When I was in Bangkok recently for the Re:Food forum, I was lucky enough to snag an invitation to the opening of Saawaan, a new Thai fine dining restaurant in Sathorn, helmed by Chef Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn, who has worked in fine dining kitchens across Bangkok from the Mandarin Oriental, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, The House on Sathorn, & Issaya Siamese Club.
The pretty restaurant seats just 24 guests in the dining area, plus another 6 guests at a dining counter where you have a prime view of Chef Aom and her team at work.
Each of the dishes on the 10 course menu is based on different Thai cooking techniques or concepts, and the menu loosely follows the traditional Thai way of eating, with a combination of dips, salads, stir fries, a soup, a curry and both grilled and fermented dishes.
Our meal started with a bang, with an excellent amuse bouche of “Kai luk koei” which was a sous vide egg with cream, tamarind sauce and chili oil. I loved how the tamarind bought a wonderfully tartness to what otherwise what have been a very rich and creamy little mouthful, and it was a great start to the meal.
Our next dish was a simple Yam (salad) of Tubtim Siam Pomelo, Coconut & Somsaa which was a fresh and enjoyable way to ease us into the rest of the meal.
This was followed by ‘Koi Pla’ a raw salad of Thai amberjack, roasted sticky rice powder, finely chopped Thai herbs and somsaa dressing, which was prepared tableside by Chef Aom for all the diners. I am not the biggest fan of amberjack but I really enjoyed the added “bite” that the use of toasted rice powder gave the dish, and the fresh Thai herbs made the dish lovely and aromatic.
Next up was the Dip, or ‘Nam Prik’, an absolute show stopper of a dish, made with the fat of wild rice paddy crabs from Sing Buri province, which had been mixed with Thai herbs and then grilled in the tiny crab shell, before being served with coconutty steamed sticky rice for dipping into the crab. I am a huge fan of Thai Nam Prik and Lon but this is the first time I have had such a refined version and honestly if the meal had just included another half-dozen of these delicious little crabs I would have still left extremely happy indeed!
As I don’t really eat beef, I was initially a bit unsure about the Fermented course, a spin on “Naem Nua Khao Tod’, a popular street food of fried, curried rice balls, young ginger, herbs, red okra leaf and pickled cucumber, served here topped with one-week fermented organic beef brisket. I needn’t have worried, the fermented beef added a pleasant tang to the otherwise subtle flavours of the dish and I enjoyed it a lot more than I had thought I would.
Our palate cleanser was a Mieng with Pickled Tea Leaves…
The soup course was ‘Tom Klong Hoy Nangrom’, a smoky fish soup usually made with a specially imported Jean-Paul oyster from France (which they subbed out for lobster for me seeing as I seem to have developed a very boring oyster allergy in the last year) as well as mushrooms and young palm heart. The clean aromatics of the dish managed to shine through the smokiness of the broth which made for an interesting twist on a classic.
Readers who remember my time in Cambodia will be familiar with the next dish, a Thai version of the popular Khmer Amok Trei, known in Thailand as ‘Hor Mok Bai Bua’. Of course this was no ordinary Hor Mok and was served here as a curried fish paste that had been mixed with lotus seed, lotus stem and lotus root, and steamed inside a lotus leaf that you unfurled at the table to eat, much as the lotus opens up each morning with the sunrise.
Our stir-fried dish was ‘Krapaw Pla Muk’, stir fired squid noodles in squid ink with Thai holy basil sauce & King oyster mushrooms, which was served with organic, 7-day cured duck egg yolk grated over the top of the squid to give the appearance of parmesan being grated over a plate of fresh pasta. This was another truly spectacular dish and I would go back again just for a bowl of this if I could (oh alright, with the Crab Nam Prik to start too, and then the Iberico Secreto & Pumpkin dessert to finish!) The squid had not just been cut to look like pasta, it had also been cooked so as to be just “al dente”, and who would have known that the salty squid ink would prove such a good match with the aromatic holy basil and savoury cured duck egg yolk?
‘Kor Mu Yang Tan’, is a nod to the strong tradition of grilled meats in Thai cuisine, and the charcoal-grilled Iberico Secreto pork really showed the importance of provenance. I must admit, I was a little surprised to see an imported pork dish on the menu when Sloanes offer such a good local alternative, although that said, the Iberico Secreto, which had been lightly marinated in Thai herbs before being grilled over charcoal and served with pickled cucumber and white pepper, was simply flawless and a true treat.
I’m not sure how I made it to the main course (saying that you need to be sure to go hungry is an understatement) but make it I did! The final savoury dish was ‘Kai Kati Khao Luem Pua’, Nakhon Pathom chicken roulade in a fairly obscure Central Thai curry sauce, which was served with pineapple to bring out the sweetness in the curry sauce, bamboo and “Forget Husband Rice’ a traditional Thai rice dish deemed so good that it will make wives forget their husbands!
Our pre-dessert was a wonderfully refreshing lime and sawtooth coriander sorbet…
If I had been full when the main course arrived, dessert was enough to make me forget all of that & want to start again. Their wonderful Pastry Chef Arisara ‘Paper’ Chongphanitkul, who worked alongside Chef Ian Kittichai at Issaya Siamese Club, Chef Issaya Cooking Studio, and Issaya La Pâtisserie, served us “Sangkaya Fak Thong’ a modern take on the classic Thai steamed pumpkin and coconut milk. Little mouthfuls of steamed pumpkin and coconut milk are served alongside coconut rum jelly, pumpkin mousse, salted coconut milk & crumbled sponge and biscuit. Each mouthful bought new flavour combinations and it was a stunning end to what had been a truly impressive meal.
Prices – 10 course menu 2,500++ /// Wine Pairing 1,950++ /// Tea Pairing 680++
39/19 Soi Suanplu, Sathorn Road
Tel. +66 (0)2 679 3775-6
Saawaan is open for dinner Wednesday to Monday from 6pm to 11pm. Closed Tuesday.
* I was an invited guest, however as always, all thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own*