Do you know which country has the longest coastline in the world? It’s not Thailand, if that is what you were thinking; it’s Canada with just over 202,000 kilometers of shoreline. With 3,219 kilometers, Thailand comes in 34th, which is one kilometer ahead of 35th placed Sweden; I wonder if Sweden asked for a recount on this.
Why the coastlines? When I was asked to write this article on seafood in Thailand, I had visions of long travels up and down the country’s shorelines in search of exotic seafood dishes. And so I did travel and here I am, 10 kilos heavier as a result. My colleagues are gutted (excuse the pun) that they didn’t get this assignment, but hey, at least they know exactly where to experience a seafood feast now.
With each signature dish, our wine expert Bart Duykers has recommended the perfect wine companion chosen from each restaurant’s current wine list.
Phulay Bay, Ritz Carlton Resort
I started my journey at the Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton resort in Krabi with the most unusual of Bloody Mary’s…a Bloody Mary Crab Salad to be precise. With a name like this, it isn’t a surprise that it’s the best selling item on Chef Alex Gares’ menu at the resort’s Lae Lay restaurant. To most people a salad is a relatively quick dish to create, but his one requires the overnight straining of a tomato and the addition of ‘xantana’, which is an obscure thickening agent used by the best chefs. Watch out for the vodka gel, this crab still has some bite left in it.
Wine companion: This dish is best paired with the German riesling, notably the Schloss Vollrads Sommer Riesling. The fresh floral and lively notes pair well with the crab, it’s touch of sweetness embraces the spices of the Tabasco and pepper. A great chance to taste this beautifully balanced wine from the world’s oldest winery.
137 Pillars House
Thailand may not top the list when it comes to coastlines but it does where tiger prawns are concerned…the Kingdom is the largest exporter in the world. I headed up to Chiang Mai (nowhere near the coast, which doesn’t matter if you want prawns). At the exquisite 137 Pillars House Executive Chef Thiti delivers a fiery Tiger Prawn and Salmon Tataki. I use the word ‘fiery’ deliberately because Chef Thiti cooks this dish using a blowtorch! Kaffir lime, bird’s eye chili and fresh lime juice give the dish a Thai kick.
Wine companion: Look in Alsace, France, for a good companion; the Zind 2009, from Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. A blend of chardonnay and auxerrois; it’s aromatic and mineral character will pair well with the Asian flavours, and the slight sweetness with the chili. The Zind has an elegant dry finish.
For a soup dish, I stayed up in Chiang Mai to meet Italian chef Davide Pritoni, who has gained quite a reputation for his vongole soup. Davide is the Direttore Esecutivo at ‘Italia’, the specialty restaurant at the boutique Sala Lanna Hotel. ‘Zuppa de Cozze e Vongole’ is a classic chowder style soup and your plate comes packed with so much shellfish, (including locally sourced clams), that you struggle to see the rich crimson-coloured broth beneath.
Wine companion: This dish screams for a Pinot Grigio, and I suggest the Punggl from Alto Adige in northern Italy, which was recently awarded best Pinot Grigio in the world! The floral, aromatic and fruity bouquet and full-bodied palate with intense flavours of tropical fruits will complement the tomato and shellfish very well. Don’t serve it too chilled!
When is a soup not a soup? When it is a stew. The most famous of all seafood stews is, of course, the Bouillabaisse, from the south of France. One chef in Bangkok has been working for 15 years to perfect this humble dish into a sophisticated signature offering. He has de-constructed it so you dip the seafood into the rich bisque, which takes around 5 hours to create the stock. Such attention to detail could only come from a Japanese chef. His name is Yuya Okuda and he resides at the boutique Maduzi hotel.
Wine companion: With this dish, we shouldn’t stray too far from the south of France, have a look at the Ile de Beaute Reserve du President from Corsica. The tropical fruit character of the chardonnay, balanced with good acidity and citrus flavours will pair well with the soup. And what a chance to explore a Corsican wine!
While in Bangkok, I headed off to the stunning Sala Rattanakosin hotel in search of Chef Tony Wrigley and his signature Ahi Tuna Tartare Marinated in Fresh Herbs. ‘Ahi’ stands for yellowfin tuna in Hawaiian. As with all ‘ceviche’ type dishes, the freshest of fish is crucial. The flavour burst you get from the garnish of basil and chili oil makes this simple dish dance on your palate. The texture contrast between the smoothness of the marinated tuna and the crunch of the sesame wonton only adds to the experience.
Wine companion: As you enjoy the views across the Chao Phraya river, to the mystical Temple of Dawn, sip on a glass of the excellent Villa Sandi Prosecco Spumante Brut Il Fresco from Veneto. The dry, fresh and fruity flavours of this wine celebrate the freshness of the ceviche and shows great harmony.
With tuna being such an iconic seafood item in this part of the world, I decided to look around for another variation, this time in Koh Samui. There I made my way to Barracuda restaurant to try the jasmine tea crusted yellowfin tuna, a creation of Chef Ferdinand Dienst. With just the right amount of searing, the delicate fragrance of tea adds a whole new dimension to the freshness of the fish, whose tartness is balanced by the sweetness of the sautéed pineapples and asparagus that it sits on.
Wine companion: The delicacy of this tuna’s recipe is best matched with a delicious Gris Blanc rose from Gerard Bertrand. Lovely pale, fresh and mineral, dry and fruity, this drop is so inviting you could easily fall in love with it. From Perpignan, in the very south of France.
I love scallops so I had to find a signature dish involving this succulent mollusk. Hua Hin, 2 hours south of Bangkok on the Gulf of Thailand coast, is where I found a promising restaurant called ‘The Rocks’, one of the best habitats of the scallop I was told. Chef Parthomrat Rakkanam (Khun Pie for short, bet he makes a great fish pie!) serves beautifully presented Hokkaido scallops with saffron potatoes, asparagus, and alioli. Each perfectly cooked scallop sits on a bed of crunchy asparagus studded saffron potato mash, with just the right sharpness delivered by the creamy alioli.
Wine companion. It doesn’t get much better on the beach when one has a glass of Overstone Marlborough sauvignon blanc and a plate of yummy Hokkaido scallops, watching the day go by. Combine the zesty citrus and gooseberry flavours of the wine with the asparagus and alioli and you’re in heaven!
While in Hua Hin, I decided to look at seafood from a different angle, the healthy angle. No one does wellness and detox better than the world renowned Chiva-Som, just across the road from Andreas’ place. There, I was expecting to find more sushi tuna and hearty Tom Yang Goong soup on the menu, what I didn’t expect, was lobster thermidor. The classic version of this famous French dish has just about everything in it that’s supposed to be bad for your heart, but Chef Paisarn at Chiva-Som does thermidor a bit differently, 150 calories of difference in fact! He doesn’t dispense with the egg yolks but the double cream, the Gruyère cheese, and the brandy are all out and substituted by organic coconut milk, soy sauce and vegetable stock. What you get is a smooth, dairy free thermidoresque lobster dish, sparkling with colorful, diced capsicum and sitting on a bed of enoki mushrooms, fresh from the Chiva-Som garden. And all this weighs in at a mere 130 calories
Wine companion: With the re-invented Thermidor recipe, we should look for a fresh cool-climate white wine; the Wynns Coonawarra Chardonnay will do perfectly. Featuring poached pear and stone fruit characters, this wine is beautifully balanced, elegant and has a long and lingering finish.
Point Yamu by Como
To complete my journey I headed south to Phuket in search of that authentic southern Thai curry taste. Influenced by Malay spices, southern curries are made with turmeric and bitter betel leaves. At the chic Point Yamu by COMO, I found Chef O’Brian and his spicy Blue Crab Curry. He has found a perfect balance between sweet (crab and coconut), bitter (betel), spicy (chilli, galangal and ginger), sour (kaffir and lime) and salty (fish sauce and shrimp paste).
Wine companion: This curry is a favourite in Thai cuisine and is best matched with a slightly off-dry Pinot Gris. You’ll find a perfect example in New Zealand, made by Sileni Estates from Hawke’s Bay. The wine has a fresh aromatic style, good acidity to balance the creamy coconut, and a lingering finish which complements the curry flavours. What a match!
Trisara Resort, Phuket
To end my Thailand seafood odyssey on an even higher note (not easy for someone already in a food heaven), I headed off to Phuket. A number of people told me that the ultra luxury Trisara Resort in Naithon had decided to make seafood their specialty, so much so that their oceanfront restaurant is conveniently called ‘Seafood’. Here, most items on the menu can be considered ‘signature’ but I knew from a good source that the explosive Canadian Lobster was the one to go for. You’ll understand what I mean by ‘explosive’ once you see the dish on the plate…bang! The star ingredients of the show, the poached lobster, the smoked bone marrow and the black truffle, sit at the centre of a nest of baby carrots and onions, beef jus and edible flowers with an explosion of bright orange carrot emulsion splattered across the plate. With all this orange you won’t be surprised to learn that Chef Jimmy Ophorst comes from Holland. The crunch of the carrots against the sublime tenderness of the smoked bone marrow, the lobster cooked to perfection, the vibrant presentation – all this makes up one of the greatest seafood experiences I’ve had in Thailand.
Wine companion: It’s hard to resist choosing a dry rosé to accompany the lobster when sitting on what is arguably one of the prettiest wooden terraces of Phuket, just steps away from the beach. And so we end up with the bone-dry and pink-pale Château d’Esclans “Esclans”, one of the most awarded roses in the past 6-7 years. Close your eyes and you are thinking Burgundy instead of Provence. Make no mistake, this winery has brought rosé to a whole new level.
The wine pairings are provided by Bart Duykers, proprietor of the Andaman Wine Club in Phuket.