchy rice on betel leaf

The starter dishes were cleared away and before my brain had time to compute and process my waning appetite, an impressive showcase of mains spilled out before us, featuring dishes from each section of the a la carte menu and kickstarting the Pavlovian response all over again.

Nahm Bangkok and the impressive showcase of mains

Impressive showcase of mains

First up was the tom yum soup with chicken. As we’ve made this recipe, the flavours were very familiar, yet different to ours – I figured it was more rounded and with greater dept of flavour than our rendition with enormous slippery straw mushrooms to boot.

Or, it could also be that it was debilitatingly head banger lava hot spicy, seemingly injecting capsaicin into my every vulnerable unsuspecting orifice and we both erupted in a fit of desperate panting, ear aches and blinding searing pain. Thankfully, the chilli pain from each spoonful of soup was short lived, just painful enough for us to take a few sparing sips at a time and waiting for enough recovery before heading back in for more pain. Although I would have personally preferred that it was a notch down on the scoville scales, we both liked and respected that it was unapologetic in flavour and spice levels. The original David Thompson tom yum recipe called for up to 15 birds eye chillis, affectionately known as “scuds”, and I wondered whether we’d just unwittingly experienced what 15 scuds tasted like.

Nahm Bangkok, Tom yum gai, hot and sour soup of chicken

Tom yum gai - hot and sour soup of chicken with straw mushrooms, lemongrass, chilli and lime

Representing the curry section was a beef massamun – one of the Co-pilot’s favourite curries and one we’ve tried to make a few times ourselves. Tasting versions like this makes the amateur cook want to throw in the towel and wonder why they bother trying at home at all. This version was incredibly good – the beef was flakingly, meltingly tender, packed with aromatic toasted coconut, soft and squishy stewed shallots and the entire dish brimming with rich, unctuous, mouth coating flavour. The cucumber relish side provided a sweet and sour contrast to cut through the richness when it became overwhelming.

Nahm Bangkok, beef mussaman curry with shallots and golden yams

Beef massaman curry with shallots and golden yams

From the stir fried category, we we served the stir fried fish dumplings with pak warn sporting familiar Cantonese style flavours with roasted garlic and salty soy and oyster sauce. It was oily, savoury and a contrast to the Thai flavours presented in all the other dishes. Pak warn turned out to be water mimosa, a vegetable not often seen gracing mainstream restaurant menus with a flavour and texture somewhere between asaparagus and Chinese broccoli (gai larn). But it was the fish dumplings that were being showcased here – these were very good. Chinese connoisseurs of fish dumplings seek that elusive al dente texture in fish dumplings (literally “bounce tooth” in Cantonese) – a feature so desired that there’s even a popular HK movie made about it. These were possibly the best fish dumplings I’ve had. No sign of doughy, tough fish balls here – just perfectly al dente.

Nahm Bangkok, stir fried fish dumplings with pak warn, water mimosa

Stir fried fish dumplings with pak warn

A simple, refreshing salad of soft shell crab paired with juicy parcels of pomelo hid a more sinister surprise: dried blisteringly hot chillis masquerading as fried crab legs. I discovered this the hard way, again.

Nahm Bangkok, soft shell crab with chilli and pomelo

Soft shell crab with chilli and pomelo

The relish section offering was minced prawn and pork simmered in coconut cream and served with fried carp and fresh vegetables. The fried cured carp was very moist but a little too bony and fiddly for the Co-pilot, whereas the vegetables were very much savoured with ..er.. a relish. The flavours weren’t powerful statements, but with every other dish vying for my senses I was glad for the rather mellow change of flavours and it fantastically soothing for my chilli assaulted mouth to boot.

Nahm, Bangkok, minced prawn and pork curry relish, deep fried cured carp

Minced prawn and pork simmered in coconut cream with young chillies, red shallots and coriander. Served with fresh vegetables and deep fried cured carp

The last of the mains was a surprise complimentary addition personally delivered by David Thompson himself with his congratulations! Despite being peak dinner service, we really appreciated him making an appearance, and coming over to our table to have a brief chat. We were pleasantly surprised that he was at the restaurant at all, given many head chefs these days take a hands off approach and to be honest, we were both a little in awe. And given my love for crab, his complimentary dish couldn’t have been a better choice – it was a coconut and turmeric blue swimmer crab curry – a creamy, rich curry to compliment the generous morsels of sweet blue swimmer crab flesh with a surprisingly acidic and tangy kick from the calamansi leaves.

Nahm Bangkok, coconut turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab

Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi leaves

After the slew of mains, we were beyond satiated and very ready to call it a night and roll out of the dining room, but given we were just one dish away from completion, found just enough strength to pull through the final dessert course. But first, a palate cleanser of rose apple slices heaped with a mound sugar, salt and chilli as a palate cleanser. These were crunchy, cleansing and sweet with just the tiniest hint of spice. Ironically, despite getting no warning of chilli content at any point during our meal, our waitress chose this offering to warn us of the potential spice content but we could barely detect the spice and it certainly had nothing on the lava like tom yum! Or perhaps the tom yum capsaicin assault had caused the sensors in our tongues to shut down and we were immune to further capsaicin offensives.

Nahm Bangkok, rose apple palate cleanser

A rose apple palate cleanser served with a sugary salt with a barely perceptable hint of spice

The palate cleanser achieved its job and we were just refreshed enough to fit in dessert. We’d chosen the black sticky rice with longan, shredded young coconut and caramelised taro. Like most Asian desserts, the focal point was not just about delivering cloying sweetness but the interplay of contrasting textures: soft, chewy black sticky rice: fresh, fleshy longans; hard and crunchy sweet caramelised taro nest and the tender strands of young coconut.

Nahm Bangkok, black sticky rice longans coconut caramelised taro

Black sticky rice with longans and coconut served with caramelised taro

It was a fitting end to an amazing and intelligent meal – the experience was simply fantastic: fresh produce, a challenging and complex myriad of authentic flavours and dishes, and a cacophony of textures to wreak havoc with your oral senses. And once again, I have to mention the value it is far more than anyone would normally expect to pay for a meal in Bangkok, but this can’t be compared to normal Bangkok restaurant fare. A mere 1700 Baht for a comprehensive World’s Top 50 Best Restaurant experience is simply unbelievably good value and I’ll definitely be back the next time I’m in Bangkok.

.

Nahm, Bangkok

Metropolitan Hotel

27 South Sathorn Rd

Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120

Open for lunch: Mon-Fri, noon – 2pm; dinner: daily 7pm – 10:30pm (last order)

Telephone reservations: +66 2 625 3388

Email reservations: nahm...@comohotels.com

www.comohotels.com/metropolitanbangkok/dining/nahm


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 joey@FoodiePop September 10, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Looks stunning. Just the textures are making me hungry.
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2 Trisha September 10, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Wow wow wow, what a feast! I bet your tastebuds were all jumping up and down in glee with all these absolutely wonderful flavours!
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3 Alvin Julian September 11, 2012 at 1:28 am

These foods are really delicious and thanks for excellent pictures.

4 Blue Apocalypse September 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I went to Nahm when I was in Bangkok last year and it was the highlight of my trip. The food was amazing and redefined for me what Thai food was. Reading through your post has brought back lots of memories :)

Ai-Ling

5 Richard Elliot September 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Sathorn road can definitely be a confusing place. I stayed there on my first trip to Thailand and it took me quite a while to find my hostel.

Nahm in London was on my radar before I moved to Australia and I almost made it there for a farewell meal, but it never happened. Hearing David Thompson talk at Gleebooks and doing the Thai Cookery Course at Sailors Thai were two of my highlights of living in Sydney. Seeing your post has reminded me of Nahm and I’ve just booked a table there for next week.

I can’t believe the selection of food you got as part of the set menu. I’m hoping that we get the same although I fear in London things might be a little scaled back (even if it is double the price).

Next time you are in Bangkok the Banyan Tree hotel next door has a good roof top bar and I’ve also heard that a couple of David Thompson’s proteges have left Nahm to open up their own restaurants and they are worth checking out too.
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6 Kate Witherspoon September 17, 2012 at 1:51 am

That’s is one place I have to visit on my tour to Bangkok this coming December. The food there looks really yummy!

7 The Food Sage September 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

We got slightly lost on the way to Nahm last year … left it a bit late to catch the Sky Train, then couldn’t find the hotel and quarrelled in the street like a cat and mouse. When we finally stumbled petulantly into the lobby of the Metropolitan the cool calmness worked it’s magic and we had one of the best meals of the trip. I loved the ambience of Nahm, low lighting, gentle, sexy, lounge music, and of course the tremendous food. Would go back in a heart beat. Your photos truly do justice to the dishes, Trina.
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8 Forager January 3, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Hey Joey – It was an amazing meal and I’ve sent others travelling to Bangkok there too. Really delicious flavours and interesting textures

Hey Trisha – You’d definitely love it – they’re not shy with the spice levels either!

Hey Alvin – Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for dropping by!

Hey Ai Ling – every time I look at the pictures it makes me smile and then salivate. I’m definitely going again the next time I’m in Bangkok

Hey Richard – great tip! I’ll definitely check out the Banyan Tree bar next time I’m there

Hey Kate – It’s definitely a great contrast to the excellent and abundant street food and street side eateries you can get in Bangkok. Well worth the visit

Hey Food Sage – haha, that sounds just as annoying and befuddling as our attempt to find the place! They’ve got to update their directions I think!

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