I once met David Thompson at his Thai Street Food book launch in Melbourne a year or so ago. He spoke to me in heavily accented Thai upon finding out that I’m Thai and autographed my copy in heavily misspelled Thai.
David Thompson is a very sweet man. And I absolutely adore his books.
Our Nahm adventure began with a few mishaps of Bangkok’s horrendous traffic during my last holiday in Thailand a few of weeks ago (which explains my absence from this blog). Our rat pack included my childhood friend, Pat, my permanent dining companion and husband, Josh and me. Having heard lots of lovely things about Nahm from various Twitterfolk and Pat who has been to Nahm previously herself, we were very excited and could hardly wait.
(Complimentary amuse bouche – ma hor – pineapple topped with sweet pork, chicken and prawn paste)
Nahm’s menu was set out in different courses of canape, salad, relish, soup, curry, stir-fry, steam & grilled and dessert – typical Thai style. For those who dine alone or are new to Thai food, a set menu (B1,700+etc.) presents a tempting option as you are able to choose from each course to get a range of tastes. We decided against the set menu as it means you’re only able to choose, for example, one curry to share between the three of us and my mathematical gut feeling is such that ordering whatever we want, and however much we want, from the menu would surely be cheaper than the three menu sets. I was right. We had seven good-sized dishes plus their sides between the three of us and came off 2000 baht cheaper than three set menus.
(Southern grilled mussels)
Our first taste of Nahm started with the complimentary amuse bouche, ma hor (‘galloping horses’), bites of pineapple slices topped with mince pork, prawn and chicken and peanut in a thick, sweetly caramelised mixture. The sweet pineapple – which should have been tart – made it a little bit too sweet for my liking.
Our appetisers on the other hand proved to have a lot more of the wow factor. The southern-style grilled mussels arrived with the backdrop of green banana leaf and a pile of cucumber. They were plump and perfectly grilled with not a hint of rubberiness. The waiter keenly explained that the mussels came from a province in the South of Thailand that I could have sworn was landlocked but nevertheless I was happy that our local mussels have come a long way. The mussels were basted with coconut milk and spices often seen paired with Thai-style satay with a note of lemongrass. They were mild, smoky and all around lovely.
(ground smoked fish, fried shallot and sugar ‘sand’ with betel leaves and watermelon)
Our second appetizer was the watermelon and fish ‘sand’ or more eloquently rhyming pla hang tang mo in Thai. This was a very old school dish that you’d hear your foodie older relatives talk about but never have the chance to try. Suffice to say, I was very excited. Nahm serves this unusual dish with a side of betel leaves. The watermelon slice is placed on the betel leave and the fish mixture is sprinkled on top and then wrapped. It was so gorgeous and refreshing. The fresh sweet taste of the watermelon balances well with the fish mixture while the betel leaves added a peppery bite. Excellent.
(Lon goong – minced prawns with shallots, chillies and coconut milk, side fruits & vegetables, fried cured fish)
Our relish course arrived shortly after. We started with the lon goong – which is a mild concoction of minced prawns simmered in coconut milk and flavoured with shallots and very mild chillies. It came with a very impressive dish of side fruits & vegetables. A lon, like other relish course here at Nahm, works almost like a dip. You take a piece of vegetable (a choice of snake bean and pennyworth leaves) or a fruit (start fruit, rose water or semi-ripened, slightly sweet mango) and take a bit of the lon and eat it with rice. Also on the side was fried cured fish which was also pretty good in its own right.
(Side vegetables and fruits from our two relish courses)
The one thing that stood out for me of the meal was that every single bite of the accompanied fruit and vegetable was absolutely top notch quality and fresh. It was a lovely change that every little detail was paid into putting all the dishes together.
(Shrimp paste relish)
Our second relish was equally good but in an entirely different way – there was the stronger flavours of the shrimp paste and a hint of coconut cream that topped it off. The side vegetables consisted of a few fragrant leaves and vegetables which contrasted with the earlier relish’s side of mildly sweet fruits. The deep-fried, garlicky softshell crab was slightly superflous in my opinion but I enjoyed it all the same.
(White turmeric salad with pork, praw and chicken)
Our first ‘salad’ course arrived after we had a good go at the two relish courses with the warning directly at Josh (aka the only white boy at the table) to ‘please be careful. Hot chillies. Dried hot chillies.’ Now, I don’t know if I ever mention it, but Josh gets his back up very easily if someone deigns to suggest he is chilli intolerant. I unfortunately paid no attention and accidentally bit into one. A total mistake. It was very, very hot. Other than the little chilli incident aside, this was probably my favourite dish (other than the watermelon, or the relishes, or the fish salad, oh nevermind). The white turmeric had a crunchy, slight gingery note to it. It was nothing like your yellow turmeric (don’t ever attempt to eat a fresh yellow tumeric, don’t say I didn’t warn you.) It had a strong lovely crunch that worked so well with the lime juice and roasted chilli dressing. Delicious.
(Cured ‘hiramasa’ kingfish salad with chillies, lime and mint)
Our next salad course was the kingfish salad. The beautiful firm flesh fish was ‘cooked’ in lime juice. The flavour was intensely tart but was all the more refreshing with the fragrant young, crunchy (rather woody) lemongrass and mint. This was Josh’s favourite but proved a bit too tart for Pat’s liking.
(Cool cucumber as a palate cleanser)
The flavours of the dishes at Nahm were quite mindblowing. And they did not tone down the chillies but rather cleverly compose non-spicy side dishes to balance out the heat. Pat and I were struggling a bit and our kind waiter noticed that we had our tongues hanging out half the way (me because I stupidly ate a chilli and Pat, well, she is a bit of a wuss) and offered us their palate cleanser of cucumber slivers and rose apple and warm palm sugar.
(Rose apple with a dollop of soft palm sugar)
It was by the most amazing palate cleanser I had ever eaten. The refreshing taste of the mildly sweet rose water with the strong palm sugar really helped with the heat. It stopped my tongue from burning almost immediately. Amazing.
At this point, we had a ‘oh my god, we ordered way too much food’ moment as we started to struggle to polish off our dishes. Because we didn’t order the set menu, the serving was ‘a la carte’ size, which meant rather large by a Thai standard. We were quite hoping that all these dishes would be it.
(Smoked fish curry with prawns, chicken livers, cockles and black pepper)
And then naturally, the literally translated ‘fish innard’ curry (that’s what they called it on the bill) more politically euphemised on the menu as ‘smoked fish curry’, arrived with its own two side dishes. Ladies and gentlemen, we ended up with 13 dishes between us. Yep, we may have had a little bit too much food.
(Gang dtai bpla)
The smoked fish curry was intensely rich and salty and very very hot. The curry featured chopped chunks of kafir limes, dried prawns, cockles and liver. It was just a dark, spicy and intensely fishy combination that we couldn’t bring ourselves to love it. It also had disfortune of being the last dish to arrive and at this point our tongues have been assaulted with so many flavours and texture that the poor ‘fish innard curry’ didn’t quite stand a chance.
Its side dish of achar, on the other hand, a sweet and sour concoction of crunchy vegetables and betel leaves, which doesn’t feature so often in Thai cuisine but lovers of Malaysian cuisine would be familiar with, was a welcome relief to the intensely hot and spicy smoked fish curry. I have to say while I was never a big fan any achar I have come across at restaurants in Australia, I was quite fond of this one.
And that concluded the end of our very epic meal. I have had many large meals in Thailand but this one was truly epic. There was so much food that I didn’t want to have breakfast, or lunch, the next day. And for those of you who know me, I have never backed down from a meal. We just didn’t have room for dessert. We did briefly consider sharing one between the three of us but we just… couldn’t fit anymore food. Did I also mentioned they kepT topping up our rice?
Overall, the food was stunningly good. It was amazing. It was marvellous. It was special. The service was well catered to the foreign business trade which the Thai in me found slightly patronising but it was extremely hospitable nonetheless. I can see how many Thais will baulk at paying this premium rate for Thai food and they would be right that they may, if they are very lucky, find Thai food this good for less money. But if you don’t live in Thailand and appreciate Thai food? Get thee to Nahm. Get thee to Nahm in a hurry while you’re in town for a truly spectacular meal.
Melbourne restaurateurs, are you paying attention to this?