Monday, October 17, 2022

Elevated Thai

Hong Kong dining scene has long been commended for its diversity, in terms of the ingredients available all year long, the styles of cooking and talents coming in from all over the world with different backgrounds. And going along with that thought, Plaa, the new restaurant which opened its door a couple of months ago, was perhaps the best representation of such assertion.

The restaurant is a rare breed (even with the diversity we have) with specialization on "elevated Thai cuisine" and a brainchild by the Taiwan-based chef Richie Lin and Thai chef Ian Kittichai. The combination sounds random but then with Chef Richie born in Hong Kong and co-owned another Thai restaurant in Taipei, and Chef Ian well-known in Asia and was behind the now-closed Issaya Siamese Club Hong Kong, it does make sense for them joining force for this new venture. 

The place took up the old Hansik Goo site at the corner of Wellington and Lyndhurst Terrace before it was moved elsewhere. With the name of the restaurant meaning "Fish" in Thai, naturally seafood is the focus on the menu, and the decor reminded me of some beachside cafes in an ocean-themed color scheme and casual setting (my only complaint was the tables a bit too small and arranged too close to one another) At the time of our visit in late September, they only opened in the evenings and offered a single tasting menu with 9 different courses plus amuse-bouche and petit fours. At the back of the menu was a glossary list of Thai ingredients or cooking to educate those who aren't so familiar with Thai cuisine - that's the most of us, I suppose.  

We started with a pair of Thai "street snacks". Miang Kham is a bite-sized tart served in a delicate flower-shaped thin pastry shell with marinated bonito, toasted coconuts, ginger and chilies, and Kanom Krok is the traditional coconut "pancake” but here it’s served with Comte cheese and black truffles. I opted for the add-on of oyster, with a piece of the seasonal Gillardeau oyster served with a cold version of “tom kha”, a coconut-kaffir lime dressing dashed with kaffir lime and chili oils. The bold flavor worked well with the plump, mineral-rich oyster.  

Moving on to a few seafood courses, I was most impressed with the scallop and mantis shrimp dishes. The scallop was presented as a cold salad course (larb) with sliced scallops done like ceviche with yellow capsicum vinaigrette, chili and basil oils plus blade coriander garnish. I love that colorful presentation and the spicy kick in this tropical dish. The mantis shrimp dish was described as "gaeng som", with the piece poached whole and served in a mild curry soup with sliced bottarga on top. I like its rich flavor with the hint of tamarind taste add to the acidity. The other dishes, including mackerel with fermented shrimp and snake gourd, and the abalone with wild mushrooms and abalone liver sauce, were very decent too. Then there’s was the housemade brioche served with tom yam butter – so good that I had two. 

The tasting menu came with two main courses. The threadfin fillet was perfectly cooked with the skin crisped and charred, and underneath, a creamy coconut beurre blanc, sweet peas and tulip flowers. The choice of beef cheek Massaman curry as the second main course seemed odd (given Plaa is branded as a seafood restaurant) but then I guess the reason is the dish being a signature at Chef Ian's Issaya Siamese Club in Bangkok. The meat (Australian wagyu cheek) was done sous vide for its tender consistency, and the source was excellent, mild in flavor but loaded with spices.  

Desserts were simple ones but I appreciate the creativity and the use of Thai ingredients. The kaffir lime and passionfruit granita was served in a hollowed passionfruit and worked well as a palate cleanser, and then I liked the exotic flavor of the carissa carandas sorbet served with jasmine tea granita and chunks of dragonfruit, mangosteen and star-fruits on the side, with an accent acidity to contrast the sweetness from the jasmine tea granita frozen into sand-like texture. At the end, the small bites of tamarind jelly and pandan madeleine (in the shape of traditional Thai snacks) were presented as petit fours. 

Overall, bold, lovely flavor in an entirely new presentation. May still be too early to tell since it’s barely 2 months old but certainly promising. 

When? September 20 2022
Where? Plaa, Level 2, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Larb - Scallop, Blade Coriander, Yellow Capsicum
2019 Lucien Crochet "Les Calcaires" Sancerre AOC
2018 Weingut Nik Weis St. Urbans-Hof Goldtrophchen Riesling Kabinett

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