The new Thai restaurant Nahm at the Halkin Hotel in London must be the most over-rated restaurant of the moment. We were tempted to visit after reading almost indecently unanimous glowing reports from every respectable publication in the land. What clinched it for me was the word ‘authentic’ – I know for one thing how hard it is to find authentic AND excellent Chinese food in our supposedly cosmopolitan capital, so the chance to sample authenticity of something even more exotic seemed too good to miss. From the moment we stepped in last night - one of the hottest days of the year, we knew something was amiss. Although air con grilles were in evidence, there wasn’t much coming out of them. The thought of eating a spicy meal in such circumstances began to feel daunting. Still, the menu looked extremely enticing and, having read all the praises heaped on the set menu (‘a steal at £46 per head’) we opted for it as we thought it would save us the dilemma of having to choose. But not only were we wrong on that count I was also baffled that we could only choose one dish from each course although we had asked for TWO (count them) set meals. One review read ‘the balance between sweet and sour is a feature of Mr Thompson’s style’. Well, for us it seemed to be a one way trip down Palm Sugar Lane, enroute to Chilli Valley and the Dead Sea. Although the two ‘amuse-bouches’ (I do find this term cringingly sick-inducing but I can pass the credit on to Matthew Norman of The Telegraph) of fruit bites with some sea life thrown in augered well for what was to come, the next appetiser of minced salmon and watermelon was so over-whelmingly sweet that we wondered whether we had skipped straight on to the dessert. In the event, that dish seemed to be designed to prepare us for the purgatory that was the eternal wait for the next course – there’s nothing like sweetne
ss to put you off the savoury. There again, ‘savoury’ would have been too precise a term for the main course – ‘in-your-face’ is probably the closest one could come to in the impossible task of defining it. The soup (with sea bass) tasted like someone left the cap off a 1kg salt container. The deep-fried detritus of pork belly (‘morsels’ would be too generous) - all 3 pieces of them, were dried up and tasted of dried-up detritus of pork belly. The monk fish curry was the epitome of bad Thai food – watery sauce with a few bits of fish. The scallops were barely cooked (I would go to a Japanese restaurant of that sort of thing thank you, or for that price, Gordon Ramsey and I’d still have change) and the two drops of sauce at the bottom were lethal in its heat. The lightly grilled venison had dollops of what appeared to be out-of-date tomato puree on it. Lastly, there was the unidentifiable tomato-prawn-thing-in- a- small-dish-supposedly-a-relish-for-this-that-or-the-other which, actually, despite being lukewarm, was not bad if we hadn’t passed caring. As I said, all this is hard to define in its horridness. One thing it most definitely is not is ‘delicate’, which ironically is the adjective most frequently associated with Asian cuisines. We did send the soup back, despite the protestation of the smartly clad waitress (sorry, but that’s what you are). They came back as we were about to leave, watered down. It was something I was tempted to do at the table, but sparkling mineral water just wouldn’t go as well as tap water from the kitchen would it? Needless to say we spared ourselves the delights of the dessert – black sticky rice with caramel ice cream and whatnot? We surrendered our credit card and went in search of Hagaan Daz Pralin and Cream in the air-conditioned comfort of the car. On the subject of service, we all know of the fa
shion police who patrol such up-market establishments, and one is never sure whether service as slow and, erm, bland, as this is due to the Armani suits or the height and blondness of the staff. I’ve also read that the staff is largely Australian and it was evident that at least the management isn’t ageist. The appearance of a singular Thai costume was wonderful especially in this drab and airless envirmonment, but as it was worn by what seemed to be the only visible authentic Thai member of staff it seemed extremely racist and offensive – what? If he wore Armani as well no one would be able to identify him? Howabout giving him a coolie hat to wear too? Once again I have visited a restaurant praised to the sky by people who call themselves restaurant critics only to find the establishment wanting. What function do these people serve apart from enlightening us with terms like ‘amuse-bouches’? I will not digress with a new diatribe, but suffice it to ask this - just what exactly were these people fed (and offered) to drive them to such orgasmic approval? Were we missing something in our experience? I don’t think so – the couple next to us were as excited at the beginning, but were reduced to embarassed silence when the food arrived. I just wish it didn’t ruin the rest of their evening. Finally, we must congratulate the citizens of Sydney for Mr Thompson’s sojourne in London – count your blessings if you couldn’t get a table before he closed the restaurant there.