Fine dining is peaking in the city of Gurgaon but there are a few cuisines that don’t have A-class stand alone options despite that; Thai, for one! There are a couple of bistros and Asian kitchens which offer a smattering of Thai dishes but a dedicated Thai kitchen which innovates and yet manages to preserve the heritage of this rich and robust cuisine, there’s only Thai Pavilion at Vivanta by Taj. Heralded, albeit long distance, by Executive Chef Ananda Solomon, this flagship property has treated Mumbai to fabulous Thai food for over 20 years and last month they completed a year in Gurgaon. To mark the occasion, Chef Solomon invited us for a cozy, curated lunch that showcased specials and a sneak peak of what’s new on the menu for year 2. To have him in our midst added to the meal; he was quick with inputs on methods and ingredients and his effortless elegance was very endearing. We started the meal with a fantastically summery Lemongrass mocktail and the promise of a great afternoon.
The soup was exactly what I was craving, spicy and full bodied Thai Herbed Flavoured Coconut Soup, I chose prawns and the seafood flavour only accentuated the Thai herbs to make them more potent and build an appetite for the starters. The Raw Mango and Water Chestnuts Salad (Yum ma Muang) was incredibly fresh and flavoured very much like Som Tam, slightly sweetened by the water chestnuts and a lovely marriage of sweet-salty and tangy. Though I’m not big on tofu, I wouldn’t miss a single course here! The Thai Tofu Wrapped with Betel Leaves and served with Plum Sauce (Miang kham Phak) was a revelation. Co-incidentally, it was just a few days before this meal when I had looked for reference literature on cooking with betel leaves. I didn’t find much, even in Indian cuisine. This prep was brought alive by the sharpness (though dulled by cooking) of the betel leaves and the tartness of the plum sauce, helping the general blandness of the tofu considerably. What tasted closest to home so far was the Potato and Spinach Fritters (Mon Farang gub Pak Khom), crisp and fresh – the spinach was surprisingly green for a fritter – that’s the thing about premium kitchens, they source premium produce! By now I was looking for a favourite which came in the form of Crab Cakes. I make these often and also flavour them with Asian herbs and ginger, best enjoyed with a sweet chilli chutney. I had been waiting for some familiar Thai ingredients and there they were! Marinated Chicken Morsels wrapped in Pandan Leaves (Kai Haw Bai Toey), were an ingenious use of Pandan leaves. I’ve always used them to flavour rice or custards but never actually deep fried in them. Remove the leaves and it reveals a succulent piece of white meat, the marination had done its job and the distinct Pandan aroma enveloped the air.
Having enjoyed seconds of the Crab Cakes, I was worried about how the main course would pan out but then who can refuse duck, lamb and John Dory? I planned to skip the Silky Bean curd with Black Bean Sauce (Phad Priao Warn Tao) but the black bean sauce had a beautiful, fermented aroma. I loved the sauce but did skip the bean curd. Good idea in retrospect because a meal of Jasmine Rice with Thai Yellow Curry and Lamb Massaman was supremely fulfilling. I never miss the Massaman here and I’m glad it has been retained in the revamped menu. The Yellow Curry however is a new addition and a milder version of the classic Thai Red Curry. It has the typical trilogy of galangal-lemongrass-kaffir lime leaves but in less potent amounts. For the stars of the menu, there was actually no need for an accompaniment like rice, it only takes away from the true flavour. The Steamed John Dory with Lemon Garlic Sauce (Pla Neung Manao) was exquisitely done, perfectly cooked John Dory is a thing of wonder and it must be enjoyed sans any sides or condiments – this would be a dish to go back for! Along with the Classic Thai Style Roast Duck on Spinach (Ped Noy), double cooked, texture like bacon, flavour like double-duck (yes that deep!) and the kind of beef jerky goodness that I couldn’t stop asking for more!
Dessert continued the journey of exploration, another Thai basic made an appearance in an avatar that is the signature of a Chef like Chef Solomon – Makroot flavoured soft centered Chocolate Dollops, which were truffle sized mini bombs of makroot flavoured cream. Makroot is a formidable, dimpled cousin of a lime and Kaffir lime as we know it and it makes for a better combination than dark chocolate and orange. This deeply fragrant chocolate delight was offset by one of the finest ice creams I have enjoyed in a long while. The Tender Coconut Ice Cream was creamy, beautifully emulsified and held together by soft bits of tender coconut. What a fine end to a fine meal! Thai Pavilion is more about preservation, there is nothing nouvelle about the food even though so many dishes are a discovery of something new!