Whenever I visit Tai Kwun during the evening, the black-and-white bungalow in the main courtyard is always buzzing. One Friday night, I walked past it on the way to dinner (at Old Bailey), and there must have been at least 60 people hanging in and outside the bar. It had no obvious sign though, so it wasn’t until months later, when I was looking for David Thompson’s Thai restaurant, Aaharn (named after the Thai word for “food”), that I realised the restaurant is located above the bar. Both Aaharn and Armoury (the bar) are run by Thompson’s Aylmer Aaharn group.
For those unfamiliar with Thompson’s work, he’s an Australian chef who has become one of the world’s experts in Thai cuisine. In 2016, he won the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award for his 30-year contribution to Thai food. Restaurant-wise, he’s best known for his Michelin-starred Nahm (stars for both the London and Bangkok locations), where he met young chef Dtoy Pariyasakul, who he recruited to be Aaharn’s new head chef.
While I waited for my friend to join me, I ordered a light and fresh pandan and lychee daiquiri ($110; photo also shows a custom-made spritz, also $110) and took in my surroundings. Aaharn is a cosy space seating no more than 30 or so guests. The tables are well spaced out, so there’s a good amount of privacy no matter where you sit. The overall vibe is what I’d consider to be island chic; if you’re a Hong Kong resident, it feels a bit like you’ve been transported to a resort in Phuket – definitely a welcome feeling after a day at the office.
After my friend arrived, our very knowledgeable server talked us through Chef Pariyasakul’s new dishes (he’s revamped almost the whole menu), and then the eating began.
We started with a small bite of jerky-like jam on a piece of pineapple. The jam was made with pork, chicken, peanuts, fresh herbs, caramelised palm sugar and more. Laid atop the pineapple, the result was sweet, spicy, intense and fresh. A great start to our meal.
Grilled mussels southern style ($148)
Our first dish was skewered mussels that had been smoked for two hours and then grilled. The flesh was tender and scented with lemongrass, kaffir lime and toasted coconut.
Chiang Mai chilli and tomato relish ($198)
I love chilli and was excited to dig into this little pot. Our server encouraged us to spread it onto the fried bean curd sheets or dunk our crudités into it. It was of a medium spice level and had a mild fermented flavour. A warning that this may not be to everyone’s taste as it’s a bit stinky.
Lemongrass salad with prawns, pork and cashews ($228)
We loved the complex flavours of this salad. It was fresh and intense, and each bite was slightly different depending on which of the over 20 ingredients – from fresh prawns and dried squid, to toasted coconut and cashews, to four types of herbs and sliced lemongrass – you speared onto your fork.
Massaman curry of duck with sweet potato and shallots ($318)
This duck curry was very comforting, and I particularly enjoyed the softly cooked peanuts nestled within the rich cinnamon-, cardamom- and cumin-infused gravy. The duck was also very tender, though our sweet potato chunks were undercooked.
Relish of yellow beans with pork and prawn on deep-fried egg ($248)
Fans of robust flavours will adore this rich and sweet relish accented with coconut milk. The egg was crisp yet soaked up all the relish’s flavour. A must-order.
Deep-fried perch with tamarind and chilli ($318)
Now, I’m not sure if this is one of the new dishes or not, but I absolutely have to mention this perch. Like the relish dish above, this is an absolute must-try for those who like strong flavours. The perch and holy basil are deep-fried separately and then fried again in a wok with garlic, caramelised palm sugar, tamarind and chilli. And there are hints of calamansi in there for freshness too. An indulgent dish, but one that’s totally worth it.
I often wax lyrical about my love for Southeast Asian flavours, especially when they are intense, so Aaharn is exactly my kind of place – now easily one of my top 10 favourite Hong Kong restaurants! The food is sophisticated and complex, but in an approachable way. While you might not be able to ascertain all the ingredients, you likely won’t be able to deny that it’s delicious. Guests can order à la carte or opt for the set lunch menu ($198, Tuesday–Saturday) or the dinner tasting menu ($788).
1/F, Armoury, Block 2, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central, 2703 9111, book online
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.
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