By Gunit Gogia
“Welcome”, they said. What they did not say was “Allow us to plunge you in a waterfall of flavours with our Thai gastronomic experience”.
I was at the Thai Pavillion, at Taj Vivanta in Gurgaon, on invitation to a‘Unique Dining Experience’. This is a new concept introduced by the restaurant, which allows the diner to handpick their own meal, out of a set menu. Paired with a good sparkling wine and an expert Thai Chef who will not only personally help to design a choice of three, four or five course meals, with frozen desserts, but will be your guide through the experience. Obviously, specifics such as preferences, dislikes, allergies and any special requirements are already taken care of. This is serious stuff for the gourmand.
Located on the first floor of Hotel Taj Vivanta in Gurgaon, the speciality restaurant Thai Pavillion is celebrating the arrival of the new executive Chef Arun Sunderaraj, who has moved from Taj Falaknuma in Hyderabad. Dark wood panelled interiors, a waiting hold zone with coffee table books on Thailand, a well stocked bar. Thailand’s cultural elements projected in tea-light lamps, upholstery weaves and motifs contribute to set the mood. For larger groups there is the private dining room.
Thai cuisine syncs with the Indian palate. We do like every morsel to zing each of the taste bud groups, with sour, salty, spicy and what have you, all together. Albeit delicately balanced in perfect proportions. Some of the key condiments that go into Thai cooking are coconut, Citron lime and lemongrass, galangal, cumin and garlic.
I forgot to add Kaffir lime leaves to the above list, which overpowered my Mocktail, providing it with some bitterness and cutting through the astringency with lemongrass, apple, mint, Thai basil, a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. It was sweet, bitter, zesty and sour in just the right parts.
The Amuse Bouche fare was delectable dragon fruit, water chestnut, grapes, oranges and some prawn and pumpkin crackers with 3 chilli pastes to season the crisps, providing ample engagement before the starters arrived.
I had opted for two starters from a choice of six (three with tofu, veggies, and corn each; and three with chicken, fish, and prawns each). Koong Pad Kub (Pan grilled prawns with sour and spicy sauce), Thord man pla(Fish Cakes) and a Lab Kai (Spicy minced chicken salad). The prawns were all delicate flavours of sweet Thai chilli and spices with a nice crunchy bite to it. Moist and juicy Fish Cakes were with a stroke of chilli and lemongrass. A simple salad with raw onions, sweet chilli and diced cucumber was of no consequence. I recommend the Tom kha kai soup, made just right with its velvety texture, tender coconut milk, galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, coriander and lemongrass.
For the main course, I was served Gaeng ped koong (Thai red curry with seafood), Pla nueng manao (Steamed fish with lemon garlic sauce) and Phad siew je (Homemade rice noodles with vegetables). The steamed fish in the Pla nueng manao was the very ugly John Dory. But my encounter with the fillet version was actually beautiful. And there was the lemon garlic sauce, garnished with red and green chillies. In contrast to all these stinging flavours, I found the rice noodles rather bland.
The last course of the meal was Tub tim grob for dessert. It literally translates into ‘crunchy rubies’, prepared with sweet and softened coconut milk, frozen rice and pink diced water chestnuts. Chef de Cuisine, Prajuab Shoosridam explained that the flavours were authentic because the ingredients were sourced directly from Thailand, being flown in every alternate day.
The ‘Unique Dining Experience’, lived up to its name, it was indeed unique. This exclusive experience can be had for Rs 20,000 for a couple. It may seem somewhat steep, but then it is almost like hiring a fully trained personal chef. If you don’t want to be kept waiting, make the booking a month ahead.
Photograph courtesy Gunit Gogia