Bangkok- Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at Siam Kempinski
- NP2 Dec 20, 2010 08:14 AM
Officially opening in late Oct, Sra Bua is possibly be one of the most unique Thai restaurants in Thailand at this moment. I, honestly, aren't sure what is the most precise way to describe it so I go with the public way referring to it as molecular gastronomy.
Last week, I had a chance to have a lunch there with a friend of mine. We ordered the lunch menu (1500++ baht) which included:
1st course- The Nibblings featured 3 snack-like items
Soy meringue roasted cashews- It's a sweet meringue with cashew nut then glazed with soy sauce syrup. I personally like salty and sweet going together so I, indeed, enjoyed nibbling them.
Kefir lime leaf scented lotus root- crispy flavored lotus root. Again, an enjoyable one to have.
Prawn tapioca with chilli dip- this probably the star among its dish partners. The original and common version of this item is "khao kreab koong & nam prik pow" (shrimp-flavored crispy rice with sweet chili paste). The crispy tapioca was nicely flavored but what actually wowed me was the dip. The flavor was gentler than the original paste but the moose-like texture that was light and fluffy really changed the eating experience.
2nd course- Starter: both my friend and I chose "frozen red curry with lobster and coriander". The dish has quite a lot of fun factors- foam on top of the dish and liquid nitrogen pouring at the table. The velvety think rich frozen curry had bold yet well-balance taste. (Don't be fooled by its look as it was a spicy one.) I really like the curry. Lobster was nicely cooked and chilled. It went well with the curry.
3rd course- Main Course:
I chose red snapper in green coconut curry and beetroot (which explained the red color of green curry). The dish was just okay to me. Maybe I expected a hot curry as opposed to a lukewarm one. In general, it was a very good green curry but there was nothing outstanding from this dish besides the color. Also, I personally don't like the hidden beetroot scent in the green curry.
My friend ordered quail in coconut milk with galanga and mushrooms. My friend referred to it as deconstructed tom-kha-kai (galanga soup with chicken). Although the dish wasn't as impressive as the frozen red curry, she enjoyed it a lot. Having a piece of crispy chicken skin added another layer of texture to this dish.
4th course- Dessert:
My choice was Pandan leafs ice-cream. It probably was inspired by a common Thai snack, Kanompang Sangkaya (steamed bread with Thai-styled custard). The concept was nice but came across just fine for me. I'd expect more eggy flavor and richer taste in the ice-cream.
My friend had Three kinds of Tea ice-cream. To me, it was a great ice-cream with nice flavor-nothing more, nothing less.
One annoying thing was the only two choices of water were 200s++ baht still-Evian or sparkling-Evian. Oh...a quite disappointing part was we left the restaurant without feeling full.
Anyway, overall it was a very interesting and fun meal with unexpected factors. (It's just another kind of entertainment for me.) We both agreed that we probably should have come for the 5-course dinner instead. So, we could try all signature dishes at once. Both of us were satisfied with it. We didn't regret with the high price tag but it's not something we would come again anytime soon.
Fabulous write-up and photos, NP2 - thanks!
I normally have an aversion towards molecular gastronomy (was initially fascinated when I dined at El Bulli in 2004, then Bo Innovation HK in 2005), but am itching to try Sra Bua's Thai version - red curry foam and deconstructed tom kha gai sounded absolutely hilarious! I wondered what my Thai grandparents would have thought of these dishes if they had still been alive :-D
Definitely one of my first dining destinations when I visit Bangkok next month.
Thanks friendlyandgeeky and penang_rojak for comments :) I am Thai. I think Sra Bau was interesting but I can't say I like it.
Although I mentioned I didn't expect a return to Sra Bua would come soon, I went there again recently as my SG foodie friend requested during his visit. This time, we did the full dinner...The journey lasted 3 hours and we weren't sure if it should be 11-course dinner or 7-course dinner with lots of amuse bouche here and there.
Here is my thought about some of the additions from lunch menu:
"The Harvest": It was green curry moose in the clay pot with raw carrot sticking out as a fresh plant. The soil-look black crumb was oreo and chocolate biscuits. Presentation-wise, very interesting. Tasting-wise, I'm not sure I like green curry with chocolate biscuit though I like the texture of green curry moose.
Crackling with Nam Prik Num (roasted pepper dip):
It came under the lid which was filled with roasted pepper smoke. I think the smoke enhanced the flavor of Nam Prik Num in the way I haven't experienced before. I'd prefer the deep pork-flavor coming with the original with-fat crackling as oppose to the non-fat one that was served.
Tom Klong Soup based on Smoked Fish and Grilled Vegetable:
My company on the first Sra Bua journey referred to this dish (that we didn't have last time) as astronaut food. There were three jellies; smoked fish, galanga and cilantro served with tamarind based soup. I was extremely pleased with the fragrant soup as well as the jellies. It wasn't like all flavor would burst in your mouth type of experience. Rich yet subtle and very well-balanced actually. It was my favorite of the night.
Green Curry Pearls with Rimmed Cod Fish and Beetroot:
Again? Why beetroot? Deep red color does look great but the strong flavor of beetroot will never harmonize with Thai food in my opinion.
Overall, it was another great dish (just ignore the beetroot part). Raw cod fish thinly-sliced with frozen green curry crumbs created a very interesting texture combination. I also prefer the taste of green curry in this dish which was less sweet that in the Harvest. It would be an overly creamy green curry if served hot. But it was just right at its freezing temperature.
However, because this dish was up for a competition with frozen red curry, I'd still rate frozen red curry as the best dish at Sra Bua.
Banana Cake with Salted Coconut Ice Cream and Caramelized Milk:
I love the ice cream, indeed. My SG friend referred to it as gula malaka ice cream. It wasn't coconut, to me, but more of the coconut syrup ice cream. Caramelized milk here was simply not-too-sweet dulce de lache. Love it! (I'm personally not a fan of banana and its derivatives so I would skip the banana cake part.)
Again, to me, it's another form of entertainment. My friend and I enjoyed it. We all agreed that it is not something you want to have every so often. I told my non-foodie friends who couldn't justify any meal over 1,000 baht that this was like you have been to a concert or a musical, rather than just a meal.
re: Indy 67
It was 2400++
There was only one dinner menu. In total, they could be counted as 11 courses. Else, some dishes could be considered as amuse bouche. And, hence, it would be porbably 7 courses.
Keep in mind that all (fancy mineral) water choices would cost 200++ per bottle. You are looking at about 3000 baht meal with no alcohol for dinner ;)
There are 2 dinner options at THB1800 (7 course) and THB2400 (9, I believe). I finally went there few nights ago and really enjoyed it. The standouts for me were The Harvest (the curry mouse was fabulous) and the frozen curry lobster. My least favorite was the Tom Klong soup -- I just do not get the jelly parts.
I had dinner at NAHM the night before and although the lemongrass salad at NAHM was incredible, I'd say I enjoyed SRA BUA better. I had a spare ribs green curry at NAHM that was so spicy, it was borderline inedible for me.
We ate at Sra Bua a couple of nights ago and were delighted with the experience. The service is more admired than enjoyed. Everything is done with a bit of robotic precision, especially in contast to Nahm which was very warm and friendly while still being professional. However, we loved our meal at Sra Bua. We were mesmerized at the way in which Thai flavor profiles got deconstructed into the dishes on the plate. FWIW, we were only offered the 2400 option.
We'd be happy to again but that is not going to happen in the forseeable future since we're here on vacation from half-way around world. (We're more likely to eat at the Copenhagen original.)
I wasn't wild about the Tom Klong soup either but for a very different reason. The flavor of the broth had been condensed to an overwhelmingly strong flavor. I needed the jelly bites to temper the broth's intensity. I would take a bit of the jelly to taste its inherent proprties and then sip the soup melting the jelly and combining the flavors. That improved the situation. The soup and the cotton candy were the only active let downs.
Had dinner here earlier in October. Perhaps we're jaded on molecular cuisine, but really wanted to try as we were intrigued by the Thai aspect and decomposition. We've had the carrot pot before with Voltaggio and sadly the rest of the meal that followed (we all had the long menu) felt uninspired. The service level was NOT up to the level of fine dining. Servers could not explain the dishes and referred us to our menus.
It was not allegorically or physically warm. One in my party kept his rain jacket on for warmth. We all laughed about how the bathrooms felt 20F degrees cooler than the dining room.
I hope there is more inspired fine dining in Bangkok. We'll stick to smaller restaurants like Krua Apsorn or the street in the meantime.
NP2 - I FINALLY gotten round to lunch at Sra Bua - was visiting Thai relatives in Bangkok last weekend ... and trying to get away from their overwhelming hospitality (various visits to family-style restaurants) ... can be quite a challenge :-D
Anyhow, Sra Bua now has a concatenated (3-course) and more "affordable" set lunch priced at THB1,500. For an additional THB325, you get a cup of coffee after-meal, plus petit fours.
Note: A glass of Diet Coke costs THB180 here (gasp!). Certainly stratospheric prices by Bangkok standards.
Anyway, my lunch started with what you had back in Dec 2010:
- A trio of miniscule amuse geule (I wasn't too amused by the portion size though): Soy Meringue Roasted Cashew; Kaffir Lime Leaf Scented Lotus Root and Prawn Cracker with Chilli Tomato Dip. The only item I liked was the chilli tomato dip.
- Grilled Butterfish with Celeriac and Lemongrass Boullion. This starter was lovely, and I particularly like the piece of poached celeriac resting underneath the fish - which was also very delicate and perfectly grlled. The foam tasted of celeriac and complimented the meat nicely. Not too sure about the lemingrass boullion though - seemed unnecessary to keep emphasizing the "Thai-ness" of lemongrass-ed flavors.
- The main course was a very ordinary-looking Duck with Red Curry, with Green Leaf Winter Cabbage. I was disappointed - after all, I'd come to Sra Bua to experience its frozen red curries and deconstructed what-have-you. If I'd wanted an ordinary curry in a bowl, I might as well go to a mid-priced family eatery like Bua or Baan Klang Krung.
Anyhow, I'm not discounting the possibility that Sra Bua might be tweaking its menu items and "normalize" its dishes to cater to the more conservative tastes of the older-generation Thais (those with deeper wallets than the young ones - after all, who'd want to pay THB180 for a Coke?).
In fact, the only thing in that dish which impressed silly-old-me were the ultra-crisp-textured caterpillar-shaped tubers: the crosne. It went amazingly well with the sausage-meat-like duck-meat roll. The red curry was, well, red curry - no foam, no frozen blow-your-mind version. Disappointed!
- Dessert was a delight - though it was too little, too late. Served in a largish piece of what looked like carved driftwood, the Banana Cake with Salted Ice-cream and Caramelized Milk was more exciting than all the other courses put together. The curd-like milk was especially nice I loved how all the unusual textures and tastes melded together beautifully with every spoonful. Love the dessert.
Personally, I don't think I'll come back to Sra Bua again - it's over-priced, it's boring (with the exception of the dessert), the atmosphere was oppressively formal (lots of stiffs in dark suits), and a food-stall in a night market in Rama IV would be able to offer something which tasted sooo much better, looked more interesting, and costs a fraction of the price here.
Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin
Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok
991/9 Rama I Road
I ate there in October and was impressed. I agree the amuse bouche is a poor start and made me feel a bit nervous about what was to come. But the rest of the meal was very interesting - I suspect if the red curry had been the frozen version your assessment may have been very different. As you say maybe their lunches are aimed at the lunching suits rather than dinners aimed at the more adventerous. It is expensive for Thailand but compared to places like HK i thought it fair value.
I posted elsewhere on this board after having had dinner several weeks ago. Big disappointment. Yes, a lot of food for The Nibblings but the fare served was underwhelming and pretentious - little came off as innovative or particularly delicious.
I felt their effort to try to reconstruct traditional dishes fell felt. My sense is the chefs are mimicking what what has been done elsewhere and what is expected for molecular gastronomy. Did not work. Serving dishes with traditional names - but the end result is far from a flavorful or memorable experience.
One could smash a cup of Frosted Flakes with corriander and dried fish, sprinkle red dye no. 2 atop, then claim a reconstructed version of pad thai. But, hey, that does not make for a pleasurable and interesting dining experience.
For the price and time required, I believe a serious rethinking needs to be done at Sra Bua. To amplify my opinion, on a weekend night the room was essentially empty of other diners. I was excited about the possibilities and for being challenged but what I experienced was disappointing.
Always sad to hear of a place which started off so promisingly, only to suffer a slow decline. Siam Kempinski Hotel stands on the old site of the graceful Siam Intercontinental Hotel which offered elegant Thai cuisine in the old days. I hope they bring back a traditional Thai restaurant, instead of attempting to sustain a fad-dish, fading molecular-Thai spot.
My sister listed this restaurant several times as a place that we could go -- and I kept on redirecting it to others on her list (or mine). The thing that scared me the most is that it made molecular gastronomy the soul of the restaurant as opposed to focusing on good food and using MG sparingly (not the whole menu) where it could make sense. I have used some techniques from MG (liquid nitrogen, sous-vide) but personally -- the most important thing is good food. Often people get introduced to MG and get mentally stuck on cool techniques and forget - first and for most ... it is about the taste. I doubt I will get around to trying this restaurant.