Playte promises much, with a cool, contemporary setting dominated by the open kitchen with counter seating and tables at the periphery of the restaurant. Encouragingly, three young local talents are partners in this casual fine-dining venture. If you sit at the counter, there is a refinement to the kitchen proceedings, from the deliberate intent in the preparation of dishes to the fastidious plating.
The menu has selections in Raw, Small, Mains, Sweets, Beverages and a modest wine list. From Raw, Mackerel (RM32) proferred a few slices of fresh fish in a mild green splash of calamansi, pomelo, belimbing, pickled cucumber, fried broccoli and dill oil, which sounded mischievous, but was instead a restrained, subtle blend and a missed opportunity.
From Small, Ox Tongue (RM32) was a seared brown slab dressed with cured yolk, XO sauce, pickled onions and salsa verde, making for a standout dish, enticingly rich and robust, a meaty texture with layered complexity, with a satisfyingly roundness overall.
In Mains, Prawn (RM34/RM56 for Small/Large) was pan mee taken to levels of undreamed-of sophistication. Strands of chunky, irregular, house-made noodles with a good-textured bite, coated in thick prawn head sauce, served with prawns and a squeeze of home-made, basic sambal. As with other dishes, this was accomplished and refined, even the sambal made your street variety taste coarse and vulgar in comparison. The Small is really — well, small, for a Main dish.
Fresh, Pan-Seared Threadfin (RM58), given the royal treatment on a bed of pearl barley, pickled tomatoes and dried tomatoes with bursts of piquant flavour, in a light, spiced, tomato dashi with small blobs of dill oil and some Thai basil, made for an imaginative and well-executed dish with a complex interplay of flavours and texture.
Finally, Yoghurt (RM24) featured thick Greek yoghurt with lemongrass jelly, cucumber granita and kaffir lime leaves. Sounds local but tasted fairly exotic — cold, crumbly, nuanced and satisfying.
There is no faulting the polish of the food at Playte — coolly elegant, subtle and refined, the dishes are carefully crafted to be savoured slowly. In a crowded field of good restaurants, however, more daring and boldness would elevate the dining experience and make it more memorable.
Thai food is widely varied and endlessly inventive. Krung Thep (Bangkok in Thai) casts its net across the regional cuisines of Thailand, but is grounded in the cooking of the rural areas, so expect charcoal-fired grills and curries with enough heat to set your head on fire. The primary flavours of Thai food — sweet, sour, salty and spicy — are emphasised, not attenuated. Diners accustomed to milder, Malaysianised Thai food will find the food rustic and robust, with the cook adding a few original flourishes.
The country feel is evident in the cosy, dimly lit wood-themed interior, without being kitschy or obvious. There is a tasting menu that needs pre-ordering, and an à la carte menu with familiar crowd-pleasers — Tom Yum, Som Tum, Miang Kam and so on — and some more adventurous offerings.
A thoughtful complimentary appetiser set expectations high; crisp fried chicken skin with raw vegetables — ulam raja, cucumber and long beans — with a variety of dipping sauces — sweet-spicy, sour-salty and sour-sweet-spicy.
The Grilled Baby Squid (RM26) was surprisingly not crisp, but lightly-cooked, dressed in a thick, appetising sauce with highlights of sweet, salty and sour, while the Aubergine Salad (RM24) was delicate, with the soft, smoked aubergine enlivened with lime, fish sauce, prawn floss, and a complementary onsen egg for body.
The Seabass (RM42), though grilled over charcoal in a pandanus leaf, was notable only for the accompanying sweet tamarind sauce, while the grilled “Ipoh” Kampung Chicken (RM42) had to be sent back because it was underdone. It was juicy and tender when done right, better than your average restaurant charcoal-grilled chicken, and flattered by a strong suite of accompanying dips.
The star of the evening was the aromatic Green Beef Curry (RM36), loaded with sweet basil, green peppercorn and pea eggplant in a thick curry paste. I was reminded of wandering into restaurants in less-travelled, small Thai towns where no one spoke English, ordering local curry and encountering molten lava instead. Marked “very spicy”, this was a kicking, unapologetically fiery curry, yet not so hot as to nuke your taste buds and numb you to its potent fragrance and mildly bitter aftertaste. It was best with sticky rice (RM5) and reminiscent of the raw, primal tastes of Lao-Thai border food.
Oddly enough, there are no desserts on the menu, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as thab thim crob, tako and mango sticky rice are so blasé. The sole off-menu sweet was a house-made vanilla bean ice cream that was thick, creamy and sweet with a tantalising hint of pepper, and was complimentary as atonement for the under-grilled chicken.
Krung Thep is not your usual Thai restaurant with run-of-the-mill Thai food. Primary flavours dominate in cooking that is rustic and honest, like what you would encounter in out-of-the-way small Thai towns. Go with an open mind and empty stomach and you will be rewarded.
This article first appeared on Nov 11, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.