Emica has a disappointment at Nahm

I mentioned to Zoe that a couple of weekends ago The Man decided it was about time he took me out- gosh! – and we went to Nahm, and she forwarded me a Terry Durack article praising Nahm in a recent piece on Sydney Thai food. Terry’s right about London having few great Thai options, but I am sorry to report that I’m not as convinced as him that Nahm is one of them. For us, it was a 50/50 experience, which, given we had such high expectations, was disappointing.

I was initially surprised that, located in the lobby of a posh hotel, Nahm looks like any restaurant located in the lobby of a posh hotel. I’ve no idea what traditional Thai decor is, although I’m pretty sure the kitschy knick knacks festooning my local Thai up the road aren’t, but the rather hootchy-kootchy bland light gold hotel chic room felt at odds with a cuisine that is so punchy, sweet/ sour, salty/ hot and fragrant. Not exactly something to complain about, but not what I imagined a Michelin starred temple of Thai food would look like.

After a bit of confusion on our part following complicated instructions about how to order from the five separate menu sections to ensure a balanced meal (soups, stir fries, salads etc), we ordered the tasting menu that had one thing from each section. An early disappointment for me was the entree, which was a beautifully presented crispy noodle net with prawn and herb salad. It was nice, and the crispy noodles were very cool, but it didn’t sing with the Thai flavours. It tasted a bit beige.

Apparently the kitchen was saving all the seasoning for just two dishes. The main fault with our meal was two dishes that were so salty we could only manage a couple of mouthfuls of each. There was an eel & pork stir fry and a mallard salad which were Dead Sea salty. It was such a shame because the duck in individual pieces was lovely but the overall effect was overwhelmingly salty and really killed any other flavour. The eel thing was scorched earth on a plate. I got the impression they’d salted it to get a crispy skin, which it had, but went overboard. I don’t know if that’s how they’re meant to taste and I’m just a soft westerner who can’t take a bit of enthusiastic seasoning, but after those two bad boys, the inside of my lips felt like when I’d been swimming too long at the beach – sort of pickled and wrinkled. However, the hot and sour soup with clams could raise the dead! It was poetry in a bowl – no, actually more like old skool motown (y’know- get up, get on up etc). And the grilled kingfish was beautifully marinated.

We had been told that the tasting menu is served in the Thai style, with everything served at the same time. But the tricky bit about that, especially when there are just the two of you, is that everything gets cold while you eat other things, which kinda made me feel rushed to get through each thing before it got stone cold – even the rice ended up cold! I can now see the point of those slightly daggy rice buckets they have in Chinese restaurants. I’m not quite as hung up as my mum on scalding hot food, but I am the kind of girl who always heats my plates, so food that’s the cold side of lukewarm isn’t great.

The desserts were interesting. I just had a plate of exotic tropical fruit, only two I could name but delicious. The Man had something called ‘ash pudding’ which was a rice pudding – yummy salty-sweet in the same way as salted caramel- and a sort of quenelle of black sticky stuff. It really did taste like vaguely aniseed flavoured dirt.

It was a shame we weren’t blown away because we’d been so looking forward to it. The Man and I agreed that, actually, our local Thai outclassed this meal in many ways and at a fraction of the price.

What are your Thai eating experiences? Dr Sista Outlaw, I would be interested to know about your experiences of ‘real’ Thai food versus restaurant Thai.

14 comments ↓

#1 jude on 26.10.09 at 6:39 pm

How awfully disappointing, maybe the apprentice was on duty that day…I can’t believe the master would serve up food like that. On the salt thing, don’t you find 95% of restaurants oversalt their food? Chefs, you know, can’t help themselves…I always ask them to hold the salt.

#2 Helen on 26.10.09 at 7:56 pm

You can dine out on that, you know. “I was in Nahm.” Pause. “Lots of bad memories…” (slight twitch) “…Flashbacks. You know.”

#3 kelly on 26.10.09 at 7:56 pm

just to make it feel a bit high class n all. having lived in bangkok for a while, all the restaurants , posh ones n ratty ones all used the plastic ice buckets for rice. Just a part of life over there. Yay you! i get paid out for being ohhposh when i heat the plates! funny, i grew up with heated plates, makes sense to me!

#4 Zoe on 26.10.09 at 8:38 pm

Helen, you are a very bad woman!

I don’t mind a hot plate in winter, but it can be annoying when my father in law heats the plates to 150 degrees in midsummer and shouts at the kids not to burn themselves ;)

#5 kate on 26.10.09 at 9:41 pm

I have no Thai food expertise, but hot plates these days always make me think of the relative who turns the oven on to heat the plates while everything else (which was not cooked in the oven) goes cold and gluggy. Heated plates used to just remind me of my Grandma barking at us not to burn ourselves, followed of course by snapping our hands into the correct cutlery holding positions then plying us with apple pie, icecream, cream and sprinkles (she wasn’t all bad).

#6 Dr Sister Outlaw on 26.10.09 at 10:03 pm

Oh, that sounds annoying Emica. Not least because the plates are not warm. Of course in Thailand, you never worry about food getting cold because it just doesn’t. It’s not cold there, except in Chiang Mai occasionally (and there I believe the food is incendiary so it’s thermometer temperature ain’t gonna bother you that much).

Thank you for thinking of me, not sure if I can provide any edifying information. My best experiences of Thai food were street stall based, so presented little opportunity to sit and analyse the meals. In the tourist areas (Ko Tao and Khao San Road) there was also a fair degree of mollification of western (British) palates, so even my eight year old was completely unphased. For the most part, I think Australians have completely nailed Thai. I’ve had brilliant, mind blowing (and hot!) Thai on the north coast of NSW, and in Surry Hills. We’ve got the ingredients, the culture and the people in Oz to make fantastic Thai food.

With that said, the most memorable things I ate in Thailand were (a) light, such as the evanescent coconut cloud things that are filled with corn and spring onions and fried quickly in tiny gem moulds, or the ultra fresh rice paper rolls served in a way cool vege diner off Khao San Road or (b) cloyingly sweet, such as the fried rice cake I dunked in hot sour tamarind curry on Samsen Road.

After a few weeks in Thailand you are so over sugar, but I never remember getting overdosed with salt. But Poms probably like it that way, so as much as your Nham experience billed itself as authentic, I suspect they had tailored their menu, quite considerably.

#7 emica on 26.10.09 at 11:40 pm

Helen – ahahaha. Took me a while to get that. Funny. And wrong. but funny

Kelly – v jealous of your insider opps for Thai eating. Must have been great to get beyond just the tourist sites

Dr SO – you and Terry seem to be on song about Aussies’ affinity with Thai. I read somewhere that there are (say) 10,000 Thai immigrants in Aus… and 5,000 Thai restaurants! I like those odds :) And, as you point out, we’ve got the raw ingredients of produce and approach.

I’ll have to ask my sis about the cooking school she went to/ read about/ bought me the book of (??) when she was on hols over there a few years ago. Will get back on that one.

#8 emica on 26.10.09 at 11:41 pm

oh yeah, Who knew the relative warmth of plates could be so contentious?! My approach is to prop them at the back of the stove while I cook, so they are generally ‘not cold’ rather than at boiling point, so no misadventures with scalding.

Oh- one other thing on plate warming, does anyone else drain the pasta water over the pasta bowls, so they get warmed at the same time? Or is that just me???

#9 FDB on 27.10.09 at 8:41 am

Beat me to it Helen. I had a bit all ready about eating dirt and shitting freedom, but time makes fools of us all, huh?

Very disappointing I’ll bet Emica. I’ve had a good run generally of late, but with Thai not so much.

I reckon it’s a funny one – mediocre Thai is still pretty delicious, but the step up from there to the top quality is gigantic. And you don’t want to pay the bill unless you’re getting the goods, obvs.

#10 Dr Sister Outlaw on 27.10.09 at 9:01 am

I put the plates in the oven for the last 5 minutes, so they are warm, not hot – warming trays good for that too! I could also use my grill, which is separate to the oven … But I wouldn’t do that thing with the pasta water because it would make the bowls gluggy, wouldn’t it? Plus I hate drying up.

#11 togram on 27.10.09 at 10:51 am

It sucks to be disappointed, especially when the place has been so built up.
My Thailand experience was very brief, but most of the best food I had was from street markets. We’re off to Chiang Mai after Christmas, so I’ll have to take notes.
The best Thai food I’ve eaten was cooked at home by my friend Tachawan – her Tom Yum is to die for. Tach reckons that the key to her cooking is the careful balance of hot, sour, sweet and salt. She is quick to condemn a dish that goes overboard on one of the four key elements to the detriment of the others.

#12 Dr Sister Outlaw on 27.10.09 at 5:29 pm

Hey Emica, today’s Good Living featured a story on David Thompson, proprietor of Nahm. He’s got a book out on street food, a follow up to his self-described bible of Thai food (the hot pink covered book). I chuckled when I read it. Apparently he lives in Bangkok now. Suspect he should spend more time superintending the restaurant in London!

#13 Beck on 29.10.09 at 8:04 am

That was a really interesting review on Nahm; you might have just helped me scratch off a place on my list of “dream restaurants I must visit”, so my wallet thanks you. Has anyone got the new David Thompson Thai Street Food book? Opinions? (particularly from you Thai food experts…)

#14 dogpossum on 18.11.09 at 3:54 pm

There’s a really good Thai joint in Summer Hill here in Sydney. It’s really, really good for suburban Thai. As in, nom. We had a gorgeous piece of poached salmon there recently. It was perfectly poached, squatting in a light, gorgeous broth and splottered with some sort of ginger/smashed up herb paste. It was fucking great.

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