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nahm in Bangkok – David Thompson’s return to Thailand

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, nahm at the Metropolitan hotel in Bangkok is the Australian chef David Thompson’s attempt to bring traditional Thai food back to Bangkok. He already has a highly rated 1* Michelin in London (nahm in the Halkin) and the world’s most fiendishly difficult Thai cookbook but this new opening of nahm in Bangkok is something more than that. This is him coming back to the land of his culinary inspiration.

It has also kicked off a fair bit of controversy out in Asia with some soul searching by Thai people about why a farang* person is leading the charge on high level Thai food.

Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok by David Thompson
Clear soup of roast duck with thai basil and young coconut

It is slightly difficult for me to review my meal at nahm in detail as, quite frankly, I am not competent enough in the flavours, spices and traditions involved in Thai food to be able to weigh up the successes or failings in each dish. Still, what I can say is that it was probably one of my lesser meals in Bangkok; partly by reference to food but mostly by reference to the experience.

Given my general ignorance about Thai food, my comment on the food is fairly simple; this wasn’t as good as otherworldly meals I had at Bo.lan, Sra Bua, Krua Apsorn and some of the better streetfood places*.

Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok by David Thompson
Squid in ink with sugarsnap peas

However, the biggest problem is that nahm is meant to be a serious restaurant but it felt like some middling hotel’s dining room. The interior is a touch bland – like it was modelled on a 1990′s Buddha Bar album cover - and the clientale were pretty much all Australian retirees or hotel guests in tracksuit bottoms. Coupled with service which forgot drinks, weren’t aware of or educated in the story behind the food or the ingredients, couldn’t discuss the menu with me etc. it meant that there wasn’t the buzz or expectation that comes with seriously good high end food.

I have read quite a few reviews by others on TripAdvisor etc. who have been and their experience of service is notably different. Many of them had David Thompson recommend dishes or attend them personally. I evidently didn’t get that. I didn’t get anywhere near that. I have heard he wasn’t working the night I went but I am not sure that is an answer, the problem was front of house generally and not in the kitchen (where the chef arguably should be).

Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok by David Thompson
All of this, at once, for one person

And this was made worse by the pacing. Apparently nahm is trying to do traditional “family style” serving. What this meant in practice is that I got something like 6 mains altogether. Bang. No warning. All there. I am a greedy, glutinous, overeating fool. I couldn’t even begin to cope. I started with the squid as left that goes rubbery. Then danced between soups, salads, meats and fishes and curries. All far too much. The breadth of it meant that some dishes got cold, some mouldered. All of them suffered.

Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok by David Thompson
Black sticky rice with longans and young coconut served with caramelised taro - genius

I would happily go back to nahm for the food but I would take a firm line with the pacing and ask for it to be brought out in a sensible way. Indeed two of the dishes made me want to cry with joy – a jungle curry and a black glutinous rice desert.  If served in a way which would let me savor the food and relax this meal could have been something special.

Still if you wanted to have just one high level meal in Bangkok… you need to go to bo.LAN (review to come).

  • Price – 1,700 baht for the set menu but with drinks it ended up as 3,000 baht a head
  • South Sathorn Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120, Thailand (+662 625 3388)

PS as an aside I noticed that one common brand of toilet make in Bangkok is “Nahm”. I forgot to check at the time whether they use Nahm Sanitaryware loos in the Metropolitan.

PS for the other posts on Bangkok click here.

* Thai for Westerner
* well the grasshoppers wasn’t much cop but still

14 Comments

  1. After having been to Nahm in London, I agree he’s sticking his neck out by going back to Thai-Cuisine-Mothership i.e. Bangkok at a big hotel. Us Asians don’t and never will get our home-style cuisine on fancy plates. I think for chi-chi Asian food to work, it needs to be elevated with technique and real change to the traditional recipe. I’ve got some BKK posts coming up myself, in much humbler places than yours! HF

  2. Interesting, similar criticisms to what I heard about the London branch. With Thai food I think freshness is a major factor (which is part of the reason street food is so good) so putting everything on the table at once would not be good. It might work for a family of five or six, but not for one or two. Still the food does look good, I still think it would be hard to tear myself away from the street stalls though.

    • Tom

      Yup – it was a lot of food. bo.LAN which is in two more reviews also does traditional style but it is bit more of a parade of dishes than all at once.

  3. Strange, we had what you had (perhaps plus another soup) to share and we were stuffed.

    • Tom

      I was definitely stuffed – too much food, not too little. Not complaints about the sizing, more about the pacing of the meal.

  4. I’m always disappointed with Thai food in restaurants in Thailand. It’s on the street is where it’s at ….. Always blow my mind….

  5. Gideon

    The question is, did you have beef mussaman curry and was it as good as the one i cooked for your birthday? I think Thompson hadsmanaged to put together one of the most complicated recipes in the world there.

  6. stc

    i’m partial to nahm, so maybe take this with a grain of salt. but:

    the “pacing” is intended. i’m not sure how much of a firm line you’d be able to hold.

    i’ve eaten the same meal, as a single diner, and while it’s a little overwhelming at first, i much preferred it over a fussy course by course sequence. thompson’s food — which is to say, thai food, and even more generally, a lot of asian food — isn’t the kind of food you eat a full plate of. you pick at all of them. taken together, it’s a balance.

    would you really want to eat one of the whole ‘salads’ or curries at nahm on its own (even with rice)? they’re far too strongly flavored.

    also, i think the criticism about temperature is a little misplaced. perfectly-cooked squid is just as nearly perfect at room temperature as it is just out of the wok. and, arguably, you can taste the curries better when they’re just warm than quite hot.

    what you do lose, if the one wok item in that meal was cooked properly, is that hot-wok/ ‘wok hey’ aroma, but that only means you should go for that dish first. nothing to be done about that. it happens in any cuisine or restaurant that uses a hot wok.

    you’re right on about the dining room, though, including the aussie tourists and lost hotel guests. too bad the service ate it. thompson and his food deserve a lot better than that.

    • Tom

      STC – thanks for the great comment.

      I understand that the pacing is deliberate but I think the “main” section of the meal could be divided into “two mains” that way you would still get the curry/ salad/ fish etc. combos but broken up into two manageable portions.

      I should have updated this review to reflect my experience at bo.lan where they still did family style but did break it up that touch more which made it much more manageable.

      I kind of agree about the squid but that depends if it is cooked to be eaten after 10 minutes of further cooking by being on a hot plate/ with other hot ingredients or whether it has been cooked to perfection and then ice cooled. Many dishes may taste better room temperature but they are cooked with that temperature in mind and then can stand cooling. This was cooked with a light heat in mind and as it sat it further cooked and became a bit rubbery.

      However, agree with you about the curries. I would be a happy man if I could have taken one of David Thompson’s curries away and had it for breakfast the next morning…

      Finally, I think we both agree on the overall point. There is something missing from nahm and I think that is largely down to the soulless hotel atmosphere. Food like this deserves an ambience which enlarges it rather than sucking it away. I found nahm/ soul food did better in this respect.

      Hopefully he’ll choose/ find/ be offered a better outlet soon.

      Tom

  7. PhilD

    Interesting comments about the pacing of the meal. We were regulars* at his Darley Street Thai restaurant in Sydney and I remember the tasting menu being well paced with dishes arriving sequentially, and if memory serves me well Nahm in London was similar. I wonder what prompted the change – turning tables?

    I hated the room at Nahm in London and it looks like I may have the same issue in Bangkok. It is a shame because his Australian restaurants were always in good spaces and had great ambiance.

    * Not only was it great to eat in the restaurant but they also had a great takeaway window that packed the aromatic herbs separately so they could be added just before you ate the curry – how I miss that weekly treat.

    • The restaurant just seemed uninterested in itself. I think that it really is a hotel restaurant so people just wander down… it kind of undermines its “specialness”. I kinda guess the plating happens because of that. Wack it down. Get people in and out. Be ready for unexpected attendees.

  8. Ch. rued

    We were invited at Nahm in London. We were really disappointed about the setting, the service and last but not least presentation of the food. There was absolutly no love for any detail. It all seemed like the total abscence of a chef. Nobody was exlpaining the minimalist concept of the restaurant or the dishes and their special ingredients. Maxybe I am ignorat but in my opinion the total absence of any beauty can’t really be part of concept in a restaurant.
    I read post tfrom all over the world. I really think but they should rethink the concept immediatley and have a close look at their own standars. Otherways the reputation will suffer severely. We left before finishing the main course.

    • Interesting to hear the London one was so bad as well. I have to say I won’t be going to any Nahm anywhere in the world again. Thanks for your comment.

  9. belsha

    I totally agree about the problem with pacing. I actually love asian style eating where the whole table shares 10 dishes and you nibble at each. But in regular asian restaurants these dishes never arrive at the same time, but in an often somewhat random order. At Nahm, the main dishes really were an overkill, we ate them way too fast, felt stuffed afterwards, didn’t really have the tim to appreciate theme really, and I have trouble remembering all the details of the dishes now.

    So I believe that a high end thai restaurant with a 12 course set menu should think about the pacing, the order, the pairing of the dishes, and maybe find a compromise between the french-style “menu degustation” and the asian round table.

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