Unless you have been hiding under the stairs having your news filtered through Radio Alaska for the past month, you will already know about Nahm - the latest venture from renowned Chef, David Thompson, who has closed his famous Sidney restaurant Darley Street Thai and forsaken laid back Oz for the methane gloom of London.
Thompson has opened the much hyped, fullsomely praised Nahm in the sooo cool it freezes your face off, Halkin Hotel in Belgravia, after a brief stint at busaba ethai in Soho last February. When I went back to busaba ethai last month with Patricia Wells the restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune, Thompsons influence seemed to have rubbed off quicker than lipstick in the shower. Our food ranged from the average to the untouched. The butternut squash in my curry was uncooked, the spring rolls tasted mainly of cooking oil, and Patricias green curry was an insipid broth - whose few pieces of flaccid chicken had that chewed pre-digested look and were harder to find than a builder in August. Busaba remains, however, a popular destination with people eager and aimless enough to queue outside for a table, so we may have been unlucky.
Nahm is a different kettle of chips altogether - Thompson has plans to revolutionise The Halkins food operation from breakfast to room service, with sophisticated authentic Thai cuisine in the recently revamped restaurant. The room is like the inside of a cigarette packet - complete with fat gold, filter tip pillars -and lots of golden Virginia, blonde women, with older platinum men - and presumably their similarly hued credit cards. Otherwise its a spare, rather ordinary place with plain wooden tables which has the subliminal smell of breakfast cornflakes. Its easier to imagine eating your morning muesli there rather than an expensive and elaborate Thai meal. Nevertheless, expensive and elaborate Thai it is.
THe cheery antipodean maitre d explained the menu which is divided into starters, salads, soups, curries, main dishes and stir fries, with only two choices of each. The traditional thai meal for £47 offers a selection of one dish from each section. They can do it for one person, but not for two (thereby offering a full tasting of the menu) as there isnt enough space on the table for all the dishes. Bigger tables, perhaps?
Portions are not overlarge but ample. The appetiser is four tiny canapés - minced prawns and chicken with shallots, garlic and peanuts served on a sliver of pineapple or stuffed into a slice of mandarin which gives you an idea of their dolls house proportions. Pla bon - the starter - follows; ground salmon with watermelon. I loved the crisp papery texture of the betel leaf but thoroughly disliked the fishy, salty sweetness of the mixture inside.
The remaining five dishes arrive together - or thats the plan - in our case they came like buses - three at once and then two separated by longish intervals. We chose geng bpa pla jungle curry of monkfish with shallots and coriander - a beautifully aromatic, spicy dish with just the right degree of heat - hot enough to make you sweat (does it count as exercise I wonder) and fragrant enough to satisfy the taste buds. The salad of runny duck eggs yam makreva yao was pungently eggy - enough to put my companion off, as was the chicken skin flesh of the accompanying grilled green aubergine - appearance apart the flavour was interesting and not unpleasant.. The lon dtow jiaw - minced prawns simmered in coconut cream enriched with yellow beans was divine if unevenly spicy. The sauce which you spoon over tiny shards of deep fried fish and diced sweet pork (1 small square each) was divinely full-flavoured and creamy - but inconsistent. If you happened to get a sliver, or two, of red chili, CPR, air and water were called for - none of which do much to alleviate the heat. The faint-hearted chili-phobe has to fight the fire or pick out the chili for a tamer, less intense experience, which Im ashamed to say I did. Geng jeut pla meuk yard sal - squid stuffed with chicken in a clear broth with samphire and shitake mushrooms was innocuous by comparison - though soothing (by this point, straight vodka would have been soothing) as was pat hoi shen - stir fried scallops - though with such an assault of spices it was difficult to separate the flavours. My companion - the Foie gras Michelin star Queen wished she understood Thai food better because, like spotty youths and their aversion to soap, she just didnt get it. Do you need to get it? Ethnic food keeps the palate sane and is a welcome relief after rent-a-menu, bland British food. Good flavours should be universal. Food isnt be like Conceptual Art where you have to read the study notes before you understand what youre eating - otherwise were teetering into trial by food snobbery.
Nevertheless, though a laudable attempt at providing more than the bastardised low end confectionary ethnic restaurants usually serve, I admit, I hated the puddings. The mangosteen, in particular, reminded me of Swarfega in syrup. Frankly, for a sweet tooth, Id rather have kissed the waiter - and the bill needs sugar coating.