The latest member of the LUBUDS portfolio is Sawadee Chef, a modern Thai restaurant with a twist. It’s led by accomplished chef Ronald Shao, a Sichuan native with more than 40 years of culinary experience under his belt. Chef Shao has worked at five-star restaurants around the world, including most recently at fine-dining Chinese restaurant MIÁN at The Murray, Hong Kong, where he remains the esteemed chef de cuisine. He’s incorporated both Chinese cooking techniques and the spicy elements of Sichuan cuisine into his Thai menu, bringing these two popular cuisines together with a bang.
Olympian City 2 might not seem like the most obvious location for Chef Shao’s newest restaurant endeavour, but that’s where Sawadee Chef has landed (lucky for those in the Tai Kok Tsui neighbourhood). The spacious, casual all-day-dining eatery is decorated simply with plain wooden floors and tables and rattan-seated chairs, with the high ceiling and windows making it feel even larger. A feature is the 10-seat Thai barbecue bar near the front.
These Thai raw prawns ($218) are packed with flavour. The fresh, sweet, silky Jinga prawns are dipped into a traditional Thai paste of green chilli, garlic, lime and spices, then topped with even more of the fiery sauce.
Perhaps our favourite of the tasting, this razor clams ($218) dish is inspired by the use of fruits in Thai cuisine, with the thinly sliced green grapes adding pops of juicy sweetness. The texture of the New Zealand razor clams is pleasantly firm to the bite, and we loved the addition of Sichuan peppercorn with its numbing, citrusy heat.
The unique Thai barbecue menu has been developed in partnership with a Japanese yakitori chef, so BBQ is a highlight at Sawadee Chef. Another showstopper of a seafood dish, the whole squid (market price) was grilled to perfection, retaining its bouncy texture. Truly a fusion dish, the squid is slathered with a homemade sauce made with Sichuan peppercorn and Yunnan chilli pepper that’s addictively spicy.
The Thai barbecued pork ($88) is made using extremely rich and fatty Spanish pork shoulder that’s been marinated in tamarind juice. We enjoyed the charred flavour of the meat and the balance of lettuce leaves on the plate.
Here we have Chef Shao’s riff on the classic Thai dish of spicy minced pork with basil, usually served with lettuce leaves for wrapping. Instead, this is spicy minced pork belly with perilla leaf ($248). The Kurobuta pork belly from Japan is minced by hand in order to achieve a better texture, and it’s then stir-fried with water chestnut, mushroom, chilli and laksa leaf to create an onslaught of flavour and texture, with the crispy rice the cherry on top. The pungent, grassy flavour of the perilla leaf balances the richness of the pork mixture.
We sampled this dish alongside a seemingly humble clay pot of stir-fried Thai morning glory ($138). Its appearance belies its garlicky, spicy flavour, amped up with the addition of fermented Thai bean paste.
Chef Shao uses yellow-hair chicken to prepare his Hainanese chicken rice ($188), soaking the birds to preserve the tenderness and flavour of the meat. The chicken itself was indeed soft and juicy, but it’s the three homemade sauces that made it sing – a traditional black dark soy-based sauce, a Singaporean-style red chilli sauce and a Thai green chilli sauce. The accompanying soup includes chicken liver and egg white, providing a rich sweetness. The only disappointment here was the glossy yellow rice, which was sadly lacking in flavour on our visit.
Not pictured is the mango sticky rice ($108) we gobbled up for dessert. The flavour is as authentic as the Thai classic we all know and love, but it’s the presentation that stands out. Chef Shao has designed the dessert to resemble bite-sized nigiri sushi – cute!
“Not just Thai” is emblazoned on Sawadee Chef’s exterior sign, and we completely concur. Chef Shao’s Thai-meets-Sichuan menu is a success, fusing the best of both cuisines to create innovative, flavourful dishes. Sawadee Chef is definitely not your standard “mall” restaurant, and it deserves a visit whether or not Tai Kok Tsui is your ‘hood.
Shop G21–G23, G25–G27, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui, 2881 8803
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.