Halkin Street, SW1 | http://www.halkin.como.bz/eat-and-drink/nahm | ingested Oct 10th ’09
Nahm has been on my hitlist for the longest time now. Call it curiosity with a hint skepticism, but having been nurtured on South-East Asian flavours from a very young age, food from that part of the world will no doubt always be more familiar and home cooked for me than posh haute cuisine that one needs to pay through the nose for. I think the steep prices were the only reason I procrastinated from visiting earlier. Their degustation-style banquet menus will set you back about £60 to £80 for food alone. So you can imagine how quickly I pulled the trigger in booking Nahm’s bargain £40 quid set menu as soon as I spotted it on the London Restaurant Festival week website.
Nahm @ its chic, Belgravia home, The Halkin
Word has it that Nahm’s founder David Thompson spent years in the country studying the art of Thai cuisine under one of Bangkok’s Royal Chefs. But what makes Michelin-Starred Thai food anyway? With flavours so inherently bold and complex, I frankly wasn’t sure what more Nahm could bring to the table. Making a thai curry more coco-nutty won’t exactly take it to that next level. And they don’t dish Michelin stars out for prettymeup green curry.
Starters: Ma Hor and Betel Leaves with Crab meat
What you will immediately notice at Nahm is their purists’ approach to cooking. There are absolutely no attempts to fuse Thai food with any Western influences. Just great, authentic classics face-lifted with fantastic produce, combined with a degree of complexity and depth to the flavors you would struggle to find in Thailand itself. We started with Ma Hor, a sweet-yet-salty-yet-sour-yet-spicy paste of Minced Chicken, Prawn, Chilli and Palm sugar, served on bite-size pineapple and mandarin slices. This was followed by Bettel leaves with fresh crab meat, ginger and ground-nuts in a lime and shrimp paste sauce. Flawless combinations with lasting flavours that transformed with each passing bite.
Now onto the degustation-ing part of the meal. We were invited to choose 4 dishes from their wide-ranging banquet menu to construct our royal feast, served with a generous wallop of steamed fragrant rice. We eventually settled on the below… (excuse the shortened English descriptions.. I didn’t quite commit any other Thai syllables apart from Ma Hor or the multitude of ingredients per dish to memory!)
A Herbal Ginseng soup with Shredded Chicken, Chestnuts and Cilantro
A Herb and Ginger Salad with pan-fried Squid, Pork and Dried Shrimp
Braised Poulet Noir (Black-feet Chicken) in Green Melon Broth
Salt Beef-Rib Green Curry with Pea Aubergine, Basil and Bamboo Shoots
Surprisingly, it was the simplest dish of the evening which ruled them all… The braised Chicken and Melon was absolutely divine, perfectly balanced with a depth of flavour that puts my godma’s very respectable chicken broth to shame. The chicken was as moist and tender as birds come and the melon simply melted away in the mouth, releasing its cool, therapeutic sweetness. It was a similar story with the herbal soup – its clean, clear broth had a nourishing, almost elixir-like effect. The squid, pork and dried shrimp salad was scrumptious and provided a much needed zing to contrast the purer, broth-based dishes. The combination of flavours and multi-faceted textures of the springy squid against the crispy dried shrimp was very good indeed. Ironically, the green curry, albeit boasting louder ingredients and bolder flavours than the other dishes turned out to be the least memorable of the night.
Despite the faultless food, I left dare I say a little potong steam-ed** by the tameness of the occasion. Sure, most of the dishes were perfectly balanced, but given the Michelin star asking price, I think I was expecting more than just the familiar. More awe-inspiring plating or some added fireworks in the food would not have hurt. But you gotta give the Nahm team some credit for staying true to real, authentic Thai cuisine. No nonsense or poncey sprigs of coriander. Just impeccable, refined flavours from a man who has clearly spent his life researching the exact number of lemongrass shoots to make a seriously good curry paste and the precise balance of ginseng and oriental herbs needed to brew a Chicken broth fit for the gods.
**Colloquial Malaysian slang denoting the feeling of mild disappointment when hype falls short of expectations. [Literal translation, “having one’s steam cut”]