KHA has a new chef. And all the difference it makes.
Seriously, my main lament against Thai food in Singapore is not because it is not delicious, but that it is all watered and muted down – losing that main spirit of Thai cuisine. Thai food loves to be intense, perhaps the only type of cuisine in the world which can be so intensely sour, intensely spicy, sweet, and salty all at the same time.
When I had my first bite of KHA’s Nahm Dtok Nuer ($22), a spicy grilled Wagyu beef salad with shallots, coriander, mint, lime, fish sauce and toasted rice dressing, I told myself “This is it. This is Thailand.” The starter was unapologetic at being immensely sour and spicy, certainly not with weak tummies.
I told the new young Executive Chef Adam Cliff that the food and décor reminds me of Nahm. Nahm is considered Thailand’s top restaurant, 3rd in Asia and No. 32 in the world. In my mind, I actually thought some dishes tasted even better than Nahm’s.
There was a quick moment of awkward silence. It was when Chef Adam Cliff told me that he used to under Thai food guru David Thompson, and has worked at Nahm London and Bangkok, Bo.lan Bangkok, and Sailors Thai in Sydney – some of the most renowned Thai restaurants around. No wonder the taste feels a little… familiar.
Rather than the typical dishes that we get in central Thailand, the new chef introduces some ‘Isaan’ influences to the menu. Some of the best known Issan dishes – Som Dtum Malakor ($16, green papaya salad with a side of candied pork), Pla Phao Glua ($30, salt-crusted whole seabass stuffed with lemongrass) and different types of grills.
Warning, Isaan cuisine is also known to be fiery hot, particularly sour, and may give that weird queasiness in your stomach. I think you know that feeling.
The favourite KHA’s dish of the day has to be Gai Yung Esaan ($15) – chicken thighs. marinated for 24 hours in garlic, pepper and coriander, grilled till crispy, served with jim jaew. With the outer layer slightly crisp, it was pulsating with flavours as you satisfyingly bite off chunks of tender meat like a savoury ice cream stick.
Grills are obviously their strength. The Goong Golae ($29) – whole tiger prawns smothered in dry red coconut curry, grilled over fire with fresh lime, puts all other grilled prawns I had to shame. Superiorly fresh with a tantalising bite of spice.
I am obviously very excited by the new chef and new offerings of KHA, hopefully reviving or exceeding some of its former glory. It is not even very pricey to begin with for its quality and ambience, comparable with some of the so-called Thai restaurants in Singapore.
My only wish is that they can continue to maintain that consistency and not give in to muting that authentic Thai taste. Because I can just imagine a lot who are not used to Thai food complaining that some of the dishes are too ‘powerful’ – too spicy, too sour, too much fish sauce.
But that is when you can taste the passion of Thai food.
Martin No. 38 38 Martin Road Singapore 239059, Tel: +65 6476 9000
Opening Hours: 12:00pm – 3:00pm, 6:00pm – 11:00pm (Daily)