Restaurant Review: Koh
Those who like their Thai food best had with a side of pad Thai and tom yum soup may want to steer clear of Koh, the much-awaited Thai restaurant at the Intercontinental Marine Drive, which has blessedly replaced the tired and tacky Czar bar. There is no tom yum soup, no egg-fried rice, even the pad Thai is relegated to the back of the menu. This is “modern” Thai, (a much ballyhooed addendum to most cuisines these days, usually signifying a chef’s innovations), a cuisine chiefly popularised by the restaurant’s chef, Ian Kittichai. Long hailed as one of Thailand’s finest food exports, Kittichai was executive chef at the Four Seasons Bangkok, before setting up the much-praised Kittichai in New York, and Hyde and Seek in Bangkok.
Now, he has brought his re-inventions, thoughtfully catered to Indian tastes, to Mumbai, and this is mostly good news. For one, the space has been given a much-needed makeover by Japanese architect Satomi Hatanaka, who notedly did Megu in New York city and the W hotel in Hong Kong. There’s (quite literally) Thai writing on the wall—apparently a poem about the joys of eating together—and fun, graphic murals, but little by way of the wooden carvings and pagodas so beloved of other Thai restaurants. Koh has been cleverly proportioned, with an intimate bar up front for those want to survey the scene, and a larger, open dining space for those who would rather focus on the food. Undoubtedly, it’s the food that’s the crowing glory of Kittichai’s venture. Kittichai has always asserted that his ingredients are the star of his food, with a whole load of it being flown in from a central kitchen in Bangkok, which in turn procures it from all around the world. (Locavores, who like their food sustainably procured and used, should stay away at all costs.)
Tellingly, most of the food is described on the menu as simply as it’s prepared. The hamachi (Japanese white fish), served with just a sprig of coriander and a slice of bird’s eye chilli, was superb; the yellow fin tuna ceviche, with onions (both raw and caramelised), coriander, mint and chopped chilli, was similarly fresh and simply dressed with just lemon. The hand-pounded corn cakes and crispy rock shrimp were passable; we’ve had better versions of both elsewhere. Whatever you do, leave room for the chef’s signature chocolat baby back ribs. The ribs are thickly cut and covered in a dark chocolate sauce that went wondrously with the meat. It’s best washed down with the goji berry bellini, a slightly tart berry champagne mix, that cuts the sweetness of the ingredients. Though 60 per cent of the menu is vegetarian (there are even concessions made to Jain restrictions), this is undeniably a carnivore’s dream—the quality of the fish and meat, imported as it is from around is world, is excellent. That said, vegetarians will like the tom klong soup, a spicy broth of various mushrooms and chilli; the oven-roasted aubergine, glazed in a sweetish yellow-bean soy mixture, and buttery soft in consistency; and hot-stone rice, a steaming mixture of veggies and spices made table-side.
Of the fish and meat dishes, two in particular stood out: the Chilean sea bass was exceptional, perfectly cooked and minimally dressed with the same yellow-bean glaze as the aubergine; the Mediterranean striped prawns were served with a simple garlic sauce and fresh, finger-sized cuts of asparagus. The 12-hour lamb shank in Massaman curry was falling off the bone, but the curry was too rich and sweet. The sweetness, or rather over-sweetness, was our chief complaint with some of the entrees (particularly the green curry), so much so that by the time we reached desserts, we were comatose. If you’re going to try a dessert, skip the chilled chocolate lava, unless you have a serious sugar death wish, and opt for the guava crumble, a salty-sweet hill of crumbly pastry served with vanilla and caramel sauce. You’d be wise not to make post-dinner plans—this meal is and should be the highlight of an evening well spent.
Must Have: The chocolat baby back ribs.
A meal for two costs approximately Rs4,000 excluding alcohol. All reviews are conducted anonymously.