It says something about the quality of Singapore’s eateries, not to mention the city’s ruthless competitiveness, that a restaurant as good as Mai Thai’s new East Coast outpost should have been so empty during a weekend lunch visit. Inside, the fragrant, mauve, silk-covered space is scented with lemongrass essential oil and decorated with an ornate, glittering gold wheel on the wall, and sculpted frond leaves on the table alongside lemongrass and basil leaves.
Cuisine-wise, there’s absolutely no reason why this second of soon-to-be three branches shouldn’t be more popular than its elder, orange-toned Chip Bee Gardens sibling. Neither should this indoor restaurant be forced to put off staging lavish set lunches. The menu is straight down-the-line Thai, and everything we had was cooked simply and without pretension. But then, the culinary duo in the kitchen hails straight from north-eastern Thailand, and has been honing its skills for the past 20 years.
A homely Chinese- and Thai-influenced, clear silken egg tofu soup set the tone of the meal: a direct, friendly and palatable offering built on a solid foundation. The broth, heady with garlic, was speckled with white cabbage and sweet minced pork and served on sturdy Celadon ceramics. Rice crackers, an appetiser slathered with a deep-red chilli sauce, rode a subtle, charred undertone.
Meanwhile a salad of shredded green papaya, dried shrimp and tart cherry tomatoes was dressed simply, with salty and sour notes emanating from the fish sauce, lime, garlic, chilli and palm sugar – it prepped the tastebuds nicely for the lurid orange hues of a sweet-and-savoury pad Thai that was fried with fresh, plump prawns, chilli, beansprouts and peanuts.
Like a culinary vulture, we waited for missteps, convinced that a dud was in the offing. But it never came, not even in the very reasonable bill. Instead, the kitchen kept up the tempo and artfully avoided sending out consecutive dishes that might have tasted like variants of the same theme. When the rusty red, creamy beef panang arrived – tender cuts of beef chin streaked with thin slivers of lemongrass – it felt almost a redundant exercise to ask to see the dessert menu. With hindsight, we should have stopped right there, asked for the bill and left in a languid mood. So we will. Let’s skip the disappointment that was the red ruby, shall we? Daven Wu
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