Michelin-starred R-HAAN in Bangkok is winning diners over with the intricate flavours and detailed preparation of royal Thai cuisine.
Nestled in a quiet street in Bangkok’s trendy Thanglor district, fine-dining Thai restaurant R-HAAN could be mistaken for any other modern building, until you pass through its glass doors and enter a world where modernity and tradition co-exist. A funnelled walkway, plastered with monochrome motifs, marks the grand entrance to the restaurant. Follow it and an imposing bust of the Bhirom Bhakdi family patriarch greets you with the simple dictum, “We are Thai. Chilli dip with an assortment of vegetables is an essential part of the dinner course.”
This, and a diorama depicting Thai farmers toiling in the fields, reveal that the restaurant champions Thai cuisine at heart. In fact, its name R-HAAN, meaning food, illustrates the old Thai proverb ‘Nai Nam Meece Pla, Nai Na Mee Khao (there are fish in the water and rice in the fields)’; there is nothing they take pride in more than showcasing Thailand’s produce in an intricate preparation of food known as royal Thai cuisine.
Glimpses of old and new converge again as we enter the restaurant proper. Reminiscent of an eclectically designed home, red, neon gold, teak and rattan accents run through the bar and dining room with a view of lush greenery outdoors. In the stately dining room, each table is accompanied by a side drawer outfitted for table-side service, while a sommelier stands ready to recommend wines that go well with the bold flavours of Thai cuisine, such as the biodynamic 2010 Remelluri Reserva from Rioja, Spain, or the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon-Syrah, GranMonte Vineyard and Winery from the Asoke Valley, Thailand.
Each meal at R-HAAN is a samrub or sharing plate tasting menu experience that changes according to the summer, winter and rainy seasons. At least 18 to 19 dishes are served in four courses—amuse bouche, starters, mains and dessert—in hand-painted ceramics that are exquisite reproductions of the original Thai dining ware that was used in the Royal Palace during the Rattanakosin era. On this occasion, we try their summer Royal Thai Taste samrub (2912THB).
Our authentic Thai cuisine odyssey begins with a morsel of smoked coconut with homemade pork sausage, ground river fish mixed with ground roasted rice and aromatic coconut milk, and bitter orange foam. This tidy parcel of an amuse bouche packs a smoky, savoury punch and a deepening flavour as you savour the bite. If the amuse bouche is a study of understated elegance, the trio of appetisers that comes next is resplendent in comparison, basked in a riot of colours. First there is the pastel greens and yellows from a fresh and earthy steamed mix vegetable salad, where the herbaceous notes from nine local vegetables are heightened by their marriage with a rich sun-dried ‘pak naam pho’ river fish and chilli paste coconut cream dressing.
Then come the orange and browns of the Thai-style savoury leaf wraps in crispy pastry shells known as krathong thong miang, a traditional Thai snack that is decorated with a melange of ingredients such as fresh ginger, shallots, cubed lime, grated coconut, salted peanuts and dried shrimp. Consumed in one ravenous bite, the crunchy sweet-savoury snack hits the spot. A swathe of rich yellow envelopes the last item on the plate, the spicy crab salad with Thai rice flour vermicelli and scrambled egg. A riff on the classic Thai flour vermicelli dessert, the dish combines the springy texture of noodles made with rice and arrowroot flour, with silky strands of crab finally topped off by an oozy egg delight.
But the highlight of the evening must be the spread of mains accompanied by steamed new crop hom mali rice from Yasothorn, and steamed organic brown rice comprising riceberry, hom nin rice, sangyod rice, hill tribe brown rice and Chitralada Palace rice. Our favourite is the grilled river shrimp served with spicy fermented pineapple and river fish dip. The fresh, succulent giant prawns go amazingly well with the piquant chilli sauce and slices of jambu fruit that help cut through the spice.
Hot and spicy soup with fried, dried crispy fish and giant catfish caviar baked with fleur de sel from Baan Dung, Udon Thani province is another highlight. The warming soup is punctuated by bursts of creamy umaminess from the catfish caviar, akin to that you’d find in the Japanese delicacy shirako or cod fish sperm. Another unusual dish is the Thai wagyu beef from Sakon Nakhon province in Isan, served with ancient Thai copper pod curry ‘kaeng khe lhek’. The meat has a very chewy texture, almost like duck meat, and gets its depth of flavour from a rich curry made with an array of ingredients, including copper pod leaves which are high in medicinal properties.
Dessert is a melange of textures in the form of a delicate steamed Petchaburi toddy palm cake with musk melon in palm sugar and virgin Phet Pha-Ngan coconut milk, topped with lashings of freshly shredded coconut. Each element has its place in the chef’s elevation of the traditional, light and fluffy toddy palm cake dessert from Petchaburi, where sugar palm is a key local produce. With the fresh, quality ingredients they’re made with, this dessert is a delightful end to the meal without being too sweet. Petit four Thai desserts such as the flower shape stir pound lotus seed with sugar and coconut milk add a dainty flourish to the meal.
If you’re a wine lover, go for the wine-pairing option where four wines will be served throughout the meal ($1500THB), featuring selections such as 2016 Chenin Blanc, Monsoon Valley, from Hua Hin, Thailand, and the 2011 Testardo Sensi IGT from Toscana, Italy.
131 Sukhumvit 53 (Pai Di Ma Di), Khlong Tan Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok 10110. Tel: + 66 (0) 95 141 5524
For more on Khun Piti Bhirom Bhakdi, scion of Singha Beer’s Boon Rawd Brewery and founder of R-HAAN, head here. To read more about how chef Chumpol Jangprai implements R-HAAN’s farm-to-table philosophy, head here.