If any restaurant currently epitomises the ‘new’ Ho Chi Minh City, it’s Koh Thai. From its chic and voguish décor to the menu’s unique and contemporary twist on authentic Thai cuisine, this recently opened venue screams modernity. Upon our visit the emerging middle-income Vietnamese occupy the majority of the dining tables.

 

The restaurant oozes class. Subtly provocative black and white images of the female body adorn the walls, leading the eye towards an exposed industrial ceiling that provides the foundation for gothic chandeliers overhead. The low-level lighting, hushed hues of primary colours and comfortable seating options (private booths, a long, upholstered cushioned backbench and banquet table) help exude a high-end yet calm and relaxed atmosphere.

 

Starting at the bar we peruse the vast, creatively constructed cocktail menu. Though not listed, I order an Old Fashioned (bourbon on the rocks mixed with brown sugar, bitters and a twist of orange rind). The preparation is spot on and it’s easily the best I’ve tasted in this country, so far. Likewise, the cocktail imitation of a coconut curry, A Little Thai’d Up, also hits the spot. The chilli-vodka infused coconut-based cocktail has a real kick, too. The bartenders have been well trained and know what they’re doing.

 

The food presents a more interesting story. We order the Thai fish cakes, deep-fried chicken wrapped in panda leaves and salmon sashimi to start. And though the first two appetisers are tasty (the fish cakes plump and juicy, the chicken lean and moist), it’s the tartness of the salmon sashimi that really stands out. Six thin slithers of pink flesh sit upon a plate awash with thinly textured wasabi-based sauce. The fire of the wasabi calmed by the soothing juices of the citrus creates the perfect balance. This offering has the wow factor written all over it.

 

Off to a good start, it’s the mains that cause a degree of conjecture. All parties agree that the red curry with duck is the strongest dish of the night. The addition of pineapple with, what we believe is Thai aubergine, gives the sauce a pleasantly sweet edge that compliments the gaminess of the duck, which itself is tender.

 

The large portion of pad Thai goong (easily enough for three people) possesses many of the requisite components and condiments (an omelette-like cover concealing a mound of stir-fried rice noodles, bean sprouts and shrimps with crushed peanuts, chilli powder and lime on the side), though for our tastes it suffers from an absence of tamarind sauce. A shame — everything else about this dish is on the money.

 

A ubiquitous fast food dish (though not in the western sense) in Thailand, Koh Thai’s version of pad krapow moo tastes authentically like its street-based counterpart, though with more finesse and balance — here you can perceive the quality of the ingredients. Stir-fried, ground pork, Thai basil, garlic and chilli make for an aromatic and tasty dish. An excellent choice.

 

Unfortunately, the steamed salmon cooked in mint, garlic, chilli and lime just doesn’t work. With Koh Thai’s attempt at adding a twist to Thai cuisine, there’s always going to be one or two dishes that don’t make the cut. In this case the sweet, pungent taste of fish sauce, more akin to the version you would expect of a Vietnamese restaurant in Saigon, just doesn’t combine well with the texture and mildness of the salmon. We even tried this dish on a second visit and it was no better.

 

The experience ended, of course, with dessert — two deep fried bananas with honey and coconut ice cream. Encased in a light, sweet and crispy batter, the banana is soft, warm and gooey while the ice cream is delicious and full bodied, though half melted by the time it arrives.

 

Though there are certainly some kinks to be ironed out, Koh Thai is a restaurant with immense promise. It’s gotten a lot right in a short space of time, and, hopefully, can only improve further.

 

The Prices

Thai fish cakes VND138,000

Deep fried chicken wrapped in panda leaves VND138,000

Salmon sashimi VND168,000

Red curry w/ duck VND188,000

Steamed salmon VND238,000

Pad thai goong VND168,000

Pad krapow moo VND188,000

Deep fried banana VND88,000

 

The Verdict

Food: 10

Service: 12

Interior: 12

 

Food, Interior and Service are each rated on a scale of 0 to 15

13 – 15 extraordinary to perfection
10 – 12.5 very good to excellent
8 – 9.5 good to very good
5 – 7.5 fair to good
0 – 4.5 poor to fair

The Word reviews anonymously and pays for all meals

Mystery Diner

The Mystery Diner is a person hailing from a country that may or may not be Vietnam. S/he can be seen frequently in the restaurants and cafes of Hanoi and HCMC, searching for the most delicious meals each city has to offer. Look for the masked figure in a cape, lurking in the darkest corners of your neighbourhood com tam or pho joint.

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