New chef and menu review: Aaharn, David Thompson's Thai restaurant, Hong Kong (1 Michelin star)
New Head Chef and revamped menu at David Thompson’s Tai Kwun-based Thai restaurant
Whenever I visit Tai Kwun during the evening, the black and white bungalow in the main courtyard is always buzzing. One Friday night, I walked past it on the way to dinner (at Old Bailey) and there must have been at least sixty people hanging in and outside the bar. It had no obvious sign though so it wasn’t until months later, when I was looking for David Thompson’s Thai restaurant Aaharn (named after the Thai word for “food”), that I realized the restaurant is located above the bar. Both Aaharn and Armoury (the bar) are run by Thompson’s Aylmer Aaharn Group.
For those unfamiliar with Thompson’s work, he’s an Australian chef who has become one of the world’s top experts in Thai cuisine. In 2016, he won the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award for his 30-year contribution to Thai food. Restaurant-wise, he might be best known for the Michelin-starred Nahm (stars for both his London and Bangkok locations) where he met young chef Dtoy Pariyasakul who he’s now recruited to be Aaharn’s new Head Chef.
While I waited for my friend to join me, I ordered a light and fresh Pandan and Lychee Daiquiri ($110) and took in my surroundings. Aaharn is a cozy space seating no more than 30 or so guests. Tables are well spaced out so there’s a good amount of privacy no matter where you sit. The overall vibe is what I’d consider to be island-chic; if you’re a Hong Kong resident, it feels a bit like you’ve been transported to a resort in Phuket. Definitely a welcome feeling after a day at the office.
After my friend arrived, our very knowledgeable server talked us through Chef Pariyasakul’s new dishes (he’s revamped about 90% of the menu) and then the eating began.
Amuse Bouche (complimentary)
We started with a small bite of jerky-like jam on a piece of pineapple. The jam was made with pork, chicken, peanuts, fresh herbs, caramelized palm sugar and more. Laid on top of the pineapple, the result was sweet, spicy, intense and fresh. A great start to our meal.
Grilled Mussels - Southern Style ($148)
Our first dish was skewered mussels that had been smoked for two hours and then grilled. The flesh was tender and scented with lemongrass, kaffir lime and toasted coconut.
Chiang Mai Chili and Tomato Relish (HK$198)
I love chili and was excited to dig into this little pot. Our server encouraged us to spread it onto the fried beancurd sheets or dunk our crudites into it. It was of a medium spice level and had a mild fermented flavour. Warning that this may not be to everyone’s taste as it’s a little stinky.
Lemongrass Salad with Prawns, Pork and Cashew Nuts ($228)
We loved the complex flavours in this salad. It was fresh and intense, and each bite was slightly different depending on which of the over 20 ingredients - from fresh prawns and dried squid to toasted coconut and cashews to four types of herbs and sliced lemongrass - you speared onto your fork.
Mussaman Curry of Duck with Sweet Potato and Shallots ($318)
This duck curry was very comforting and I particularly enjoyed the softly-cooked peanuts nestled within the rich cinnamon, cardamom and cumin-infused gravy. The duck was also very tender though our sweet potato chunks were undercooked.
Relish of Yellow Beans with Pork and Prawn on Deep-Fried Egg ($248)
Fans of strong flavours will adore this rich and sweet relish with coconut milk. The egg was all crispiness and yet soaked up all of the relish’s flavour. A must order.
Deep-fried Perch with Tamarind and Chili ($318)
Now I’m not sure if this is one of the new dishes or not but I absolutely have to mention this perch. Like the relish dish above, this is an absolute must order for those who like strong flavours. The perch and holy basil are deep-fried separately and then fried again in a wok with garlic, caramelized palm sugar, tamarind and chili. And there were hints of calamansi in there for freshness. An Indulgent dish but one that’s totally worth it.
I often wax lyrical about my love for Southeast Asian flavours, especially when they are very intense. So Aaharn is exactly my kind of restaurant; easily in my top 10 favourite Hong Kong restaurants now! The food is sophisticated and complex but in an approachable way. While you might not be able to pick out all the ingredients, you likely won’t deny that it’s delicious. Guests can order a la carte or opt for the lunch set menu ($198 from Tuesday to Saturday) or the dinner tasting menu ($788).
*By invitation for Foodie
Update December 2020
Recently I went for a Boxing Day lunch ($388) at Aaharn and sat on the terrace. We were blessed with gorgeous crisp weather and it was such an enjoyable space to relax and soak in some fresh air... all while staring the the Tai Kwun Christmas tree!
The appetizers - a grilled Hokkaido scallop and steamed rice dumplings with lobster, coconut and kaffir lim - were wonderful, and had the same vibrant flavours and sticky sauces I've come to associate with Aaharn. However our mains were not quite as jawdropping; the Wagyu curry was OK, the grilled chicken was quite bony. Next time I'd order a la carte... and I do hope there will be a next time soon!
1/F, 02 Armoury Building, Tai Kwun Centre, 10 Hollywood Rd, Central