Top notch Thai nosh

I prefer to avoid giving binding opinions on restaurants within 6 months of their opening. Many places are still finding their footing, and many others dip in quality as owners run low on money or enthusiasm. But in this case I’m making an exception.

We’ve been waiting a long time for a decent South East Asian restaurant in Brno and then two opened in the same week. The first place is Vietnamese bistro Go. I will now tackle the second; Thai restaurant Siam.

Siam

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This is more of a sit-down-and-settle-in type of place. The décor is modern with some nods to tradition. They’re the kind of furnishings you might see outside a Thai branch of Ikea, piled into a precarious tower atop the roof of a tuk tuk. There’s also a nice outdoor area at the rear.

The staff are warm and friendly, there’s a decent wine list, and there’s ingredients like “kaffir lime leaf” and “galangal” listed on the menu. But this is Brno, and I’m still cautious – I’ve been hurt before (sniff).

I started with the Kai Satay – skewered strips of chicken thigh, yellow patched with mahogany brown where the coconut and turmeric marinade has caramelised on contact with the grill. It’s lovely and moist in the middle. Drizzled with a peanut sauce and on the side a crunchy crisp pickled cucumber salad which cuts the sweetness of the sauce perfectly; a solid start.

Before we move on to the main course I’d like to make a special mention for the cocktails: they’re excellent. The bartenders have done a fantastic job of utilising the strengths of Thai themed ingredients they have access to in the kitchen to come up with an innovative list. They make a mean Mai Tai.

On to the main course, and for this I selected the classic Red Curry with duck breast. I’ve tasted many Red Currys that were clearly made with a lazy grab bag of supermarket shelf ingredients, because unfortunately this is the first stop for every chef who decides to make Thai curry on a whim without any more knowledge than the instructions on the back of a tub of curry paste.

Fortunately this one is something else. A rich, sweet, pungent, spicy broth. Suspended in it are pineapple chunks, green beans and bamboo shoots which are all, for the most part, nice and firm. The duck meat is flaky, tender and present in generous proportions. An occasional hit of anise from the Thai basil adds variety. It’s a symphony of flavour when taken alone, but let’s take a look at the rice that comes with it. Ripe and sticky, al dente on the outer layer, and with a hint of coconut. Its interaction with the sauce is a marvel – soaking it up into a soft, moist, springy, spicy cake, smeared across your tongue as the glorious mixture disintegrates on your taste buds.

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My single subjective complaint is that they could possibly tone down the palm sugar (a sugar made from palm sap that has a distinctive fudge-caramel flavour), as by the time I was reaching the end of the fairly large portion the sweetness was starting to get a little cloying.

I visited Siam on another occasion and had a fantastic Tom Kha Gai (spicy chicken and coconut milk soup). Sour and hot, the deceptively thin consistency belied a full flavour; lemony-creamy tangy and sweet. That citrus flavour comes from the addition of fresh kaffir lime leaf: soup-herb! Badoom-tish.

This is the real deal, folks. But I would say you’re safest sticking with the classics rather than going off piste. In my several meals there I’ve only had one bum note; a speciality dish called Moo Yang, which in its current form is unfortunately just a muddle of indistinguishable flavours.

I’m still a little worried about Siam though. It’s pretty widely known that the Czech national palette has not yet acclimatized to the spice levels found in more exotic cuisines. Siam have fortunately added a chilli pepper icon spiciness scale next to each dish. Unfortunately it does not always accurately correspond to the burn. The salads are particular offenders – both I’ve tried had me gushing from a majority of facial orifices. I might occasionally be brave enough to eat dishes that require a fistful of coffee creamers as a chaser – but I need to know that’s what I’m getting beforehand.

The folks at Siam have not compromised they way many have before, which is a brave stance in a city where non-European food is still pretty exceptional, and the proper ingredients can be hard to acquire. Time will tell if Siam’s food will survive its six month probationary period. If you’re interested, I recommend you make sure it does by going to try it for yourself.

Industra Food Fest, Saturday, September 10

You might already be tired by the constant parade of food festivals we had this summer but I’d like to recommend something a bit different – the Industra Food Fest on Sep 10. Many of the stand holders are enthusiastic amateurs sharing their native cuisine or just food they’re passionate about. It’s an opportunity to try flavours that you can’t find anywhere else in Brno.

I recommend getting there early as last year a lot of stalls sold out before the end. Once word gets around where the best stuff is they sell out quickly.

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