Tag Archives: Thai

TASTING AUSTRALIA 2010 – ADELAIDE DIARY

DAY 3

Up early – can’t seem to sleep beyond 5.15 at the minute, in whatever time zone. Walkabout for massive glass of squeezed fruit juice – orange, pineapple, mango, passion fruit, that will do nicely. Then weakened and nipped into Arcade for 2 x double shot flat whites and a bacon butty. Nice Chinese girl directed me to a restaurant called ‘Mongok’ – “spicy and cheap, I’m a student, need cheap”. Nothing changes.

Nipped into a couple of wine merchants. Prices in Oz have crept up to approaching ours (or maybe ours have come down). The revelation was NZ Oyster Bay Sauv B for which they charge around Aus$20 and make your feel they are doing you a favour for letting it go so cheap. Currently you can buy it in Dublin for the equivalent of Aus$14-15 are the Kiwis dumping here?

On a whim grabbed the guitar and caught tram to Glenelg, the Adelaiders’ nearest seaside scene. A strange, quiet, pleasant-though-faded resort – redolent maybe of the ones on the Bristol Channel, Weston SM, Portishead that I remember from trips on ‘the diesel’ from Temple Meads in my teens. Sat on beach and learned new song – played it to the seagulls because the locals don’t do that beaches and autumn thing.

Then went for oysters – rocks from Coffin Bay, much saltier/spicier than normal gigas and altogether a good eat.

Back to Adelaide, stowed the box and hiked up to Gouger for a late lunch. I love the Star of Siam – some of the freshest Thai food you’d get anywhere, enhanced by sensitive cooking. Always a buzz too. As is usual in SA, eating alone does not mean ‘eating alone’. A couple of nice solicitors (oxymoron, I know) invited me to join their table and I learned an expression new to me – “a cleansing ale”; a bon mot and habit I will henceforth adopt. Characteristically this led on to more cleansing ales and a few glasses of uncleansing Sauvignon Blanc. Oops, it’s half past five!

Back to the Hyacon, where my cronies are rocking up. Met Bisham, unbowed despite his amazing experiences in the Taj Mahal Mumbai and enthuisiastic as ever. Paul Rankin came in and greeted me like a long lost bro, or maybe in view of the horseplay that ensued the following week, ‘father’ would be more appropriate (more anon). Press room now up and running. In the longe I found Tom and Kaylene Murray, Rick Allen, Brenda Christian and David Bowden. Also greeted by that very nice guy/great chef Shannon Bennet from Vue de Monde, Melbourne. Cue for more oysters – Coffin Bays and Tassies (sweeter) – waved down with good Eden Valley Riesling.

In evening to house of Michael Angelis. Found Maggie Beer in the kitchen, flashing that 1000 watt and dead genuine smile. Treated to seafood festival – oysters, mussels, crab, lobster, clams, various white fish, smoked salmon and thg best taramasalata I’ve ever tasted. Wonderful wines too and some Talisker 10 to top off the evening. Most generous hospitality – it will live long in the memory. Met 80-something going on 16 Manchester Manmwho’s a TV gardening expert legend on Oz.

Later to a quiescent Apothecary with AWT and Rankin. Last time I was there the place was pure people – ebullient chefs, mostly. But then it was 11.45 at night. Bish found us as we knew he would. Managed to avoid going to Crazy Horse on way home (phew!!!).

DAY 4

The serious stuff begins, I have an 11am tasting, a Coonawarra Vignerons Masterclass.

Long before 9am the media centre is kicking in. Should perhaps mention that the Media Centre at Tasting Australia is an object lesson for the world’s event organizers. Take a bow, Monjava coffee who, IMO, provided a nicer product than the correct but rather bland Illy of the years before – boosted by a barista who really knows what a ‘double shot flat white’ is and, furthermore, can really do latte art. Throw in fresh crossants, yoghurt, a selection of fresh fruit and you have a good healthy start to the day, the more so if you could manage the somewhat penitential muesli bars – truly an edible hair shirt. Well, semi edible!

Then, in the afternoon, when you come back hot and tired from a trip there’s a fridge full of ‘cleansing’ James Squire ale – the IPA was my fave, followed by the ‘Golden’ (which they’ve snuck on to Quantas, I’m pleased to say). Had to sample the minerals, though (to my shame) I can’t remember the maker’s name – good old fashioned ginger beer and sarsaparilla among them. Barossa vignerons were taking it in turn to showcase their wines. Great to see big Bob McLean.

The inner journo was also kept topped up by decent salamis and cheeses – one day Australia’s Grand Fromage Will Studd drops by and unloads a big wheel of Montgomery Cheddar (bliss in the round).  Oysters, too, made an appearance along with other gourmet goodies throughout the week.

We didn’t have to go far for the Masterclass – up two flights of stairs. It was headed up by Pete Bissell, Sandrine Gimon and Paul Gordon, respected winemakers all. The aim was to explore vintage variation within the region and to this end they showed us examples of 2004 (cool) and 2005 (hot) vintages, also 2007 and 2008, falling into a similar pattern. I guess early ripening during the early 2000s has made the winemakers conscious of climate change and they are looking to adapt the wines accordingly. Had an interesting cross-discussion with American wine writer Kelly Hayes who preferred the more generous 2005s whereas me, having a more typically European palate plumped for the leaner, maybe more complex 2004s. Anyhow, a worthwhile and interesting exercise. Lunch followed in the hotel.

A bit of a doss afternoon as more denizens of grub and grape arrived. In the evening we were split into groups and taken to dinner. We went to the Lion Hotel, a historic building in North Adelaide  turned into a thoroughly modern gastropub – unlike some of the limp Dublin efforts, a true gastropub. Tim proved a most generous ‘Mine Jovial Hoste’ and I had one of the best steaks I’ve had in years, a large ‘scotch fillet’ which, as far as I could tell, is a T-bone with the bone removed, from the Coorong. It was cooked rarer than rare then given a quick turn around the rotisserie. Coupled admirably with Langmeil’s wonderful Freedom shiraz. No space for anything afterwards but squeezed in a brace of excellent homemade ice creams. Much to my disgust we didn’t stay for the Thursday night shindig afterwards. Bloody wimps!

Koh

Given the nature of my calling, I get to stay in hotels quite a lot. Sometimes it’s a pleasure; at others, a chore. The best hotels envelop you like a silk dressing gown, helping you endure the stresses of air travel, which are, as I’m sure you know, considerable. The worst are like a penitent’s hair shirt, the constant itch reminding you it was folly to leave home. implements1

I have my favourites – and for different reasons. I love the calm and karma of the Japanese rooms in Munich’s Kempinski Vier Jahreszeiten; the ‘feels like home’ reassurance of the Hyatt in Adelaide; the friendly staff at the Poseidon in Positano; the sinful luxury of Villa D’Este on the banks of Lake Como – all these help balance the far more numerous ones where ‘comfort’, ‘efficiency’ and ‘civility’ are alien concepts.

My favourite hotel in London is The Halkin. First time I stayed there my bed was so capacious I had an urge to phone up old friends to say “Come over, we’ll have a party, re-enact The Summer of Love.” There was this massive remote, the size of a dinner plate, that seemed to command everything from the curtains to the temperature of the bath water. Best of all, it had a Thai restaurant on the premises that grew to be one of my all-time favourites. It’s called Nahm.

Nahm, brainchild of talented Aussie chef David Thompson, is the benchmark by which I judge Thai food. The cooking there has what you could call ‘an unbelievable lightness of being’ – the broths are not muddy, the spices not fused into a ‘sweetness’ or ‘hotness’ remain identifiable yet, concurrently, contribute in sensible manner to making the whole dish memorable. Difficult to explain, but I know what I’m looking for and I’m always disappointed when a Thai restaurant misses the mark by a country mile, as is too often the case.

I took Daughter Two, over on a flying visit, for a pint in The Clarence. Then we walked over the Millennium Bridge and down the alley. Koh is located at the far end, incongruous among the Italians and Italophiles that populate this sector of the daftly-named ‘Quartier Bloom’. I had tried a couple of times to book a table when the restaurant first opened but someone else’s favourable review had the place packed.

There were tables outside but only a couple of hardy souls were using them; inside, a hubbub of conversation, entirely female. Apparently Koh’s ‘Mixo’ is a smart lad who’s won prizes for his ingenious alcoholic confections so the ladies who lounge were all climbing into cocktails. How could we not follow suit? We commandeered a Manhattan and a Pomegranate Mountie, speciality of the house. The Manhattan, made properly, is a thing of wonder. From the ingredients you’d expect it to taste sweet and cloying but it doesn’t.

After a civilized interval we were shown to the restaurant, a decently got up dining room with a couple of private booths, tables round the edge and a long communal table (in true Thai fashion) down the middle of the room. We took one of the peripheral tables and settled down to the task of choosing food and suitable accompanying wine. Thai is not the easiest cuisine to match. White works best but the out-front spicing renders Chardonnay anaemic and Sauvignon Blanc aggressive. Some say Gewurztraminer, some say Riesling but I’m not wholly convinced. Thai food, I find, needs a touch of something dark-natured with a mite of viscosity; Gruner Veltliner fits the bill, as does Albarinho, which is what we settled on.

Thai desserts tend to be pretty mundane and, as neither of us has are particularly sweet-toothed, we figured that four starters to share, plus two mains would suffice as well as permitting us to take a wide-ranging look at what was on offer. And so it proved. The starters excited, particularly that ‘mange tout of the sea’, soft shell crab, which came accompanied by green papaya salad, cherry tomatoes and cucumber. Rachel had not had it before and loved the sea-zingy freshness and the crunch texture. The coriander, lime and cashew nut chutney that formed a bed for pan-seared king scallops was unexpectedly delightful, something I’ll try and reprise at home. The baby back ribs, glazed with hoi sin and char-grilled, were meaty and satisfying. I was glad to find the mussels Thai style were small, sweet natives not of the rubbery green-lipped inedible ilk. There was eating and drinking in this dish and the accompanying broth, which managed to be both spicy and subtle, providing a stimulus for the mains that followed.

Herself, something of a Phad Thai veteran, opined that this one was the best yet, prawns big and tasty. Praise indeed. Saucing of my red duck curry was well up to snuff and the duck, tender – something of a novelty in Dublin Thai restaurants where this dish frequently pops up. I should also make mention of the waiting staff who paced the meal beautifully. Afterwards we repaired to the bar where we made the acquaintance of the proprietor. I compliment him on the food. He said “Yes, we have some good chefs here. They don’t allow us to muck about with their mothers’ recipes.” Nice one. A convivial Galway man, he had trained at Manchester’s Midland Hotel. Rachel, also a Hotel Management graduate, had worked at the nearby Ramada so the rest of the evening passed pleasantly by in a detailed analysis of Mancunian shebeens.

Koh, Millenium Walkway, Dublin 1 Tel: 01 814 6777

The damage: €117.20 ex-service for 2 cocktails, 4 starters, 2 mains, bottle of decent wine.

Verdict: Not Nahm but not far off. Gives Dublin suburban Thai something to aim at.

Rating: ****1/2

TOTAL €117.20

Thai Green Curry

I’m not claiming total authenticity here, only that it’s a tasty half-way house between grinding your own paste via David Thompson’s book and emptying a jar of gloop into the mix.
Unlike Indian curries which take well to long simmering and steeping, Thai ones seem to benefit from being made at the eleventh hour. I made up a huge batch of this for a later in the day party and it was fine, but, to me, it lacked the oomph and zing of the version I cook on a Friday night for immediate consumption.
Not sure if I should bung the five spice in but it seems to taste marginally better if I do.
If you are a heat-freak you could bung up the quantity of chillies.

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1-2 tsp five (or seven) spice powder
1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
1 tsp coriander seeds, ground (or 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves)
1 onion, chopped
1 thumbnail-sized piece of fresh galangal or ginger, chopped
1 blade lemon grass, finely sliced
1 small red chilli (seeds in or not, to taste) finely chopped
1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and thinly sliced
1 aubergine, sliced and chopped into 15cm cubes or 200g pea aubergines, whole
2-3 dtsp Thai green curry paste
Either
1 large free range chicken skinned and jointed
Or
1 large fillet of pork, thinly sliced across the grain
Or
4 chicken breasts, skinned and sliced
or
400g peeled prawns or any combination of the above
150g button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 tins coconut milk
1 tsp Nam Pla (Thai fish sauce)
2 tsp soy sauce
4-5 kaffir lime leaves
200g sugar snap peas, whole
zest and juice of a lime

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil and fry the 5 spice, cumin and coriander for a minute before adding the onion, ginger, lemon grass, chilli, pepper and aubergine. Stir-fry them in the oil for 2 minutes then stir in the curry paste. Add the meat (unless you are using cooked prawns) and stir to coat with the paste, then add the mushrooms. Cook for a further 2 minutes then add the coconut milk, the fish/soy sauce and the lime leaves. Allow to simmer over a low heat for approx 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. After ten minutes add the sugar snap peas (and the prawns, if using). Remove from heat when the sugar snaps are cooked through but still crunchy, add the lime juice and zest and serve with plain boiled basmati or Thai fragrant rice.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thai Orchid

The Thai Orchid is located at the junction of Fleet Street and Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2, a spot where Temple Bar meets the civilized world. To a degree the location reflects the custom; the night we were there the clientele consisted of English revellers, of the sort who liked a good time but didn’t drink their lager by the neck and by the gallon; their Irish counterparts; a few Darby and Joans who looked as they’d been going there for years; and Bangles and me.
It was not an easy choice as I’d spent the afternoon in Temple Bar, dodging the rain, waiting for a chance to have a word or two with Silke Cropp, currently, thanks to the Irish Food Writers Guild, the most feted of our stellar cheese makers. This pursuit also involved some hearty alfresco dining on Frank Hederman’s smoked mussels and the ever amazing Sarah Webb’s Gallic Kitchen pies and cheesecake. There are some nights you could do without contemplating undertaking a restaurant review and this was one of them.I hung about town in early evening, pondering, fretting while drifting between Mulligan’s and Bowes’, thinking three courses and coffee was just not on. Unhungry, if there is such a word. Then Bangles rang and, sound woman, suggested the Thai Orchid.
If there’s one thing that can refurbish you to the prime of eating condition it’s one of those Thai soups, Tom Yum-something–or-other. The Thais, who are a lot niftier than we are when it comes to tucking away course after course, use soup in just such a way. As a restorative, a mid-meal aperitif, something akin to the way the Normans use their native spirit, Calvados. At a Thai meal soup is on hand throughout and a mouthful or two instantly refreshes the weary palate.
Like the story of Icarus the bird-man, the Thai Orchid may be enjoyed on two levels. We were directed to the upper one. Our initial thought was that the tables were rather too close together and this was reinforced when a party of eight climbed the stairs and claimed the table behind us. The aroma emanating from the four women in the party (at least, I hope it was the women) led me to paraphrase Noel Coward’s oft-quoted quip, “Extraordinary how potent cheap scent is” I whispered sotto voce to Bangles.
We were presented with menus. One of the extraordinary weaknesses of Western restaurants who essay Oriental food is that everything is pre-ordained as if you were dining European. It’s such a mistake to shoehorn Thai food with its great mix-and-match, pick-and-snack tradition into starter/main course/dessert. Like seeing a magnificent Mongol warlord stuffed into a dinner jacket. We did our best to avoid the pitfall by asking that food arrived at table as and when it was cooked and, no, we didn’t want the soup first. But it didn’t quite happen.
“Like many Asian cuisines, Thai cooking is a ‘throw-together’ style of cooking that allows much room for creativity. The foods in season and available fresh at the marketplace… ..are the important deciding factors of what will appear on the dinner table. Of course, a good sense of what foods and flavors work well together and a comprehensive knowledge of the basics are helpful.” The words aren’t mine. They come from a fine book, It Rains Fishes, published in 1995 and written by Thai cookery guru Kasma Loha-unchit. While they could stand as a bench test for any restaurant, they are particularly relevant to Thai food which stands or falls on freshnessand seasonality. How would the Thai Orchid measure up?
Well, the Tom Yum Koong, that’s the soup with prawns, didn’t taste as fiery as I’d hoped. Not quite dumbed-down but certainly told to hush. I can quite understand that no Saturday night reveller wants to end up in The Mater having a re-roofing job done on his mouth but I do think a little more fireworks would have been in order, particularly as the dish carried a three-chilli rating. A slight disappointment redeemed by the excellence of the two “starters” the fried squid, just off-wriggling and the melt-in-the mouth chicken dumplings. Fragrant rice arrived, every grain rolling, plus a large bowl of plain soft noodles and, almost instantaneously, beef with ginger and spring onion, a prawn dish and, to my mind the highlight of the meal, a red curry of duck with lychees and fresh pineapple in a clay pot with a night light heater underneath. Unlike a meal I’d eaten in a much more expensive Thai restaurant the week before, the flavours weren’t muddy and indistinct – here was palm sugar, there was galanagal, coriander, nam pla, Thai basil, lime leaves, everything playing a part, like musicians in a chamber orchestra, everything contributing to the whole symphony.
The wine list, as expected, didn’t win any prizes for originality. But I did find an Alsace Riesling I’d not had before and this lent an excellent counterpoint to the aforesaid musical mix. The staff, mainly young Thais, were worthy representatives of The Land of Smiles and served to enhance our enjoyment of the restaurant no end. The bill came to e104 something, ex-service, which I regard as extremely good value as its getting harder and harder to have a night out in Dublin for two without breaking into four fifties. To my shame I hadn’t even noticed the Thai Orchid’s existence before, for which I’d like to make amends by recommending it now.

Thai Orchid, Westmoreland Street, Dublin 2

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Vaguely Thai carrots

I hate fusion.
But sometimes, in order to jazz up a plain vegetable or to revive one that’s looking maybe a bit jaded you have to resort to “meddling” or “fudging” – always based, of course, on the precept that you know what works with what.
I took to my Thai stocks to breathe the kiss of life into a slightly tired bunch of organic carots, deemed too nice to throw away. Daughter One, whose judgement I respect in these matters opined that they were the nicest carrots she’d ever had, so here’s the recipe.

1 bunch carrots
1 tbsp olive oil
1 thumbnail-sized pice of galangal, chopped fine
1/4 small red chilli, chopped fine
light drizzle of Nam Pla (Thai Fish Sauce)
1 tsp palm sugar

Wash and scrape the carrots. If small, use whole, or cut into 1.5 in lengths on the diagonal, quarter turing the carrot after every cut. Parboil or steam until al dente.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and stir in the galangal and chilli, cook for a minute or two. Add the carrots, speckle with nam Pla and drizzle the palm sugar over the top. Roll in the pan until lightly caramelized on all sides.

I served it with a plain roast chicken and a wild mushroom risotto.