It’s Thai food at its finest, if you haven’t had it before.
Mosaic, the main restaurant for the Crowne Plaza Phuket Panwa Beach resort, was where we had a hosted dinner on the first night. Located centrally at the heart of the resort, it’s also responsible for room service, as well as the buffet breakfast spread, which is in my opinion, the star attraction as far as food is concerned within the resort grounds. Even though our itinerary had pockets of free time, it wasn’t sufficient for a significant trip into Patong or old town, and that was a little disappointing. Having said that, I appreciated that they did bother to fit in a gush of Thai dinner for the first night, even if it was the only semblance of the local cuisine we’d get throughout the entire trip. It was a lovely setting – al fresco, ventilated by the constant echo of whispering waves and sea breezes; tables wonderfully decorated, even if it wasn’t entirely functional; and live traditional Thai music and performances although I’m told that it only happens on weekends and public holidays which today incidentally, was in fact, a public holiday. To make the dining experience that more sophisticated, wine from an estate in New Zealand was served, and paired surprisingly well with the dishes.
Our dinner was teased with a trio platter including Por Pia Goong Sod, a Vietnamese style fresh spring roll with prawn; Gai Hoi Bai Toey, marinated chicken wrapped in pandanus; and Chor Bussaracam, flower-shaped dumplings with minced chicken, and the lineup really set the tone for the rest of the meal. Many Thais are eager to promote their cuisine beyond just street food, and want to present it in a more regal fashion – which foreigners tend to see as a dumb down of the cuisine as Thai fine dining tends to be a little more refined and balanced as opposed to the stereotypical high contrast flavorsome character of Thai street food. Nevertheless, I thought the spring roll and dumpling “skin” were a tad too thick and tangy, and distracted me from what I thought the chef was trying to present.
One of my favorites has gotta be the Poonim Yam Som O, a simple pomelo salad with fried soft shell crab. I’m a sucker for crab, particularly soft shell ones. The crabs were crispy, and were significant enough to possess some semblance of roe, whose savory flavor and texture was met neatly with the pomelo’s sweetness. I could’ve asked for seconds, but I’d just look greedy.
As someone who frequents Thailand every two or so years, I can discern if the Tom Yam soup is meticulously brewed, or if it’s done the shortcut way by putting paste in warm water, and this Tomyam Goon Lai belongs to the former. In fact, you don’t need to have visited Thailand to discern if your soup was manually brewed or cooked with a paste. It’s simple, really – lemongrass is your answer. Soups composed by Tom Yam paste tend to generally have two base notes – spicy and sour, which is very apparent the moment you swallow. It goes down very uncomfortably for it relies on the spice and sourness to bounce off each other to great the illusion of Tom Yam. Manually cooked Tom Yam soups use lemongrass as their anchor, and the effect is obvious – it’s smooth, and the hotness always comes second, subtly but swift. However, the authenticity of the soup stuck out like a sore tongue in a symphony where understatement and refinement was the underlying theme.
For all the effort the chef had put in, the Gaeng Phad Ped Yang Sai Apple, a duck red curry with roasted apples, didn’t turn up anything that I wasn’t already familiar with. The red curry, perfect as it is, managed to completely mask the flavor and aroma of the duck and roasted apples completely so much so that I couldn’t tell what I was eating. I mean, you could’ve thrown in brinjal and chicken, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
The Pla Kapong Neung See Ew, steamed sea bass with soya sauce was horrifyingly unremarkable. I mean, “steamed”, “sea bass” and “soya sauce” is a menage a trois made in heaven, and they managed to make this positively uninteresting.
The next, Pouy Lakn Moo Krob, Chinese celery with crispy pork, is obviously a Chinese inspired dish. While the components on their own aren’t alien to me, combining them is. Immediately, I recognized that the chef intended to contrast the crispiness of the sliced pork belly with the crispness of the celery. It was perfect on paper, but it didn’t work in reality.
You really can’t say you’ve been to Thailand, and not try mango sticky rice.
Let’s be honest here. Mosaic’s clearly not attempting to please locals with this. The hotel’s target clientele aren’t Thai, but primarily visitors whose palettes are completely different, and for them, Mosaic’s a decent initiation into the wondrous world of Thai cuisine. I can only hope that the impression that the restaurant impresses on first-timers, is a good one.