For those who missed the magic that a a seated gastronomic experience offers, the “Summer Journey” menu at Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin is a welcome reminder of the way things once were, with equal doses of table theater and culinary creativity.
There was a time in the world of gastronomy when things were much simpler; medium-sized starters were followed by larger starters, with a single dessert topping off the meal. These days, chef-led multi-course menus are more the norm, with dishes prepared and presented, carefully selected drink pairings, and flashy molecular gastronomy to add that extra ‘wow’ factor. At the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin has dazzled diners with this infallible formula since 2010, and has been awarded a Michelin star four years in a row for his efforts.
Unfortunately, all of these edible experiments came to a screeching halt when Covid-19 erupted in a big way, and restaurant closures put a damper on fine dining in Bangkok. But now, as we slowly come out of hibernation and can have dinner again, the grand theater for which Kiin Kiin’s Sra Bua is famous can be considered almost a new kind of “comfort food” – reminding us of what we and our IG feed, were missing.
As you step into the beautifully decorated, high-ceilinged interior of the restaurant, with its ornate lotus pond in the center and elegant paneled walls, the distinct feeling that things are somewhat back to normal sets in. In fact, the only major sign that we are in post-pandemic mode – aside from the masked service staff and the disinfectant gel on the tables – is the lack of alcohol service. To compensate, the restaurant’s new ‘Summer Journey’ menu – until the end of November, with 4- and 6-course lunches and 8-course dinners – is available with ‘gemstone-inspired’ juice pairings, which replace nicely spirits at the moment.
A selection of amuse bouche snacks, inspired by classic Thai street food, kick off our evening; starting with a Tom kha– flavored meringue button, and an edible plastic bag (made from cornstarch) containing puffed rice seasoned with celery powder, shrimp powder, yellow curry and other spices. Both bites melt in your mouth almost instantly, with the bag of dissolving rice providing a little extra fizz on the tongue.
Next is Thai eggplant – marinated, rolled and topped with corn powder and white sesame – presented in tandem with a pomelo salad containing a salted egg, Kaffir lime leaves, and earthy, tangy Surat Thani crab roe. . Served with humor in a ceramic hollow egg, which, in turn, sits in a bird’s nest next to two decoy eggs, the pomelo salad dish is a good example of the chef. Henrik Yde Andersen‘s to add a touch of whimsical spirit wherever possible.
The first official course “on the menu” is an innovative presentation of Tom yum kung, prepared at the table using a siphon cooker. As the broth heats up under the open flame, it is pushed into the upper chamber of the siphon, soaking up the flavors of herbs, chili peppers, lemongrass, lime leaf and shrimp head. . Granted, this percolating cooking technique is one I’ve seen used elsewhere in town, but the next step involved is quite unique.
When the time is right, diners are invited to take the plastic syringe given to them and slowly inject the contents into the hot soup in their bowl, gently moving their hands in circles. The result is DIY instant tofu noodles, which form on contact with the spicy – and very delicious – Tom yum kung. Once again, Chef Henrik’s mercurial sense of humor shines through, bringing a touch of delicious absurdity to the table. Definitely not something you can get with a Grab delivery note.
This elaborate starter soup is accompanied by a trio of tasty sides: shrimp cracker topped with shrimp sashimi and lobster mayonnaise; a miniature cilantro waffle; and a delicious salt cod salsa with pepper and lime leaf. Also on the table comes the first of seven juice chords, this one a satisfying blend of apple and celery – inspired by garnet, a symbol of eternity.
The next dish, served in a large transparent bowl, is an East meets West riff on Yam Pla Duk Foo – crispy catfish with green mango salad – except that here the catfish is swapped for Norwegian salmon, which is first smoked, then fried in hot oil. The salad is then seasoned with a mixture of raw garlic, fresh chili, fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice in a hand mortar, and enriched with additional salt with the addition of salmon roe. Accompanied by this dish, a tangy ginger lemonade garnished with soda, inspired by cymophane (or “cat’s eye” as it is commonly called).
Next comes a pair of chipped French oysters, separated on the plate by an egg custard flan garnished with dried fish (tuna, in this case). As the waiter embellishes the oysters and flan with a dollop of fresh miso mousse, he explains that the side dish is Danish. Khanom krok – made from pancake flour, like a traditional bleskiver, but with dried shrimp inside – which are meant to be soaked in foam. As for the juice, it’s a bittersweet blend of passion fruit and yuzu inspired by yellow sapphire.
The dominant theme of East meets West in the “Summer Journey” menu reflects the culinary collaboration between chef Henrik – who still lives in Copenhagen, and therefore had to oversee the creation of the new menu via Zoom – and Sra Bua’s in-house Chef de cuisine, Chayawee Suthcharitchan. The next dish, which incidentally includes Chayawee’s homemade red curry paste recipe, is a classic Thai version. Hor Mok, here with asparagus and tender pieces of crab meat. This pretty seafood soufflé is cooked in banana leaves, served with white asparagus espuma, and is accompanied by a superb lobster bisque, served in a martini glass and garnished with bergamot powder and lobster mousse. The pairing of lychee and emerald-inspired mint juice adds a sparkling – literally – touch of green.
Among the two “big tickets” dishes to come, the first offers foie gras made in two ways: pan-fried and plated with tamarind and pear chutney, all hidden under a small mountain of lychee mousse; and dim sum style in a dumpling – whole duck confit – with a wonderful sriracha sauce and vinaigrette from the province of Trang.
The second features stewed beef ribs (48 hours), which is shared the plate with a mild Massaman curry, a side of fermented cabbage, a Jerusalem artichoke in two ways – mashed and crispy – and Thai rice with jasmine from Surin. The two respective drinks are a mixture of tamarind and lemongrass for the foie gras, referring to the opal, and a combo of “ruby” red grape juice and cranberry for the beef.
If that meal was a concert, the first dessert marks when the singer returns for an encore, performing one of his most beloved hits. In this case, the song is the pineapple tartare from Phuket, flavored with Thai rum and turmeric, which receives an avalanche of “snow” – created by quickly freezing a carafe of coconut milk using ‘liquid nitrogen.
As the waiter prepares this icy final table, cooling the herbal infused milk to nearly -200 ° Celsius in seconds, streams of sub-zero fog blanket everything he sees. Yes, we’ve all seen it elsewhere, but it’s still a very enjoyable dinner time drama that you won’t get at home. Not to mention the fact that the finished dessert itself is delicious.
The end of the show is a digestive dessert class that combines Earl Gray tea ice cream with chocolate, bergamot gel and thin meringue wafers. And for the last number of the evening, four cleverly tackled Petit fours fill the table, each with their own imaginative story – as the always attentive, white-gloved service staff tell.