In anticipation of our London Cooking Club, “Thai by David Thompson” on 23rd October 2010, I thought I would try and up my game by visiting Nahm, David’s own Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Belgravia.
Opened in 2001 and housed at the discreet boutique hotel “The Halkin”, Nahm is a rather intimate restaurant – the small dining area is decorated predominantly in wood, and in lighter shades of bronze and gold. This is also the kitchen where Andy Oliver (2009 Masterchef Finalist) earns his crust, and writes candidly about it in his blog "The Cook's Broth" which I have followed for some time.
Having taken a week's full-time course at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School last year, and more recently volunteered at the kitchen of Charuwan, one of my favourite Thai restaurants in North London, I feel quite enthusiastic about this cuisine.
A Thai meal, unlike a Western one comprising of starter, main course and dessert, will ideally consist of several dishes including a relish (nahm prik), a salad, a soup, a curry and a stir-fry, grilled or deep-fried item. The balance of flavours and textures is as important in the make-up of an individual dish as it is when designing an entire meal.
Nahm's a carte la menu is divided into these five categories - dishes can be ordered individually or as part of a "Nahm Arharn", a traditional Thai meal - a set meal where a dish from each category can be chosen and shared with another diner for £60 per person. Unless you request otherwise, all five dishes will be brought to your table at once. I requested to start with the salad and soup, and have these followed by the curry, relish and grilled seafood.
In retrospect, I think this was a mistake as the cooling salad would have been the perfect accompaniment to the hot green curry. In addition, Thai dishes are not normally served piping hot; with many eaten at room temperature.
The first hors d'oeuvres on the evening we visited were “Ma Hor” - small pieces of pineapple and segments of mandarin topped with a delicious mixture of minced pork, chicken and prawn paste. They had a lovely balance of sweet (palm sugar), nutty (roast peanuts) and salty (fish sauce) against the slightly sour fruit and were the perfect match to the cocktails Dr G and I ordered.
The cocktail list is comprehensive but we settled on a “Jasmine Martini” @ £12 (Jasmin-infused Brannvin vodka, shaken with Cointreau and Acacia honey) and a “Bramble” @ £12 (Millers Gin with crème de mures and lemon juice served with crushed ice).
The second hors d'oeuvres were the most delectable and fine “Coconut cupcakes with red curry of crab” @ £14.50, the pastry was very delicate while the crab in red curry whet the appetite.
The “Scottish scallop salad with coconut, asian citron and lemongrass” @ £24 was also very good - it tasted refreshing with a combination of meaty scallops, lemongrass and other herbs. It had been dressed in a coconut and citric sauce and topped with fine shreds of kaffir lime leaves and bitter orange.
The star of the evening was in my opinion the “Double steamed oxtail soup with mooli and asian celery" @ £10. The soup base was light but highly concentrated and bursting with flavour. Despite being a savoury soup, it had a sweet quality to it probably from the double steamed oxtail meat. The mooli (white radish) was perfectly tender and had taken on the gorgeous flavours of the broth and meat. It was a perfect bowl of soup.
Our relish of choice (nahm prik) was “Prawns and shrimp paste simmered in coconut cream, with braised mackerel and white turmeric” @ £18. This was an interesting dish and one I had not tried before despite seeing it everywhere in Thailand in many different forms. “Nahm prik” is a spicy chilli paste served with rice and a medley of vegetables or green leaves, and prepared mainly with fish paste, garlic, fresh chillies, fish sauce and lime juice. Nahm’s version had a wonderful combination of different flavours and textures and introduced a style of Thai dish I would like to learn more about.
The “Razor clams chargrilled with a southern style curry” @ £23 had some interesting flavours but were unfortunately slightly overcooked and therefore tough. The southern provinces of Thailand are predominantly Muslim and the cooking reflects this. In general, dishes tend to be heavier, rich, very hot and spicy. This dish was surprisingly light, but despite the interesting flavours, it was in my opinion our weakest choice.
A Thai meal would not be complete without a curry – the “Green curry of crispy sea bass with white turmeric and thai basil” @ £25.50 was richly flavoured, with hints of aniseed, coconut and the potent heat of the green curry. Having the crisp fish rather than the more common chicken was a nice touch and I felt it combined well with the other ingredients in the dish.
Asia is hardly a hot-spot for sophisticated desserts as we know them in the West, but having eaten silly amounts of black sticky rice pudding in Chiang Mai, I was keen to try this restaurant’s take on my favourite Thai dessert. Nahm’s “Black sticky rice with coconut cream and corn served with banana fritter” @ £12.50 was however disappointing. The black rice and the coconut base were bland and the accompanying crispy batter was also tasteless and at odds with the dish.
The “Steamed pumpkin filled with coconut custard” @ £12.50 was fortunately a much better choice. I enjoyed the combination of soft pumpkin and coconut custard and felt it worked very well together. This is one of the recipes that we will be cooking at our London Cooking Club on 23rd October 2010, and I cannot wait to try it again.
Twelve diners, mostly readers of this blog, will be cooking recipes from David Thompson's Thai Food and Thai Street Food cookery books at my home in Islington as part of our monthly cooking club. For more information, please see the London Cooking Club page.