PUTTING THAI on A Pedestal

Mekong at Anan­tara The Palm is of­fer­ing the Khan Tok ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery Mon­day evening: ‘ com­mu­nal food’ on an el­e­vated plat­ter with din­ers sit­ting around. If you thought your Thai­land culi­nary trail has been done and dusted, you’d be a fool to miss out on

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’ ve not been to north­ern Thai­land. Done the usual ( and pre­dictable) Bangkok- Pat­taya- Phuket cir­cle and ab­so­lutely loved the food: the spices; the fresh veg­eta­bles and meats; the gen­er­ous hints of lemon­grass, kaf­fir lime leaves, and co­conut milk/ cream; the fiery chilli paste ( takes the mickey out of soya sauce!); and, then, the gor­geous amal­ga­ma­tion of south Asian flavours with Ori­en­tal bursts of spon­tane­ity ( for in­stance, Thai food is never over­cooked). “The jug­gling of dis­parate el­e­ments to cre­ate a har­mo­nious fin­ish” is how this cui­sine has been fa­mously de­scribed.

Mekong, the Thai- Viet­namese- Chi­nese restau­rant at Anan­tara The Palm, has been run­ning a spe­cial Thai sup­ple­ment ( no over­laps with Viet­namese/ Chi­nese) since last month — ev­ery Mon­day. Khan Tok. So, Khan Tok, I hear, orig­i­nated in Chi­ang Mai in north­ern Thai­land ( which is why I was crib­bing about my not hav­ing been to the north of this beau­ti­ful coun­try), and stands for the ‘ raised pedestal’ that serves as the har­bour for the food; din­ers sit around it, on the floor and dig in. In the case of Mekong, of course, the Khan Tok was placed atop the ta­ble, and we were ( seated) on chairs, not on the floor!

Mov­ing away from the food for a mo­ment, Mekong is a stun­ning piece of visual treat: very red- and- gold and Ori­en­tal­type re­splen­dent, with mo­tifs and eth­nic im­agery strewn all over… and beau­ti­fully spa­tial. The restau­rant is op­u­lently large but it still man­ages to be cosy in cor­ners. You need to, how­ever, step out into the al fresco area — the “ter­race” — to get a real “feel”. Sit­ting on one of the rick­shaw ( quaintly called ‘ tuk tuk’ in the lands of the Thais) seats that dot the area, you

have a breath­tak­ing sea view. In our case, we opted to sit in­doors ( since it was a cold, windswept evening) but man­aged to snag a perch close to the out­doors — so we could fac­tor in both al fresco and sea in our line of vi­sion.

The menu is a set one ( and only avail­able on Mon­day evenings — be warned… maybe it’s be­cause it has some­thing to do with the lu­nar cal­en­dar — see box — and that Mon­day, well, is the day that’s aligned to the moon!). Ap­pe­tis­ers, served al­to­gether, har­boured within the con­fines of a beau­ti­fully dressy, el­e­vated plat­ter ( the Khan Tok), con­sisted of Plah Goong ( spicy prawn salad with Thai herbs), Tod Mun Pla ( Thai fish cake with peanut and sweet chilli sauce), Nuea- Yang ( sundried mar­i­nated beef with tamarind sauce), Nam Prik Num ( mixed green salad with tomato chilli dip) and Gai– Yang ( gril l ed chicken with lemon­grass). The fish cake was the star in this lineup: crunchy yet light, the peanut flavour giv­ing it a new twist. The prawns were fresh — you could al­most smell the sea — with the Thai herbs lend­ing a magic for­mula to give it some more leg- up. Nice green s al ad, but t he ac­com­pa­ny­ing di p over­shad­owed the veg­gies. I didn’t have the beef but my friend didn’t seem par­tic­u­larly chuffed with it —“too tough, so the punch doesn’t carry through” he said… prob­a­bly be­cause it was “dried”.

Next up was the Kaeng Som Goong — hot and sour prawn soup and veg­gies. I’ve rarely had Thai soup that’s gone wrong; this was de­li­ciously tangy/ spicy but I’d have pre­ferred a dash of co­conut milk to off­set the tomato in­fu­sion.

On to the mains. The Pla Sam- Rod — deep- fried sea bass with chilli sauce — was a win­ner, the chilli in­vad­ing the com­pos­ite fish, and do­ing won­ders with it. I was look­ing for­ward to the wok- fried mixed veg­eta­bles with oys­ter sauce — the Phad Phak Ben­jarong — since I was dy­ing to try out the gluti­nous rice that came with the pack­age. Re­ally lovely, and acted as a good in­ter­rupter in the spice route. The Ho Mok Gai — grilled chicken mince Thai curry in ba­nana leaf — was spot on taste- wise but I’d have liked my chicken a bit more fi­brous; this felt a tiny bit rub­bery. Un­for­tu­nately, the Kaeng Hung– Leh Nuea — beef curry with tomato, baby potato and bam­boo shoot — couldn’t be de­mol­ished by my friend since it had traces of gluten, and he’s ‘ in­tol­er­ant’ in that as­pect.

For dessert, we tucked into co­conut ice cream with mango sabayon — straight out of a real co­conut shell. This was bril­liant: mango lend­ing just that right dose of wicked tart­ness to the whole­some­ness of the co­conut ice- cream.

sush­mita@ khalee­j­times. com

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