Arun Thai is an example of how national cuisines can surprisingly evolve in a global environment. Chef Kham Signavong made his name in Sydney with his much-praised restaurant of the same name and now his latest expansion into Hong Kong at K11 mall is striving to carve a similar path, with a strong fine-dining impression at that. At the elegant interior are slick and polished black seatings with linen-topped tables plus bold red accents glossing the décor as if hinting the food’s heat ahead.
In the midst of the chef's modern interpretation of the cuisine, he hasn't compromised the essence of Thai food: unabashed sweet, sour, bitter and sometimes mercilessly spicy flavours. From the menu that covers Thailand's greatest hits like tom yum goong, phad thai and green or red curries, diners will also discover a few exotic surprises. Our mixed entrée platter (HK$108) arrived filled with mostly deep fried goodies especially the piping hot and moist chicken bundled in pandan leaf or betel leaves centred with toasted nuts and coconuts and dressed in dark palm sugar with a little raw chilli. Tom yum goong (HK$85) arrived topped with a giant king prawn immersed in an aromatic lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf-infused broth. Kicking the spiciness up a notch is the hot and unforgiving banana flower salad, which looks deceivingly innocent while neatly tucked in a martini glass. Banana flower (a giant bulb from a banana tree, which tastes mildly fruity yet has the same texture of leeks) is shredded and mixed in with thin slices of chicken, king prawns and cashew nuts (HK$155). Bound together with a peanut and fish sauce-based dressing fuelled with raw chillies, each spoonful is served as fiery as you would find in Thailand. After being reduced to sweating foreheads and fanning tongues, this dish is clearly recommended for advanced chilli-eaters. Arun Thai is resolutely authentic and doesn't dilute its flavours to suit the local palate, while twice-cooked duck red curry with cheery tomatoes and fresh pineapple bits (HK$168) showed attention to detail with the duck, imported from France, in a flavourful curry was made with fresh coconut milk.
While most Thai restaurants have given up trying to match wines with their strongly flavoured dishes, Arun Thai has invested great time and effort to prove that this cuisine will not subsume all wines. Our recommended glass of Quartz Reef Pinot Gris 2008 (HK$85 per glass) with buttery, pear notes was just one of the pairings that was not only versatile but complementary to even the spicy dishes, such as tom yum soup and the scorching hot banana flower salad.
Service is swift and attentive with the staff particularly thorough in explaining certain ingredients in the dishes that local patrons might be unfamiliar with.