It has almost been a year since I visited Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, renowned for its molecular deconstruction of Thai classics, but at the time, the other place we went to during the trip – known to the world as Noma – totally outdid it. I particularly did not enjoy my meal at Kiin Kiin then. Reasons? The price was, to me, unreasonable; the ambiance un-charming; the meal un-balanced; and the cuisine bizarrely not Thai. So, why should I bother going to Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin recently opened its door at the new Siam Kempinski Hotel in downtown Bangkok? Well, I was just wanting to check out the humoured-to-be O! so posh hotel and also died to see how this “bizarrely not Thai” food would fit in Bangkok’s fine dining scene.
First impression … of the hotel. Grand, too grand. I felt I was in some 7-star hotels in the Bahamas. The drainage in the toilet wasn’t very good though as the foul smell hit my nose while I was tidying myself for the restaurant.
First impression … of Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin. Grand. Very, very grand! I never walked into a restaurant with such a high ceiling as this. Probably I did at Ducasse au Plaza Athenee but then I was too fixated by the water drop crystal chandeliers. Decor-wise, it was traditional Thai but with out-of-this-world extravagance. Say, mini paddy fields, Thai teak house, a lot of dark reflexive mirrors on the walls to multiply our perception of space, tables well spread out as if to secure enough privacy for loaded Bangkokian urbanites.
The menu. I went for lunch. There were very few dishes to choose from. They did a 3-course set lunch priced very fairly at 1500 Baht, including some nibble at the beginning and petit four at the end. Trying to make the most of my second Kiin Kiin experience, I asked the manager if I could order an extra dish making it a four-course lunch. Not only that she happily accommodated my request, she also re-checked with the kitchen the serving order of the dishes and came back to inform me. Thoughtful, helpful – ticking all my boxes. While waiting I was asking for the dinner menu so I had something to graze on, well, visually. For dinner? There was only one tasting menu of 8-or-so courses, looking almost identical to what I had in Copenhagen. They charged 4500 Baht in Bangkok, which was cheaper than its brother restaurant but still quite a bill to pay in Thailand. Dishes were, more or less, similar to the lunch menu, but yes, instead of choosing 3 dishes out of 8, you’d probably get all written in the menu. No comment here as I should get writing about the food!
The table was laid …
First up. The nibble of Prawn Tapioca with Chilli Dip, Kaffir Lime Scented Lotus Root Crisps, and Soy Meringue Roasted Cashew. They were, what I’d say, the most “foreign” in flavours during my meal. That said, all was good. Crispy prawn tapioca which went perfect with the dip. The dip itself was interesting – mousse-like and very bouncy! With all the flavours combined, I felt as if I was eating a prawn cocktail reconstructed in a Thai way. The lotus root crisps were crispy, aromatic and with a touch of sweetness; the meringue was chewy and with the rather well-balanced saltiness from the soy.
Then the first starter of Frozen Red Curry with Lobster and Coriander. The fragrance of the kaffir lime leaves fused with coriander made my tummy rumble. There was a pause, however, as the dish came with a bit of theatricality, a jug of liquid nitrogen to be poured underneath the plate to maintain the sub-zero temperature and stop the frozen curry from melting. I was not sure if this theatricality could easily be substituted with a very chilled plate?
Taste-wise, the frozen curry could be described in such a more ordinary term as “ice cream” and it possessed all the flavours a Thai red curry should: spicy, salty and sweet. I found this rather extraordinary! Pieces of the lobster – yes, just thin pieces – were nicely cooked and presented with finely sliced Thai shallots/red onions adding a crunchy texture contrast and also some refreshing heat, while the longan sweetened up the dish and took away the burn. I was very surprised to say that I did enjoy the dish very much.
My second course Wagyu Beef Salad with Orchids and Spicy Marinate was, however, startlingly less innovative. I found the heat to be a little too strong for my liking – a ploy to sell more drinks? – but not to the point that it overpowered the dish. The Wagyu cut into mini cubes was perfectly seared and well marinated. Very tender and oozing the chilli. The orchids and the shoots didn’t do much for me. I thought the neutrality of them was not enough to even out the heat. And the level of innovation of this dish seemed to jar with the rest of my meal. If I had this dish not knowing it were from Kiin Kiin, I would have straightaway identified it as from Nahm.
So far, I had one REALLY HIT course and one nearly hit. My anticipation for the main Red Snapper in Green Coconut Curry and Beetroot became very high. And it arrived …
Don’t judge just yet! I tucked in, with a bowl of nicely steamed rice. The GREEN curry was hidden underneath the red beetroot foam and so was the fish – perfectly cooked to flake. Flavour-wise, the sweetness from the beetroot provided the “sweet” element of the dish as the term “Gang Kiew Wan” meant in Thai, though not the essential colour. What’s interesting was that these were beetroots in textures: foam, raw batons, dehydrated crisps, which I felt, did amuse my palate. Also, this dish tasted shockingly Thai. Say, if I had it blindfolded, I wouldn’t have known it did look this foreign! So, another love dish.
Desserts? I was tempted to ask for two but with the jeans that could barely accommodate a 3-course meal I settled for the Pandan Pudding or Sang-Ka-Yar Bai-Teoy, the dish I had eaten before in Copenhagen and the one that stuck in my taste memory. Inspired by Thai pandan custard with toast, this dish was a re-interpretation. The pandan custard – hereby referred to as Sang Ka Yar – came in three different forms and textures, the mousse, the tapioca, the ice cream, served with amazingly spongy pistachio bread. Just heavenly, the very Thai flavours of Sang Ka Yar – sweet, creamy and aromatic – were all there but the new contrasting textures added dimension to the dish. Another love, really.
The petit four of Banana Financier, Coconut Marshmallow, White Chocolate with Khao Mao, and Dark Chocolate Truffle was equally stunning. My last love of the day went to the white chocolate piece that had all the crunch of a ganache. I could not fault this petit four, seriously. While I was licking my lips (and fingers), head chef Morten Bojstrup, Nahm-trained and whom I faintly recalled to have met during my visit in Copenhagen, came over to my table for a chat. One very passionate and enthusiastic guy. He was temporarily relocated to Bangkok to oversee the opening.
Daring food, highest quality produce – way fresher than in Copenhagen – and the price tag that I wouldn’t need to whore myself for a meal. That was one almost faultless food experience I had ever had!
There remained two big questions. First, why did I dislike my first Kiin Kiin experience? I’d say, in the Copenhagen context, Kiin Kiin seemed misplaced. For a Thai person, to enjoy the cuisine by Kiin Kiin is perhaps to be able to associate what one eats with what one has had. Also, in Kiin Kiin’s defence, after I had this meal at Sra Bua, I could vouch it was an innovative Thai food with authentic Thai flavours, NOT what most Thais would describe as “fusion” food. This is that sort of food of memory manoeuvred by a scientific cooking approach to be recognised and appreciated by means of association. I could barely associate any – apart from the pandan dish – while in Copenhagen, hence my comment “bizarrely not Thai”. Here, perhaps because it was my second Kiin Kiin experience, I understood it more and grew to love it. It was such a breath of fresh air in Bangkok’s fine dining scene long dominated by traditional Thai restaurants with an untraditional price tag and “western” eateries that tried so hard to be fancy.
Second question? For Thai food lovers, why should they be bothered to come eat re-constructed Thai food? Well, they shouldn’t. I did not feel the place would attract regular diners as the menu was still very limited in choice. And yes, there might not be the need to go extra miles – from liquid nitrogen to alchemy – to achieve the authentically Thai taste, but it was fun, to me at least, when they did it, like once in a while you’d feel like skate-boarding through the city instead of taking the overcrowded tube.
My head rating says, “9 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.
It’s also just about time to wish you all …
A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
And thank you for reading me in the last 3-4 months
SRA BUA BY KIIN KIIN
Siam Kempinski Hotel
991/9 Rama I Road
Tel. +662 162 9000