Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin
A molecular approach to Thai food in a refined setting with a glamorous decor.
Curries turned into ice-cool powder by liquid nitrogen and crab laksa served as a Cornetto are more than just party pieces at this most modern of Thai restaurants. Flavors stick to Thai tradition while wowing with creativity. The vast, double-height dining room is also something to behold.
Sra Bua is the Bangkokian sister of Copenhagen’s Kiin Kiin, which, after David Thompson’s London branch of Nahm, became only the second restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star for cooking Thai food. The food is modern gastronomy, though, making it very different from your mom’s cooking (and Nahm’s). A curry might come with the texture and temperature of ice cream, and bites of lobster can be locked into gelatinous pearls that melt in your mouth with a sip of tom yam broth. The three-course B1,800 set doesn’t do the concept justice, though, so do opt for the B2,400 flurry of oddly-shaped, often bite-sized curiosities with a main and two desserts topping it all off.
On our most recent visit, we felt the meal’s first third suffered from the same gripes we had when Sra Bua was helmed by Pavita Saechao. We’re still baffled by the shrimp crisp on what might as well be a tart mix of mayo and ketchup, or the pomelo salad served in an oily, deep-fried cone made with dumpling dough. Similarly, we dislike the foie gras spring roll (yawn) and the shrimp dumpling with a thick skin that’s pretty much on a par with something from CP’s frozen food range (although the accompanying tom yam broth is spicy goodness).
But with Sra Bua’s original chef Morten Nielson back in the kitchen, curries and sauces have otherwise regained their balance, hitting all the sweet, sour and tangy notes that make Thai food so great. Topped with tender beef, and tiny berries stuffed with fried garlic, the yam neua is a success. And while the orchid salad’s snow fish’s batter is a bit soggy, its seasoning borders on perfection, too. The deconstructed tom ka with pickled mushrooms is another delight; despite a mouthfeel that’s completely disconcerting (the coconut is turned into what looks like cottage cheese but feels like ice cream on the tongue), it powerfully evokes a darn good tom ka. That modern cuisine magic feels particularly effortless with Sra Bua’s desserts, where layers of creaminess and crunchiness, chilled sorbets and fizzy powders combine in a final firework of sensations.
One of our main gripes would be that Sra Bua is a modern interpretation of Thai cuisine as Westerners know it. This is such a serious limitation that tom ka is the base for two dishes in the B2,400 set, as if they were running out of obvious classics to play with. The principle of modern cuisine is to trigger powerful food memories while challenging our expectations, often in terms of mouthfeel. But our memories are not composed of pad Thai without noodles, or situations where the shrimps are replaced by more elevated produce (scallops and crab, in this case). Nor do they contain much banana bread and red curry with duck. Nam daeng, gaeng ho, yentafo or even a streetside mix of deep-fried pork and sticky rice would be much more interesting dishes to reinvent, elevate and deconstruct were Sra Bua targeting locals. Unfortunately, on our last visit, staff indicated our party contained the only Thai they’d seen that evening, and seemed genuinely crushed we couldn’t get the in-house guest discount.
Speaking of financial matters, the set can come out to nearly B3,500 net per person with taxes and fancy imported waters (do insist on the B60 local variety for damage control). Wines start around B1,900, but most are in the B4,000 range—there’s also a B2,400 wine flight pairing. Obviously, this is not a cheap place, but you can feel the tremendous amount of manpower required to cook and plate this endless series of miniature artworks. Speaking of looks, the décor, with its spacious booths, soaring ceilings, Thai pavilion and tiered pools of lotus flowers, is quite the sight, too. It’s just unfortunate how the front of house, despite their best intentions, still make too many faux-pas given the hotel’s five-star aspirations.
Those looking for comfort and value for money, tend to leave Sra Bua feeling robbed blind. If you’re a little bit intellectual about your food, and like having your palate challenged in new ways, Sra Bua is definitely interesting, often tasty, and should be rewarded for its risk-taking. Unfortunately, we can’t say this food triggers enough powerful emotions in us to warrant regular visits. Corkage charge B1,000 (wine only).
|Address:||Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, Lobby/F, Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, 991/9 Rama 1 Rd., Bangkok, 10330 Thailand|
|Opening hours:||daily noon-3pm, 6pm-midnight|
|Reservation recommended, Parking available|
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