After a zippy motorcycle ride through an intestinal tangle of narrow lanes to get to the century-old villa that houses Issaya Siamese Club, there’s a certain sense of anticipation sitting in its private dining room. It is here that Ian Kittichai will showcase the new additions to a menu that has kept the restaurant on many award listings over the years.
Dubbed Thailand’s first international celebrity chef, Ian’s rise to the top is the stuff of legend. From selling curry off a pushcart as a young student, honing his skills at top restaurants abroad, and becoming the first Thai national appointed as an executive chef of a five-star hotel to opening his first restaurant in New York in 2004, it has been a giddy rush to award-winning chef, author, television personality, and perhaps the country’s best-known culinary export.
His flagship Issaya Siamese Club opened in 2011. Surrounded by a tropical garden, the colonial-style house is dressed in eye-popping colours. This is the stage where he merges traditional Thai flavours and ingredients with modern cooking techniques, all while keeping the spirit of childhood food memories alive.
His joyful relationship with food manifests itself in a series of new appetisers. There is the Seangwa Phoo, a miniature sandcastle of lightly spiced blue swimmer crab and a variety of sweet, meaty mango called nam dok mai; this is topped with seaweed caviar and sits amid drops of chili-coconut dressing, for a restrained interplay of heat and sweetness. For vegetarians, the protein is swapped for heart of palm and green papaya.
Equally demanding of your attention is the Pharam Long-Song, a great riff of a dish popular in American-Thai restaurants. Instead of pork or chicken, Chef Kittichai serves seared Hokkaido scallops and blanched morning glory with a light red pepper sauce, whetting the appetite for a procession of new entrées.
Australian grass-fed veal cheek, cooked sous vide, pulled and then ‘pressed’ for a crispy outside with a moist and tender centre, is the cornerstone of a delicately spiced Gaeng Kua Nua. The curry is served with hand-pressed coconut and perfumed with citrus notes from kaffir lime leaves.
There is also the robust Moo Hanglay, a personal favourite from the Northern Thai gastronomic repertoire. Pork tenderloin is slowly simmered in ginger, pineapple, garlic and dried chilli, producing a rich, aromatic stew with a rollercoaster of flavours that keep you asking for more.
The menu’s seafood segment gets two new additions, too. The Pla Tum Lung is two plump pillows of wild Brittany cod dressed in a forest-green crust of herbs then drizzled with a chili-ivy emulsion. In the Goong Mung Korn Kapow Kwai, Maine lobster is wok-sautéed and treated with cumin leaves and a garlic-chilli sauce, making the lips tingle before the sweetness of the crustacean calms the heat.
If just one more reason was needed to head over to Issaya Siamese Club for the new menu, it would be the Saova Rods.
Melding Thai and French traditions, Ian and Pastry Chef Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul have created a winner here. Vanilla diplomat cream, sable Breton, and passion fruit jam come together for a delightful dessert that is as good as it is Instagram-worthy.
The second sweet dish, Cha Thai Mill Feuille – layers of charcoal pâte feuilletée with Thai tea cream and Thai Tea milk jam – is not half bad either.
The new additions are more wonderful windows into the culinary memories of Ian’s childhood, as well as his travels around his country. These, he wants to share with you.