With a certain birthday comes a visit to a certain city for celebration, and with it comes a two-part series of reviews, starting with this waterside restaurant of grand aspect…
Imagine a sort of Brighton Pavilion, shrunk in the wash and bleached white. That would be my initial description of Kuti’s Royal Thai Pier restaurant when I first clapped eyes on its exterior. Little did I know back then that the building in question is home to not one, but two restaurants — the Thai sits on the ground floor, while the Gatehouse Grill is housed above. Watch this space for a future review.
As with previous years, our review season begins with accounts of meals intent on celebrating my birthday, in this case, my 25th. And since last year formally introduced Asian cuisine into our publication, I thought where better to begin than perhaps one of the grander-looking joints on Southampton’s harbourside. Joining me on this particular occasion was a regular guest diner of ours, and self-proclaimed spice lover Joe Hector.
Mood lighting of slowly-changing colours encircle the main function room, which, if anything else, give one an excuse to look up and observe the other goings-on around the room. The staff, who were polite yet professional, were quite quick to see about our drinks, while allowing us to take a little longer over choices for starter and entrée. Such is the varied nature of the menu — definitely top marks there to start with!
Many Asian food-lovers among the readership will already be familiar with Dim Sum; my starter – Khanom Jeeb (see pictured) follows the same concept – bitesize dumplings of, in this case, chicken and prawns – but does away with the little steamer baskets. Instead it was presented very well-organised in a dish partitioned to accommodate a small side salad and sauces. Joe’s choice was another classic of the Asian cuisine scene: Duck Spring Rolls (see pictured).
As an appetiser, the Khanom Jeeb did no more or less than was required of it. Readying the stomach, utilising its own set of mild and subtle savoury flavours, for the temptations to follow. The prawns themselves were undetectable within or behind (who could tell?) the minced chicken. If not for the hint of pink poking out of the little dumpling parcels, I would dispute their being there at all.
The main course is where it gets really good, although quite overwhelming at the same time. It did not take very long for me to decide on mine – all you have to do is stick the words “Chef’s Favourite” in front of it. By name, the Lamb Shank Massaman (see pictured) – a huge shank of lamb on the bone, absolutely teeming with tender meat, surrounded by beautifully soft potatoes, onions and carrots, and drenched in a rich, creamy and flavoursome Massaman Curry, of which a bowl comes on the side for further indulgence. On a place with white tablecloths, a dish like this was sadistic, and to eat with a simple dinner knife, pure masochism. But worth every bite. Not the easiest thing to cut through without risking it flying halfway across the room, but worth it nonetheless. The curry was gorgeous, bursting with beautiful yet mild flavours – coriander and garlic were definitely detectable. Cashew nuts and shallots made their way in there too.
What was redundant, to our waitress’ utter dismay, was the rice, of which there is a choice of around five or six. The amount of meat on that shank of lamb was so becoming of the near-£17 it costs, that by the time it was finished, to even attempt to eat rice with it would be a bridge too far — for my stomach at any rate.
That’s enough about me for a moment; Joe was still there. His choice was the other “Chef’s Favourite” – known simply as Andaman Fish (see pictured). This is deep-fried Sea Bass accompanied by a Thai Green Curry. While he was actually able to finish all of his, including the sticky rice he had ordered, Joe did opine that the heat of the curry overpowered and dominated the flavours of the fish.
Obviously dessert was out of the question. However I will take this opportunity to mention the cocktail with which I washed down (or tried to) these two dishes. Take great care when ordering a Caipirinha here. It is definitely intended as a sipping drink wherever you drink it. It is, as I mentioned in a previous article not too long ago, based with Cachaça, a product of Brazil said to be so strong that if drunk neat it could cause blindness. Only muddled limes and sugar accompany it; there are no other mixers involved. As such, one expects it ordinarily to be served in a tumbler with a lot of ice. But not in the case of the Royal Thai Pier, where it comes filled to the top of a highball glass (see pictured). A sharp intake of breath and suck of one’s teeth with every mouthful. Definitely delicious, but wickedly potent. Not one for the faint-livered.
Very impressive, all-in-all. If I leave a place stuffed, it cannot be a bad sign. But as the first review of 2018, it will be a long time waiting to see if this ends up at the top of the year’s scoreboard.