For those who’ve been missing the magic that a sit-down fine dining experience delivers, the ‘Summer Journey’ menu at Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin is a welcome reminder of the way things used to be, with equal doses of tabletop theatrics and culinary creativity.
There was a time, in the world of fine dining, when things were much simpler; medium-sized starters were followed by larger entrées, with a single dessert capping the meal. Nowadays, chef-driven multi-course set menus are more the norm, with elaborately constructed and presented dishes, carefully curated beverage pairings, and some flashy molecular gastronomy to add that extra “wow” factor. At Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin has been dazzling diners with this sure-fire formula since 2010, and has been awarded a Michelin star four years in a row for its efforts.
Unfortunately, all this edible experimentation came to a screeching halt when Covid-19 erupted in a big way, and restaurant closures put the brakes on fine dining in Bangkok. But now, as we slowly emerge from hibernation and can once again dine-in, the grand theatrics Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin is famous for can be viewed almost as a new kind of “comfort food” – reminding us what we, and our IG feeds, have been missing.
As you enter the restaurant’s beautifully decorated, high-ceilinged interior, complete with its ornate lotus pond in the centre and elegant wood-paneled walls throughout, the distinct feeling that things have somewhat returned to normal takes hold. In fact, the only major sign we’re in post-pandemic mode – apart from the masked serving staff and sanitizing gel on the tables – is an absence of alcohol service. To compensate, the restaurant’s new ‘Summer Journey’ menu – on until the end of November, with 4- and 6-course lunches, and 8-course dinners – is available with “gemstone inspired” juice pairings, which nicely take the place of spirits for the time being.
A selection of amuse bouche nibbles, inspired by classic Thai street food, kicks off our evening; beginning with a Tom Kha-flavoured button of meringue, and an edible plastic bag (made from cornstarch) containing puffed rice seasoned with celery powder, shrimp powder, yellow curry, and other spices. Both bite-size items melt in the mouth almost instantly, with the dissolving rice bag offering a little extra fizz on the tongue.
Thai aubergine follows – marinated, rolled, and topped with corn powder and white sesame – presented in tandem with a pomelo salad containing salty egg, Kaffir lime leaf, and earthy pungent crab roe from Surat Thani. Humorously served in a hollow ceramic egg, which, in turn, sits in a bird’s nest alongside two decoy eggs, the pomelo salad dish nicely illustrates Chef Henrik Yde Andersen’s penchant for adding a touch of whimsical wit wherever possible.
The first official ‘on the menu’ course is an innovative presentation of Tom Yum Kung, prepared tableside using a siphon-style cooker. As the broth heats up under the open flame it’s pushed into the siphon’s upper chamber, becoming infused with the flavours of herbs, chilies, lemongrass, lime leaf, and shrimp head. Admittedly, this percolation 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 instructed to take the plastic syringe they’ve been given and inject the contents slowly into the hot soup in their bowl, gently moving their hand in circles as they do so. The result is DIY instant tofu noodles, which form upon contact with the spicy – and very delicious – Tom Yum Kung. Once again, Chef Henrik’s mercurial sense of humour shines through, bringing a touch of delightful absurdity to the table. Definitely not something you can get with a Grab delivery order.
Accompanying this elaborate first course soup is a trio of tasty sides: prawn cracker topped with prawn sashimi and lobster mayonnaise; a miniature cilantro waffle; and a yummy salted codfish salsa with bell pepper and lime leaf. Also arriving on the table is the first of seven juice pairings, this one a satisfying mixture of apple and celery – which draws its inspiration from garnet, the symbol of eternity.
The next course, served in large transparent bowl, is an East-meets-West riff on Yam Pla Duk Foo – crispy catfish with green mango salad – except here the catfish is swapped for Norwegian salmon, which is first smoked, then deep-fried in hot oil. The salad is then dressed with a hand-mortared mix of raw garlic, fresh chili, fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice, and given an extra salt kick with the addition of salmon roe. Paired with this dish is a zesty ginger lemonade topped with soda, taking its inspiration by cymophane (or ‘cat’s eye’, as it’s commonly known).
A pair of shucked French oysters arrives next, separated on the plate by an egg custard flan topped with dried fish (tuna, in this case). As the waiter embellishes the oysters and flan with a fresh dollop of miso foam, he explains that served on the side is a Denmark-style Khanom Krok – made of pancake flour, like a traditional æbleskiver, but with dried shrimp inside – which is meant to be dipped into the foam. As for the juice course, it’s a sweet and sour mix of passionfruit and yuzu which takes its cue from yellow sapphire.
The prevailing East-meets-West theme running through the ‘Summer Journey’ menu reflects the culinary collaboration between Chef Henrik – who still makes his home in Copenhagen, and thus had to oversee the new menu’s creation via Zoom – and Sra Bua’s in-house Head Chef, Chayawee Suthcharitchan. The next course, which incidentally features Chayawee’s homemade red curry paste recipe, is a take on classic Thai Hor Mok, here featuring asparagus and tender chunks of crabmeat. This lovely seafood soufflé is baked in banana leaves, comes served with a white asparagus espuma, and is paired with a superb lobster bisque, served in a martini glass and topped with bergamot powder and lobster foam. Adding a scintillating splash – literally – of green, is the emerald-inspired lychee and mint juice pairing.
Of the two “big ticket” courses still to come, the first features foie gras done two ways: pan-seared and plated with tamarind and pear chutney, all hidden beneath a small mountain of lychee foam; and dim sum-style in a dumpling – together duck confit – with a marvellous sriracha and vinegar dipping sauce from Trang province.
The second showcases slow-cooked (48 hours) beef short ribs, which share the plate alongside a mild Massaman curry, a side of fermented cabbage, Jerusalem artichoke done two ways – puréed and crispy – and Thai jasmine rice from Surin. The two respective beverages are a tamarind and lemongrass mix for the foie gras, referencing opal, and a ‘ruby’ red grape juice and cranberry combo for the beef.
If this meal were a concert, then the first dessert course marks the moment where the singer returns for an encore, performing one of his or her most crowd-pleasing hits. In this case the song is Phuket pineapple tartare, flavoured with Thai rum and turmeric, which is given an avalanche of “snow” – created by flash freezing a carafe of coconut milk using liquid nitrogen.
As the server prepares this frosty finale tableside, cooling the herb-infused milk to almost -200° Celsius in a matter of seconds, billows of sub-zero fog cover everything in sight. Yes, we’ve all seen it done elsewhere, but it’s still a highly enjoyable bit of dinnertime drama that you won’t get at home. Not to mention the fact that the finished dessert itself is scrumptious.
Winding down the show is a digestif dessert course that combines Earl Grey tea ice cream with chocolate, bergamot gel, and thin wafers of meringue. And for the evening’s final number, four artfully plated petit fours fill the table, each with its own imaginative backstory – as narrated by the always attentive, white-gloved serving staff.