As an amateur to the fine dining scene in Perth, the suburb Highgate and Mount Lawley has been nothing but surprisingly good (although EXPENSIVE) restaurants. Located next to one of my favourite Japanese fusion restaurant Nine Fine Food, a Thai restaurant has taken the decadent Thai cuisine to a whole new level. To start off, I am going to put a little controversial statement that if you dislike Thai food, you probably do not know how to eat. Fact.
For Nahm Thai, this was all business and this was no joke. Forget messy, forget street style Bangkok food. At Nahm Thai, it is all about the finesse and matching taste without losing its traditional roots. Funny fact though, is that Nahm Thai is not run by a Thai person but instead a Vietnamese couple who is passionate about their Thai food. On Saturdays, only a Nahm Thai set menu is available for $75 per head.
Galloping Horse was our first appetizer where little slices of pineapples and orange segments were topped with a paste which closely resembled “belachan” or prawn paste. Clearly present were bits of dried prawns which were nice. It was sweet, and salty with a hint of heat but not too much. With the fruit, it was really quite tasty although it did not really “wow” the palette as it did to the eye!
Soft shell crab, watermelon, salad was probably one of the best dishes that night. Whether it was the delicious sauce or the perfectly crispy soft shell crab, it was yummy! Underneath all that fried crabs are a bed of diced watermelon which works quite nicely with the crispy seafoods. I realize that watermelon goes well with deep fried slightly spicy food like the deep fried squid I had at Jacksons and even this dish at Nahm Thai is a really good example.
Scallop, curry and chili was for me the reason why the first appetizer lost its “wow” factor. The same paste we had on the fruit were used on these perfectly seared scallops with a spoonful of lip smacking red curry sauce. For me, this combination was just absolute. The large scallops means there is no hiding that delicious sweetness of the scallops despite the strong flavored herbed paste. More importantly, the red curry sauce tied everything together for that one perfect morsel. I really liked this!
Having the appetizers above, Nahm Thai had my appetizer riding a high although the similarity between the scallops and galloping horse will not have happened had they been able to supply their betel leaf. Nonetheless, knowing what we ordered for our mains made me drool!
First main served to us was the roast duck red curry with lychees and quail eggs. Unlike previous versions I have had before, this was simply flawless especially the red curry sauce that was rich and extremely fragrant. The sweetness is well toned on this one although it was a little sweeter than I would have liked. But more importantly, is that the sweetness did not feel as if it was all from the sugared syrup. It felt more subtle although its presence is unmistakable. Also, one thing that made me like this even more was that the curry did not feel oily in anyway. My previous tries even at the S & T Café was extremely oily. To put it together, the roast duck red curry in Nahm Thai is simply sublime hitting all the right notes where it matters most!!
Crispy skin barramundi, and herbs
Our next main was a fish course which to me turned out slightly disappointing. The fish definitely felt lack luster with it soggy skin being the main cause. And at this early stage, I am already starting to feel worried. The little concoction which made the soft shell crab appetizer highly appetizing is starting to feel overused although in fact, the sauces could be different despite tasting similar. Not sure how that works but I will not mention further. The grilled vegetables went well with the fish and my praise for this dish is that the fish is very fresh. I would normally not eat barramundi as I have heaps of bad experience with it being overly fish with a scent of muddiness.
Crispy pork hock
The pork hock was also the victim of the “same sauce” syndrome with the exception that this also had a thicker syrup on the dish. But for this dish, it was simply perfect. The sauce is spot on. Hard to fault as this combination of sweetness and pork like a classic pork roast and apple sauce. Or perhaps turkey with cranberry sauce. But more importantly, the pork hock was crisp on the skin, tender on the inside with absolutely no bones. This was absolute joy!
Other than this dish, we also ordered grilled prawns which were placed on a bed of cucumber salad. The crime? SAME SAUCE problem. No insults but it did not taste any different from the sauce seen in the soft shell crab, fish, and pork hock. To a certain extent, this is going to be a problem for most if not everyone. To drag things a little lower, we were 1 prawn short which had your sincerely giving up the prawn so others could have theirs. Fortunately though, I asked for an extra serve of dessert instead of troubling the chef to prepare one large prawn.
After a less than satisfying main (more reasons to come at the end), we were treated to our dessert course:
The lime tart with coconut ice cream was a in house specialty that had me drooling with its presentation. Taste wise, this dish splendidly displayed the zesty lime flavors that was simply delicious in desserts. On first bite though, the acidity might feel a little overpowering. But when the tongue adjusts itself to this velvety smooth lemon custard, it was hard to stop. The crust was slightly hard but that was hardly enough to fault with the dessert. For me, I thoroughly enjoyed it but to my dismay, my dining companion enjoyed it even more than I did. I have always thought that he is no big fan of sour foods but I was wrong.
For my second dessert, I could not have gone any further than to try the benchmark of any Thai cooking, the obligatory sticky rice with coconut milk and fresh mangoes. Not joking! In Thailand most electric rice cookers come with multiple levels drawn on the pot which distinguishes between water levels needed to cook glutinous rice and normal rice.
This was delicious in almost every place that screams “I’m authentic” and the version at Nahm Thai did not disappoint either. But where changes can be made for the better, I felt that the sticky rice was a little tougher than I would have liked it to be. Pandan leaf taste was way too subtle as if it never existed. For me, the rice has to be fragrant, light, and cooked just right. And to me, having deep fried shallots just does not make the cut. While it seems like I have faulted with every element except the coconut milk and the mango, it was still pretty good. But in my list of tops, nowhere near Jim’s mother’s version where authentic Thai is finished with a touch of homeliness.
Another issue I need to point out was the fact that the Jasmine rice was a little hard that night. But having mixed the coconut and Jasmine rice in equal proportions help bring the carbs back on track!
At the end, Nahm Thai is clearly a winner when it comes to quality food which further reinforces that fact that anyone can cook anything. But with its highs comes its lows where the food to a certain extent felt slightly one dimensional with the sauce and condiments used over and over again. Then comes the fact that the waitress seemed more interested in varying our meat than the flavors that day. But how does Nahm Thai change the Thai food scene in Perth. For me, the quality here significantly differs itself from other high end places without being pretentious. Nahm Thai could easily be a whole new level if our choices were made with better help from the waitress. Unfortunately in this particular occasion, it was good but not great enough to be prided as Thai dining at a whole new level. I remembered the menu and I know what we should have ordered to avoid the problem of the same sauce issue. A step which could have made our meal a whole new level.
My pick for a more than 3 person Nahm degustation is:
Scallops on shell
Crispy soft shell crab
Roast Duck Red Curry
Crispy Pork Hock
King Prawn Green Curry
Beef Stew (Nahm Thai’s version of the Massaman)