Ananda Solomon's solo venture brings back comforting, authentic Thai flavours that we have been craving since his exit from Thai Pavilion
It was in 1993 that chef Ananda Solomon introduced Indians to authentic Thai dishes as he helmed the kitchen at the Thai Pavilion. The research period that led to the opening required Solomon to frequent Thailand, where he learnt the ropes from locals, and focused on the details. And this connection sparked off a life-long love for the food and the people. Which is why, four years after he left the venture, he is back to showcase his love for the cuisine with Thai Naam by Ananda, which he describes as "more than a dream," when we meet him for lunch, before it opens for service on February 11.
Green Thai curry
We step into the new space in Andheri East, and are in awe of his attention to detail, which we had only a taste of earlier. A cluster of inverted Thai umbrellas make up a chandelier that hangs from a high ceiling. Then, there's a gallery of Royal Thai Benjarong pots from the Ming dynasty and as you walk down the passage; you spot dual-toned white and black clay pottery that is now forgotten, from northern Thailand on a shelf, while ecru lime painted walls display Thai motifs from all corners of Thailand. The seating sections are laid out in similar fashion. The Bancay section has six booths with exquisite stone sculptures. There's writing on one wall, which translates to 'as you eat, so you are', revealing how integral food is to Thai culture and identity, Solomon tells us.
Then, there's a casual seating section, deuce booths by the window, and a private semi dining area, which houses Thai temple bells as well as traditional crowns of the Lakhon dancers, which, along with the dreamy jigsaw puzzle-shaped ceiling lighting, transports you to the Asian country. The menu has a Thai logo — the national symbol of Thailand with two elephants, representing the Chiang Mai region — embossed on it. "Something to depict my time there. I've learnt so much there. I miss Thailand — its people and energy," he tells us, as he leads us to the spacious kitchen area, which has a staff meditation room and dining area.
Fresh pomelo salad
As we watch him cook, we begin our meal with the spicy soup flavoured with lemon grass, lime and bird chilli (Rs 300). It is tangy but not overpoweringly so, and just spicy enough. Next up, som tam (Rs 600), a young papaya salad with sweet and spicy sauce that's got an addictive edge to it thanks to the freshness of the fruit and the peanuts sprinkled on top that complement it seamlessly. But we prefer the fresh pomelo salad (Rs 650), a refreshing salad with crispy soft shell crab and a generous helping of pomelo. Also because it has a fleeting hint of bitterness we find fascinating. Piqued by the idea of a warm salad, we try the larb kai (Rs 600), which is essentially a spicy minced chicken salad with beans that adds to the dish's texture.
Tom yum soup
For appetisers, we recommend the kai haw baitoey (Rs 600). The marinated chicken morsels are wrapped in pandanus leaves and fried, resulting in succulent bits that have a sweet tinge. Add a drop of sweet chilli sauce and it's a whole new level of explosion of flavours as the sweetness enhances each bite. The morning glory (Rs 650), Thai spinach in yellow bean paste, is the yummiest healthy dish we've tried in the city. Prawn lovers can try the kai bai kapprao (Rs 750). The grilled succulent bites are laced with a sweet, sour and spicy dressing that highlights the trio of flavours.
Tub tim grob
The Thai red curry (Rs 700) is tangy and spicy, but also earthy; the perfect example of why Indians gravitate towards the red curry. But the green Thai curry (Rs 700) reminds us why Solomon continues to be a wizard in the kitchen. It's simple, yet each mouthful is welcoming for our tummies and taste buds alike. It doesn't feel heavy and is something we, who have previously been quite sceptical of this preparation, could eat every day. The phad Thai is unlike what we've tried in Mumbai or Delhi and doesn't contain sprouts, something that has otherwise become synonymous with the dish here.
We end the meal with the tub tim grob (Rs 300), which is essentially diced water chestnut in coconut milk, and also the lightest dessert we've had. The water chestnuts are dipped in rose to give them a red colour and slight aroma, which works well with the light-as-air coconut milk, and ample ice bits. When we ask him about rooting for an authentic menu, he reasons, "I just know how to cook what locals eat there. I don't think about authenticity. I know exactly what I am supposed to do. I have chosen a path and think I should walk on it to make a difference." He certainly should.
Opens on February 11, 11 am onwards
At Thai Naam - by Ananda, F-1, 1st floor, The Orb, JW Marriott Sahar, Andheri East.
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