Aaharn: A Michelin-Starred Modern Thai Culinary Journey
by: The Beat Asia
September 30, 2022
Brought to Hong Kong by world-renowned chef David Thompson, Aaharn is one of the many gems in his crown that present the core elements of Thai cooking through thorough culinary dexterity. Having opened Thai restaurant venues spanning from his native Sydney all the way to the holy city of Bangkok itself, Thompson has firmly placed himself as a current day icon of Thai gastronomy internationally.
Masterfully playing with key ingredients of Thai cuisine without dressing it up in excess, even its moniker is simply the English phonemicization of the word “food” in Thai. Servicing lunch and dinner sessions Wednesday through Saturday, the gorgeous dining room is a secluded boudoir that removes diners from the hoi polloi outside, serving both prix fixe sampling sets that include vegetarian tasters too, plus an a la carte menu.
Venue and Atmosphere
Those already familiar with The Armoury, one of Central’s most prized al fresco happy-hour spots, will be delighted to find this gleaming space upstairs. Housed in a heritage building, with a balcony terrace overlooking the sweeping expanse of the Parade Ground, the casually swanky Aaharn maintains a sense of privacy thanks to its setup that intersperses spotlight-soaked seating between dimmed shadows.
Set against a calm deep house soundtrack, the colourway flits between mauve, black, and gold as its main tonal accents, with bright pops of colour scattered around in the form of abstract hanging artworks and creative bouquets. The interiors don’t rely on gauche depictions of its inspirational source that has grown stale in the use of wicker chairs and palm fronds, similar to how the menu’s references to Thai cuisine are far from stereotypical.
Food and Drink
The tasting began with an attentive welcome from staff that serves as a reminder of why Thailand’s alternate name of Siam means “land of the smiles.”
A rejuvenating Thai Basil Mojito (HK$120) and a modestly refreshing amuse-bouche bite of pineapple under a clump of Thai seasonings served as the cleansers that prepared my palate for the feast to come. An example of the principles behind Aaharn’s mixology, the basil leaf mojito gave a cleaner finish than the typical mint-based one, with the spiced kick of the rum coming out strong.
Escalating in order of spice levels, the appetisers began with the Betel Leaf with Lobster, Lemongrass and Fresh Shredded Coconut that bursts with contrasting sensations and reflects Thai cooking’s colourful nature. The Crunchy Rice Cakes with Yellowbean Relish that followed was a delightful mouthful that gave an extra oomph in the undercover sweet-and-sour tinge of mango, a crackling prelude to the creaminess of the Steamed Scallop with Red Curry to follow. The scallop was a flavourful pearl that soaked up the seasonings from its bed of mousse, with the added dimension of basil that mellows.
As an entry point, the first wine served in-house sommelier Rishma was a white German Riesling. It feels uncouth to describe any Riesling as “tropical,” but if I were to point to one that fits, it would have to be the 2019 Schloss Johannisberg “Rotlack” Riesling Kabinett from that evening.
As if an obligation for every Thai restaurant in Hong Kong, the Hot Sour Soup of Tiger Prawn acts as Aaharn’s interpretation of “tom yum goong,” and was the first of the main course dishes I was served. This certainly isn’t your grandmother’s tom yum, which was to say that the flavours were present but without the slight amateurishness that makes it feel authentic. Though the garlicky and savoury Stir Fried Sugar Snap Peas with Squid and Squid Ink and comforting Steamed Thai Jasmine Rice that came after worked in evoking the rustic side of Thai food that you would find in a home kitchen all whilst retaining the sense of elegance fundamental to the establishment.
My preferred dishes of the night came in the form of a Cured King Fish Salad with Lemongrass and Mint, as well as the beautiful Red Curry of Pork Collar. Admittedly partial to Thai salads and slaws, I welcomed the instant tang of the marinade from the vibrant fish salad and the rush of herbal aromas. On the opposite side there was the piping-hot, luscious curry that carried with each bite all the rich fragrance of the coconut milk, creaminess, full-bodied pork collar, and added depth of what I assumed was cooked pumpkin. Both presented facets of Thai cuisine in their differences, and both were delectable.
When it came to dessert, simplicity takes the cake. First served was the obligatory, yet much anticipated, mini Mango with Sticky Rice. A game of ratios and balances, all the components of the dish came together perfectly, tippling the scale to a standstill by delivering a good portion of fresh mango to quality rice and a drizzle of coconut cream that didn’t overpower in the too-sweet-nor-too-salted department.
Served side by side, the Coconut Cupcake with Chopped Scallion and Steamed Rice Dumpling with Coconut and Palm Sugar served as nuggets of nostalgia for my childhood in balmy Bangkok reaching out for endless street snacks my family brought home to splay out on the dinner table, though I was snapped out of my reverie by the cupcake’s very slight skew that was just a bit too far down the saltish side of the scale. Both warm and soothing, the two final items of the menu were savoured.
A standout bite from the evening includes the fish salad and the creamy broth of the red curry enjoyed together, with the earthen flavours of the red meat being brought out by an expertly paired 2018 Torbreck “The Steading” Barossa Valley Grenache Shiraz Mataro that melded its flowery spice with the touch of zest from the fish salad’s flavourings.
Aaharn enriches representation of Thai cuisine in Hong Kong by a touch deeper through implementing masterful execution in cooking and using well curated ingredients, forgoing flashiness for true substance. Rather than hard-hitting spice that punches right out the gate, the gratification saunters upwards gradually, so attune your expectations for the long haul.
Revamping the classics and rocketing dishes you’d sooner find on a household dinner table into the Michelin league, their tasting menu is a list that gives certain overshadowed sects of the cuisine palate some shine time. The dinner prices rather steep at HK$788 per person, with additions starting at HK$388 extra (at three glasses) for wine pairings, which just about floats at the price range of an average accumulated a la carte order.
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