Friday, August 28, 2015

The Newest Thai Restaurant in Town

We normally would wait at least a couple of months before trying any new restaurants, because just like cars, we believe restaurants do need some time to run in to perform at the right level - menu is to be revised and refined, front staff to be trained, and kitchen team to bond and get on the same page with one another. But this time we decided to take a chance with this new restaurant that's not even officially opened because I am curious enough to defy our "unwritten rule" for this one time.


Chef Ian Kittichai is known for his contemporary, stylish interpretation of Thai cuisine at his flagship restaurant Issaya Siamese Club in Bangkok, recently ranked one of the Asia's best, and the one in Hong Kong, to be officially opened in late August, is Issaya's first overseas outpost. As I heard they were able to receive customers a week earlier than their planned opening day, I decided to make a booking for dinner on one of those early evenings, knowing it's probably less crowded before words came out about this new restaurant.

Well I haven't been to the original restaurant in Bangkok, but I was told the decor, ambiance, menu and ingredients at both were very similar. The Hong Kong restaurant - located at Midtown in Causeway Bay - opened up to a spacious lounge area completed with comfy chairs and a well-stocked bar with a long counter, as customers will see walking out of the elevators at the entrance. Further at the back is the main dining area with large tables and comfortable seating, an open kitchen where all the food was prepared, and at the far end, a small outdoor terrace. The place is located on the high floor of this lifestyle/restaurant complex just behind Times Square so the view from the terrace is quite good.

The menu offered a good number of a la carte choices and there were also two set menus featuring some of the restaurants' signature dishes. We would have gone for the longer tasting menu but the manager told us it's not available on the night that we visited since some ingredients were not ready, so we settled for the regular set menu with 7 savory courses plus dessert. We figured that's the best way to try out as many dishes as possible with just the two of us.

Amuse Bouche Trio
We were a bit surprised when a trio of small bites were brought to our table - guess we were not used to getting amuse-bouche at a Thai restaurant, but all three of them were refreshing and well-prepared, especially the flavorful salmon tartare loaded but not overwhelmed by the spices and herbs.

Kradook Moo Aob Sauce - Spiced rubbed Pork Belly Ribs glazed with Issaya House-blended Chili Paste

The other dishes were served family-style placed in the middle of our table, meant to be shared. The food were in tasting portion but at the end, they were more than enough for us. My favorite dish was the spice rubbed baby back ribs with the house-blended chili paste. The texture was spot-on and the rich flavors from an assortment of spices well-infused into the tender meat - probably cooked with a combination of sous vide and finished in the oven with the chili paste brushed on.

Mussamun Gae - Lamb Shank simmered in Mussamum Curry served with pickled cucumbers
I am normally not a fan of lamb but I loved the lamb shank simmered in Mussamun curry. The meat just fell off the bone when i lay my knife on, and it's delicious without being too gamey. And the fragrant curry sauce worked well with the meat, and also with our last course of rice served in a stone pot with multi-grains and mushrooms.

Kanom Dokmali - Jasmine Flower Panna Cota served with Jasmine Rice Ice Cream and Jasmine Rice Tuile
I was slightly disappointed by the chicken, the Gai Aob, which was de-boned, rubbed with spices and grilled, then finished with the pouring of liquor sauce at the table. While it's tender and juicy, I felt there wasn't quite enough flavors packed into the dish. I thought the dessert was interesting - the jasmine panna cotta was refreshing and even though the jasmine rice icecream would hv been a bit icy on its own, it's okay when u paired with the creamy flan.

On the day we were there, the serving speed was a bit erratic but not to the point of irritating - a few times the dish was served out of sequence and arrived too fast before we could finish the previous course. It's okay for a casual dinner but I would prob say something if it's for the tasting menu. Other than that, no major glitches with the service for the evening and the staff was friendly, patient and attentive.

Le Issaya Cocktail - Grey Goose Vodka, Mulberry Sorbet and Sparkling Rose served in a martini glass.
Wine list was somewhat reasonably-priced with good range to choose from. Thai food is always the tricky one in terms of finding the right bottle to pair but a simple Gavi di Gavi worked just fine especially in the summer. They also have some unique selection of cocktails.

Overall I think the place was nice - probably a good choice in this hood for a fancy night out, especially if you want something different other than Japanese restaurants which seem to be a dime a dozen in the vicinity. Yes it's a bit pricey, but not more than any decent, upscale restaurant in the area. Fine-dining Thai is few and far between in Hong Kong and Issaya does hit the spot with the right balance between being indigenous and contemporary. It was a great dining experience for us.

When? August 25 2015
Where? Issaya Siamese Club Hong Kong, 25/F The Midtown, 1-29 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Kradook Moo Aob Sauce - Spiced rubbed Pork Baby Back Ribs glazed with Issaya House-blended Chili Paste.
Drinks? Di Vi Vine, "Di Luccio" Gavi di Gavi DOCG 2013
Web: www.issaya.hk


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