Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The best Indian in Thailand?

Roderick Eime likes it hot - his Indian food, that is. Find out why he went all the way to Bangkok for a curry.

A classy couple enjoying the rooftop view from Rang Mahal (supplied)

Tonight I’m dining at the best Indian restaurant in Bangkok. Okay, so that may sound a bit incongruous. Why come all the way to Bangkok for Indian cuisine? Because when it’s as good as this, it’s worth it.

Rang Mahal, I’m told, was the traditional palace of pleasure and banqueting. A venue specially decorated by Indian kings with intricate mirror work and the choicest paintings, the kings would come down to the Rang Mahal to wear off their royal worries and enjoy the best of Indian cuisines, wines and music. To this extent, the reproduction is accurate and a troupe of musicians play Indian folk music as we dine.

Located on the top (26th) floor of the popular Rembrandt Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 20, right in the heart of downtown Bangkok, head chef Rajan Misra concocts a staggering array of wonderfully authentic Indian dishes.

Head chef, Rajan Misra "I'm still learning"

His mantelpiece groans under the weight of awards which includes eleven consecutive years as Best Restaurant from Thailand Tatler, top spot in Bangkok’s Top Tables Guide and top Indian restaurant in Bangkok by wbpstars.com, which assesses the best restaurants in the world.

My companions tonight include some fussy, if irreverent Aussie journos, ex-pats and the ever convivial GM, Mr Eric Hallin, who hails from Sweden, albeit a long time ago. I remind myself to refrain from ABBA jokes.

Eric takes charge of the wine and regales us with stories of the burgeoning Thai wine industry. Hang on, double take. Thai wine industry? I recall a white wine from Isaan sampled some years back that I wouldn’t use to extol the virtues of the national grape.

“We’ve come leaps and bounds since then,” Eric says, “and interestingly, the star Thai winemaker at the moment is a young woman.”

True, Visootha "Nikki" Lohitnavy is responsible for the Granmonte Heritage Syrah (shiraz) from Khao Yai and it’s pretty good by any standards. Yes, I’ll have a top up.

"I would recommend any dry or semi-dry whites like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, with chicken dish like Murgh Makhanwala and for seafood like Tandoori prawns," says Eric earnestly, "The reason why I don’t suggest Chardonnay grape is because its fruity characteristics dominate the flavour of the Indian food."

Then I almost stand when chef Misra comes to greet our table. He’s royalty around here.

One of our team cheekily inquires, “So what does it take to be a top chef?”

Treating the question seriously, chef replies: “ … consistency, continuous practice and learning. I have watched and learned from masters in India and adapted these techniques to my own dishes, so what you are hopefully enjoying tonight is a result of that and my own learning.”

I love it the way he says “hopefully”.

Signature dish Murgh Makhanwala with tofu (supplied)

Tandoori Prawns (supplied)

Most of the dishes are Northern Indian influenced with the freshest ingredients overseen by chef himself. Okay then, bring it on.

Eric signals to chef with some cryptic sign language and code words, but it’s a practiced routine and our order is on the table almost before the kitchen door stops swinging.

Deep-fried puff pastry samosas stuffed with potatoes and green peas are placed in ornate copper dishes along with Kabu Aloo Chaat (potatoes, chick peas tossed with Indian tangy sauces and herbs). You’d think this was McDonalds the way we hoe in. There is no consulting about the last one either. It’s gone.

Tandoori kebabs, chicken and prawns are arrayed before us like a royal feast. Tandoori is a Delhi charcoal oven tradition and it’s here that chef pays homage to the masters with age-old recipes livened with his own touch. Spicy sauces and soothing yoghurts work together to enhance this delicious assortment.

More wine.

It’s hard to say no to this cavalcade of fabulous food and I’m feeling decidedly full as I tackle the last morsels of Raan-e-Khyber, tender lamb leg, marinated in rum, herbs and spices and barbecued on charcoal.

Sensing our satisfaction, Eric summons dessert and ice cream and fresh fruit appear to calm our enthusiasm.

As I stumble back to my room, visions of maharajahs and maidens cavorting over their own feast, it’s easy to see how Rang Mahal garners such awards and, jokes aside, I heartily commend this restaurant and its learned chef.

Bookings are recommended. Want to see a menu? Here are some of chefs recipes.

Rembrandt Hotel, 19 Sukhumvit Soi 18, Sukhumvit Road, Klong Toei, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
www.rembrandtbkk.com

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