|Baan Rim Pa Entrance|
Baan Rim Pa, Royal Thai Cuisine
Words by Kirsten Durward
Photos by The Yum List (Monica Tindall)
Even on a blustery day in low season Baan Rim Pa impresses in style and setting. Surrounded by banyan trees and other lush tropical foliage, the traditional two story teak house sits up above the crashing sea. Look one way for a seminal view along Patong Beach, look the other, and you’ll totally forget where you are. Baan Rim Pa is an institution in Phuket, the original restaurant in the Baan Rim Pa group, which comprises another of our Patong favourites, Joe’s Downstairs, and a classic Italian, Da Maurizio. The visionary behind these locations, Tom McNamara, first came to Phuket in 1988 to fish. Despite reports that there were no Marlin left in these seas, he managed to land a whopper. Although now deceased, the Baan Rim Pa website still carries the legend’s statement, ‘Tom always gets what he wants.’ Apparently what Tom wanted was a beautiful Thai restaurant in a divine location.
|Baan Rim Pa, Royal Thai Restaurant, Patong|
|Baan Rim Pa Dining Table on Balcony|
We learn a little more about Royal Thai Cuisine. The current chef Jaree Noisamee, was trained in the cuisine at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok by a chef who served the Queen of Thailand in the Royal Palace for many years. The same chef created the menu for Baan Rim Paa and was part of the start up team for the restaurant. The faithful kitchen still follows the authentic ‘Royal Recipes.’ This is a very different style to Thai street food; yummy though that can be, but don’t let anyone tell you it is not authentic. It is, it’s just a truly different style. We are learning that there are many different styles to Thai food. It’s the usual story with anything, the more you learn, the more you realize that there still is more to learn.
|Patong Beach as Viewed from Baan Rim Pa|
|View from Baan Rim Pa|
Although it’s early we have our arm twisted to try a cocktail (THB295). Pink Sunset Malibu is a frothy fun tall glass full of a sweet coconutty soother. We sip and both giggle, remarking how much Monica’s husband Caning would love this particular drink. Despite Asian preconceptions about ‘ladies’’ tastes, we both prefer strong sourish drinks but Caning has a real sweet tooth. The B & M vodka cocktail, is more to my particular tastes. I’m very happy with the fruity zing of triple sec and a splash of strawberry schnapps topped up with fruit juice. This would be lovely to sip and watch the sun go down over the rocks one evening.
|Pink Sunset Malibu|
|B & M Cocktail|
Our first dish literally takes our breath away. Chormuang (THB295 steamed Thai dumplings) is something I would never have ordered from a menu. So once again, I’m grateful to have my eyes and tastes stimulated by someone else leading the choices. From ancient Phoenician times until the present day, purple has been known as a royal or imperial colour. The delicate periwinkle petals of the Butterfly Pea are used to extract the colouring for these delicately molded little dumplings. They are so exquisite that I can barely bear to take first bite. But I have to. The first taste that floods my mouth is bursting with spiced sweetness, rich and dark. Then other teasing flavours start to kick in, there’s an alluring teeny crunch, a hint of tamarind, and I end on a note of pepper. Beautiful. Butterfly Pea is a traditional Thai herbal plant, which has a reputation as a hair strengthener too. So not only divine to look at and delicious to taste, but it’s good for us too. I still can’t quite let go of the delicious flavours and need a little respite before tasting the next dish. We can see why Thai royalty would enjoy feasting on these delightful little flowers.
Sue’s managing extremely well at bringing us new taste sensations. Pla Muan Raad (THB355 rolled fish with garlic sauce) is another dish we’ve not see before. Fish is stuffed with delicately sliced vegetables before being rolled gently and coated in a fine sticky sauce. I’m always wary of garlic descriptions, but this one is sweet, slightly spicy with no strong pungency.
|Pla Muan Raad|
Graton Thong Herbed Chicken and Sweet Corn (THB295) in pastry shells, is almost as pretty, and patently just as much work to make. What deft, clever fingers these Thai chefs have. Our helpful hostess Sue informs us, ‘you really need to see it being made to realize how much work goes into it.’ I can just imagine. And in a tiny kitchen too. They’re a perfect mouthful size, the light crunchy pastry filled with a sweet, slightly chunky mix, definitely easy to nibble on and much fresher than the usual fried Thai snacks.
|Graton Thong Herbed Chicken and Sweet Corn|
Winged beans are a very typical traditional Thai vegetable, but for us Europeans they are so exotic and fascinating with their distinct taste. Yaam Tua Plu (THB315 herbed salad of wing bean with shredded chicken and prawns) has a fairly spicy sauce with a base of roasted chili paste and coconut milk. However, like all great Thai food, nothing is as simple as it appears, and I also taste a little limey tang, a subtle sweetness from palm sugar and a luscious rounding of tamarind.
|Wing Bean Salad|
Yaam Hua Plee Gluay (THB315 banana blossom salad with minced pork) sees another another exotic flower, the banana blossom as the highlight of this dish. Prepared somewhat similarly to a globe artichoke, we love the delicacy of these particular fronds.In this salad, the blossoms and pork are slathered in a thick and creamy coconut sauce with red curry flavours. Monica can’t get enough of it and is still slavering about it three days later.
|Banana Flower Salad|
We’re trying really hard not to drink with lunch but we’re all too easily persuaded when Sue suggests a glass of white. A Thai wine featured on the menu intrigues Monica, and Sue assures us that it’s worth a taste, the winemaker having won international awards for it. ‘They used to have two wines here, a white and a red. Now look at the wine list, there’s over 300 wines,’ Sue discloses. The cellar at Baan Rim Pa has been a winner of Wine Spectator Magazine’s award of excellence every year since 2002, which shows you the benefits of employing a specialist wine consultant.
The Thai White, a Monsoon Valley Colombard 2013 (THB315), is very clean and dry with a crisp acidity. It has quite intense tart apple flavours and a good long finish. The wine goes well with seafood and light spice, but we particularly enjoy sipping it with our duck curry. This locally produced wine pleasantly surprises us.
|Thai White Wine - surprisingly good!|
The Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (THB435) is slightly fruitier on the palate, a clear elegant wine that contains hints of tropical fruits with a citrus edge. It’s a great accompaniment to all the dishes.
|Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc|
With silent apologies to red wine drinkers, the third white we try is the Sileni Estate Pinot Gris from Hawkes Bay (THB435). A well-balanced medium dry wine with aromas of fresh peaches and a little limey edge is again all too easy drinking!
|Sileni Pinot Gris|
We could have happily stopped at starters, but there are two signature main dishes that we ‘absolutely must try.’ Well then, let’s try! Panaeng Ped (THB395 duck with thick, creamy curry sauce and lychees) is a popular dish as it features sliced duck breast. I probably would have ordered it just because of lychees. A dense curry sauce, packed with spice complements the beautifully cooked tender meat. Following orders we adorn each slice with a boost of fresh lychee, enjoying the refreshing pop of sweetness cutting through the rich heat. It’s a truly wonderful sensation. Sweet, spicy, dense, moist, yummy, I’m sold on this one.
|Duck Curry with Lychee|
Pla Nueng Manow (THB395) is steamed fish superbly filleted with not a bone in sight. Apparently Royalty is rather fussy so that they don’t want to be bothered with bones, so every single one is picked out! How they do this and keep the integrity of the fish is beyond me. But as usual, it is perfectly presented and totally delicious to taste. I love the light firm flesh and the sensual lime and coriander flavours. Mmmmmm…
And here comes the dish we’d all forgotten about. Oops! Readers will know that we’re not huge fans of deep fried dishes, but Gai Haw Bai Toey (THB395) is different. The honeyed chicken is marinated for hours before being wrapped and dipped very quickly into searing oil. The result? Melting soft chicken that has been heat cooked rather than fried. It’s delicious and falls apart in my fingers. (Yes I was reduced to fingers after unwrapping the leaves!) The sticky tamarind sesame sauce is delicious for dipping into. I’m glad this wasn’t forgotten. So far, the best Pandanas wrapped chicken I’ve tasted.
|Chicken in Pandan Leaves|
I seriously can only manage a tasting teaspoon of the three desserts we are offered. Sticky Rice with Mango (THB 195) unusually has the coconut already on top, rather than to the side. The portion of fat ripe mango is very generous indeed.
|Mango Sticky Rice|
Water Chestnuts in Sweet Coconut Milk (THB125) are plentiful, crunchy and served on ice with mango slices, definitively a sweet end to the meal.
|Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk|
Banana Cooked in Sweet Coconut Milk (THB125) is served warm, and slightly more on the savoury side if you don’t have such a sweet tooth.
|Banana in Coconut Milk|
Towards the end of the meal Sue reflects with us, ‘basically this restaurant hasn’t changed in over 20 years, but people come back year after year. They come back after five years and say we’re so glad you haven’t changed. You wouldn’t believe the people who come back year after year.’ Sue’s not always there, but if she is, do invite her to share a glass of wine with you. She’ll tell you some good stories.
If you can’t manage a meal or it’s fully booked, you can still enjoy Baan Rim Paa’s delightful ambience and fabulous location. Stop by to sit at the generous old style bar and enjoy a cocktail with the sunset and piano accompaniment. We meandered back for a pre dinner drink, and enjoyed a stunning sparkling aperitif and a knock your socks off martini - delightful and totally recommended.
|Baan Rim Pa Bar|
Baan Rim Pa is open every day for lunch and dinner. It is extremely popular in high season so be sure to book ahead!
Reasons to visit: fabulous location for lunch or dinner; beautifully presented, delicately spiced Royal Thai cuisine; very special Chormuang; extensive wine list.
Baan Rim Pa
223/3 Prabaramee Road