David Thompson at the Waterside Inn: A taste of Thai cuisine in the temple of classic French fine dining
Of all the things I associate with Thai food, dining in a classic high-end restaurant isn’t one of them. Celebrated chef David Thompson – hailing from Australia but with his heart, and kitchen, in Bangkok – brought his Asian flavours and textures to the temple of French cuisine: the three-michelin-starred Waterside Inn in Bray. The exclusive two-night event marked the first time an external chef had ever taken over the helms of Michel and Alain Roux’s legendary inn. While waiting for the service to begin, everyone in the room was wondering the same thing: is this going to work?
The amuse-bouches – Maa Hor and Crunchy Rice Cakes with Crabmeat and Pickled Garlic – quickly washed away any doubts. Thompson’s cuisine plays with spices and consistencies not only with audacity but also with prudence. The Oysters and Smoked Fish with Shallots on Betel Leaves and the Steamed Curry of Scallops with Thai Basil and Kaffir Lime Leaves put on the table – literally as well – refreshing flavours and unfamiliar levels of crunchiness (in the former) and sauciness (in the latter – no pun intended).
I sneaked into the kitchen to see how the chef was pulling off these dishes in a very formal michelin environment. Thompson – who had Nahm’s (his World’s 50 Best restaurant in Bangkok) head chef Prin Polsuk along – would walk around the kitchen with an attentive yet laid-back attitude, addressing each cook as they were preparing the courses. At the pass, Alain Roux and Fabrice Uhryn would check every order before it was taken to the guests.
The mains came at the same time – as a true feast. I embraced the sharing concept with my fellow diners and arranged my share of food around the white rice we all had on our plates. Who would ever have thought there wouldn’t be clashes between Braised Duck with Madan Leaves; Aromatic Curry of Lobster; Yellow Beans Simmered in Coconut Cream with Minced Prawns; Stir-fried Wild Garlic Leaves; and Spring Vegetables Salad.
Eating them together was key to the enjoyment of the dishes: the combination of textures, flavours and seasoning was never overpowering and it lingered in the mind (and mouth). Thompson’s cuisine is delicious and addictive. He probably stayed on the milder side of the spices’ spectrum; it surprised, nevertheless, that the food was always easy to enjoy and never challenging.
Although it would have been appreciated if at least part of the beverage selection had been in line with the Thai tradition, the wine served was quite remarkable. First a glass of Dom Perignon 2009 (the latest vintage, which preceded the more prestigious 2008 – to be released next year), then a Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle non-vintage. The best pairing (and bottle) was the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 with the Steamed Curry of Scallops.
Finally – while we had a Taro Pudding and Glaçéd Sapodillas – Thompson gave a speech recalling when he fell in love with Thailand in 1982. His words were heartfelt and, thanks to his cooking tonight, we took away a little bit of that affection for Thai culture and their cuisine.
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
David Thompson is cooking at Waterside Inn also on the evening of 5th April 2018. For further information visit the restaurant’s website here.