Warning: If you can’t handle your spice, stop reading now and don’t even think about eating at Chachawan!
Thai food is up there amongst the best in the world in my opinion. It’s what I crave when I need something hearty and comforting; it’s what I crave when I’m feeling under the weather; it’s generally what I crave a great deal of the time.
There are Thai restaurants and there are Thai restaurants, yet there are no Thai restaurants quite like Chachawan, a brand spanking new, uber cool Thai restaurant in Sheung Wan, specialising in Isaan cuisine, from the northeast of Thailand. In this regional version of the tasty cuisine, coconut milk is pushed aside, making room for hotter, bolder, drier flavours that fall in line with the warning on the menu that states, “Isaan cuisine is VERY SPICY.”
Chachawan, which fittingly translates to “sweet, sweet love,” is brought to us by Yenn Wong, the restaurateur behind next-door neighbour 208 Duecento Otto, 22 Ships and Duddell’s, and chef Adam Cliff, who has previously worked with the likes of Nahm’s David Thompson and Dylan Jones of Bangkok’s Bo.lan, all by the young age of 26! It makes me wonder, at the same age as Adam, what I’ve accomplished in my life!
The décor is unusual in comparison to your average Thai place – a raw, rustic feel is achieved through the use of vintage Hong Kong-style posters with Thai illustrations, or eye-catching murals, all of which matches the fun vibe expressed through the loud music that reverberates around the two floors of dining, split between table seating and bar seating.
As I may have mentioned once or twice, Chachawan isn’t for the wusses; although the menu states you can ask them to “tame it”, the dishes are designed to be hot hot hot, particularly the papaya salad with crispy pork. The heat in no way overpowers this dish, however, as the super fresh flavours seep through each bite, complemented by the awesome contrast in textures. Unlike other versions of this dish, the overriding flavour is neither fish sauce nor dried shrimp, but the beautiful blend of sweet and sour tamarind dressing that plays against the salty chunks of crisp pork belly.
The Lap Moo, a salad of minced pork, shallots, fresh herbs and crispy pork skin, also packed a serious punch. This dish, bursting with fresh, sour versus spicy flavours, has always been one of my favourites, and Chachawan’s version was just as good as I had hoped it would be, if not better.
An unusual choice, yet one that beckoned to us, was the Kai Jiaw – a crisp Thai omelette with pork and spring onions. Perhaps one of the only non-spicy dishes on the menu on its own, load it up with the Thai chilli sauce that accompanies it and it’ll fit right into the mix. The egg had the perfect balance of crisp and fluffiness, packed full of delicious Thai herbs that made it almost seem healthy and light.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the salt-crusted sea bass stuffed with lemongrass, pandanas and lime leaves. This whole, deliciously tender fish was cooked over an open fire, giving it a gorgeous smoky flavour that worked well with the slightly sour green chilli dipping sauce. It was probably enough to feed the 500, although we gave it a pretty good go between just two of us!
This did, unfortunately, mean less room for the khao pad, a delicious variation of the classic Thai fried rice dish, but in this case made with fresh crabmeat. Carrying a delicate, yet comforting flavour, this dish was lovely on its own, yet also worked as the perfect accompaniment to mop up the rich sauces of the other dishes.
After a complimentary plate of juicy pomelo served with chilli sugar (yes, even some of the dishes you’d least expect to set your tongue on fire attempt to do exactly that), came our final dish – warm coconut rice dumplings served in salted coconut cream. Biting into these soft dumplings gave way to refreshing, crispy chunks of sweet coconut that easily made this dessert one of the best things on Chachawan’s menu. If you’re a fan of things like salted chocolate or salted caramel, this is Thailand’s variation on the same theme, and a jolly good one at that.
For far too much food than we could manage, the total bill for two of us came to just over $800, including two mocktails (at the time of writing the restaurant is still awaiting its liquor licence). Service charge is not added to the bill, and yet staff are incredibly friendly and helpful, making you want to tip generously. Given its solid attempt at fitting in with our city’s other new and trendy eateries, Chachawan, naturally, has a no-reservations policy; go early, and have a drink next door, no matter how long the expected wait is, for this is one Thai restaurant that is has earned its right to have a long waiting list.
206 Hollywood Road
Tel: +852 2549 0020