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What’s it all about? It’s not a new dance move, but a restaurant based in the northeast Isaan region of Thailand. Flavours here are known for being fiery and pungent, featuring some of Thailand’s spiciest salads. In this kitchen, Aussie Chef Adam Cliff – a protégé of Michelin-starred David Thompson, of Nahm London, and Bo.lan Bangkok restaurants – aims to deliver “a sweet-salt-sour-heat smackdown, changing typical expectations of a traditional Thai meal”.
The dance floor: Chachawan is another restaurant spearheaded by entrepreneur Yenn Wong. The design is meant to be “raw and impactful like the food”, with focal elements such as zinc, concrete and vintage raw wood, as well as Thai illustrations and vintage Hong Kong posters adorning the walls. Tables and chairs are tightly distanced, and you may find spacing an issue if you order a few too many dishes, with noise decibels gearing pretty high as the night grows on.
We cha-cha’ed on: The menu has a great line-up of Isaan pounded, chopped and mixed salads. The green papaya salad ($88) with tamarind dressing and barbecued pork was the spiciest dish of the night. The contrast of sweet pork to pounded papaya was a great kick-start to the salty, sweet, sour and spicy flavours of the meal. Next came the grilled Wagyu beef salad ($128), tossed with shallots and herbs in a toasted rice dressing; the hot and sour pork rib soup ($88) – the second-spiciest dish of the night, though its other flavours were lacking – and the grilled 24-hour-marinated chicken thigh ($158) served with jim jaew, a dried chilli dipping sauce served traditionally with grilled chicken or pork. To finish, the warm coconut rice dumplings, served in salted coconut cream ($58) were a play on sweet and salty flavours, though we found the contrast a little unbalanced and the texture too gooey for our liking.
Top marks of the dance: Perfectly grilled salt-crusted sea bass ($248) was tender, moreish and aromatic, stuffed with lemon grass and pandanus leaves. Served with a green chilli dipping sauce, it was a definite highlight of the meal, as were the grilled tiger prawns ($178) smothered in a pungent, flavourful, dry red coconut curry paste. The last-minute addition of acidity from fresh lime introduced another layer of flavour, drawing out yet more savouriness from the fragrant curry paste.
Ready to cha-cha? We sure are! However, if you are anticipating the authentic spicy, tear-inducing flavours of Isaan cuisine, you may find yourself a little underwhelmed. Having previously visited Bo.lan Bangkok, we would call it more of a “pleasant spice hit” instead of a bona-fide Isaan heat smackdown. We’d also recommend bagging a seat upstairs if you don’t want to come out smelling like you’ve been to a barbecue smoke out.
206 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan