Friday, March 02, 2007


Naj Exquisite Thai Cuisine
42 Convent Road
Silom, Bangkok 10500
My wife N and I love Bangkok for two separate reasons and one commonality. N loves to shop and can spent the whole day just in Mah Boon Krong (MBK) while I find the Thai capital a culinary paradise for what else? Thai food. The commonality is shopping and dining is definitely much cheaper than Singapore. Yes, up to 50% cheaper if you can really sniff out good bargains.

Years of travel have just made me conclude on one thing. There is no 100% real Thai cuisine outside Thailand due to the complexity of its cuisine where many of its ingredients are also native to the country. So when you get in, enjoy as much of the cuisine as possible. Sure enough N and I have our favourite dining places in Bangkok as we make it a point to go up at least once or twice a year. At the same time I also love to check new places and see the latest food trends in this country where hospitality standards of service in restaurants can put many of those similar establishments in Singapore to shame.
Naj was the first place we booked as it was near our place of stay. An individual property on its own, it was divided into two dinning halls where you can chose to sit in the conventional tables and chairs area or to eat sitting on slightly raised platforms above the ground. The restaurant has an extensive wine list featuring mainly new world wines and their big fruity spicy characters often go better with Thai cuisine. As we scour through the menu, we picked some favourite items and a few house specialties.
First to pop in was Som Tam with Roast Pork and Sticky Rice which was a house specialty. The green papaya salad was a great palate starter due to its tanginess and crunchy texture. The first bite awaken our sensory instincts with spicy characters coming through from the chilies and shallots, sourness from lime juice and pungency from fish sauce. Freshly roasted peanuts and palm sugar toned down the immediate impact and opened up our taste buds to picking up toasty notes of fried dried shrimp. The accompany roast pork had a crispy rind that provided it a nice crackling effect and its greasiness was cut back by the tangy dressing. The glutinous rice balls lent a rustic touch to the dish it should be served plain instead for the way how it should be eaten with in the North.

Next to drop by was the Stuffed Chicken Wings with Sweet Chili Sauce. The wings were boned and stuff with a farce that comprised of glass noodles, Chinese mushrooms and black fungus. This puffed up the wings and made them look plump and juicy when fried. Nicely done with a crisp crust, each bite into the succulent piping hot wings was sensational without the need to fidget with bones. Lots of preparation work to make these recipes and we each wings with two bites.

Main courses started to fall in as soon as appetizers plates were cleared. The heavier dishes were served first. The Soft Shell Crab with Yellow Curry Powder was done pretty much like our local chili crab style in appearance only. I had initially thought it was a deep fried version with a touch of spices but it ended up with more than what I had expected. The gravy was perfumed with a curry mix of spices that include cumin, turmeric, chilies, cloves, cinnamon which indicated the influence of Indian Cuisine in Thai cooking. Local garlic which had a distinctive sweet fragrance despite is small size enhanced the gravy with its beautiful scent while the coconut milk enriched the sauce to a level of creamy deliciousness. So good it was that I could just eat it with plain rice sans the crabs, speaking of which though where nice, I felt that they had drowned in the over flowing delicious gravy. I felt it was better to eat the gravy and the crabs separately.

Roast Duck Curry was one of the signature dishes for Naj which comprised of boneless roasted duck cooked in a Panang style curry sauce and interestingly with fruits like fresh grapes and pineapples. The duck meat was tender to bite and even though I am not really a roast duck curry fan, credit must be given for the well cooked curry. For me roast duck is roast duck and a curry is a curry. The fruits provided a nice sweet and sour counterbalance to the spicy curry and Mum absolutely adored the pineapples in the sauce. For the record she took to trying out a piece of duck meat too even though she doesn’t have a taste for the bird.

For soup, we opted for a Tom Yum Pla which was a milky hot and sour fish soup. The aromatic herbs of kaffir lime and coriander leaves in marriage with fresh spices like galangal and lemon grass gave the soup its soul. Birds’ eye chilies delivered spiciness and the lime juice sharpened the essence of the broth which had pieces of fish fillets, fresh straw mushrooms and bamboo shoots. The tanginess of the soup provided a cleansing effect of removing the after effects the heavy sauces from the two dishes earlier and opened up our taste buds again for the next courses.

River prawns are a Thai seafood item and Thai chefs have a hundred and one ways to cook them. Most common was to sautéed them with a tamarind sauce which was what we opted for. Cooked in a Tamarind sauce with minced pork, bell peppers and topped with cashews, the sauce was good. But the prawns were a let down in terms of freshness. They were slightly mushy on bite and I could detect some fishiness too. The blackening of the tail end confirmed my senses as this is often an indication of prawns that are way off their prime.
Finally the Sea Bass sailed in with its broth still bubbling with help from the lighted candle below. We had ordered a Steamed Sea Bass with Lime Garlic and Chili and the sourish broth totally eliminated the greasy after taste from the two earlier curries. Nicely piquant with fragrance of kaffir lime and coriander leaves, the fish was very fresh and the delicate flesh was uplifted by the tangy spicy broth. The burst of citrus flavours made the appreciation of the fish very pleasant and we felt it was a right way to end the meal balancing of the heaviness of the curries earlier.

Service was prompt and efficient with the usual excellent Thai hospitality culture. As we were full by then, we only order one dessert to share which we chose the Steamed Pumpkin Stuffed with Coconut Egg Custard. This is a traditional Thai dessert that can be served either hot or cold. Pretty much like eating kaya scoop out from the hollows of the steamed pumpkin. The smooth rich custard hit our palates with creamy mouth feel and the soft sweet pumpkin complimented the custard well though it was also great on its own.

Barely managing to finish the dessert, I was already looking forward to the next Thai restaurant the next evening.

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