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Closer to Thai (food) heaven

Star2 logo Star2 20/3/2017 SUZANNE LAZAROO

Erawan has always had big dreams – and thanks to the formidable kitchen skills of co-owner and chef Trakool Yodsuk, or Chef Korn, a reputation constantly threatening to bust the seams of its tiny original abode in Kota Damansara.

The restaurant served up atypical, thoughtfully-prepared Thai dishes that fired the imagination even as it entertained the palate, and introduced Malaysians to the vast spectrum of Thai food like few (perhaps no) others have.

No mere meals, each dish adorned the dining table like a crown jewel from The Grand Palace in Bangkok – not quite a coincidence, since Korn’s grandmother cooked for the revered King Rama VII, and then passed many of her recipes down to her grandson.

The tirelessly creative chef combines these culinary secrets with a distinctive attention to detail, the strict use of good quality produce, and a constant willingness to add a contemporary riff to the classics.

Now that it has moved to its new home in DC Mall, Erawan has the space to realise its aspirations. The much-larger premises also means a bigger kitchen, so the days of having to pre-order so many of Korn’s specials are over. He also now has the space to expand his repertoire of techniques; he can now cook sous vide, and so has expanded his kitchen possibilities.

Erawan’s new incarnation evokes the combination of warmth and moodiness of its predecessor, but with a more contemporary feel. Deep orange walls and polished dark wood and leather seats are offset by luxurious gilt carvings, but there is also a lot more light and space. You’ll find co-owner Anan running the front of house.

Erawan’s warm, mod-opulent interior. — Photos: AZMAN GHANI/The Star © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Erawan’s warm, mod-opulent interior. — Photos: AZMAN GHANI/The Star

Erawan’s warm, mod-opulent interior.

Chef Korn is known for his atypical, imaginative Thai dishes. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Chef Korn is known for his atypical, imaginative Thai dishes.

Chef Korn is known for his atypical, imaginative Thai dishes.

Korn took the time to get used to his new stomping grounds, introducing a more basic menu in the first few months of operation. Now though, he is bringing back the Erawan we know and love, with a formidable selection of new dishes, just introduced.

When we visited, the first to arrive on the table was a starter of watermelon with salmon floss (RM58). One of Korn’s most ingenious dishes, it must be tasted to be believed (or understood). It’s a perfect encapsulation of what he is all about in the kitchen, with each dish a complex amalgam of textures and flavours, that works out to far more than the sum of its parts.

In this case, Korn infuses the watermelon cubes with a plethora of flavours, including lemongrass, galangal and soy sauce. This results in fruit which retains its original flavour, with additional nuances and a somewhat more compact texture than usual – familiar, yet not.

He then generously sprinkles the watermelon with shards of candied salmon floss and crisp, thinly-sliced and slightly sweet shallots.

The result is a startling burst of flavours – one of those wow-it-works combinations that occur to few but are a hit with many. A great appetiser if you want something flavourful but light.

Infused with lemongrass, galangal and a myriad other flavours, these cubes of watermelon are served with house-made salmon floss. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Infused with lemongrass, galangal and a myriad other flavours, these cubes of watermelon are served with house-made salmon floss.

Infused with lemongrass, galangal and a myriad other flavours, these cubes of watermelon are served with house-made salmon floss.

The salmon floss was also combined to great effect with balls of turmeric-laced glutinous rice (RM38). Chewy and fragrant, this made for a much more filling starter, with the rice having a creaminess to it that accentuated the savoury nuances of the salt-sweet floss.

His next dish was made with Thai bean paste – Korn sources many of his ingredients from Thailand itself.

“Thai bean paste is more delicate and lighter, although it still has that special flavour,” he said.

At Erawan, he uses it to make a distinctive bean paste with seafood dip (RM89), to be eaten with crunchy raw and blanched vegetables, and fragrant rice, to soak up the gravy.

Prawns and chunks of crabmeat in a gravy with the distinctive flavour of Thai bean paste. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad Prawns and chunks of crabmeat in a gravy with the distinctive flavour of Thai bean paste.

Prawns and chunks of crabmeat in a gravy with the distinctive flavour of Thai bean paste.

In the absence of his usual crab supply from Thailand that day, he used large chunks of Alaskan king crab, along with springy prawns – call ahead if you want to request specific produce in dishes, or to see what the chef has available.

What came next was quite amazing – simply one of the best cod dishes I have ever tasted.

The innocuously-named pan-seared cod with coconut sauce (RM98) came swimming in a thick gravy laced with turmeric and studded with prawns. With fine shreds of galangal and kaffir lime leaves on top, and a shatter-crisp skin, this truly led to love at first bite.

With its crispy skin and lovely, flaky flesh, this cod languishes in a thick, creamy coconut cream sauce, studded with prawns — an outstanding dish. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad With its crispy skin and lovely, flaky flesh, this cod languishes in a thick, creamy coconut cream sauce, studded with prawns — an outstanding dish.

With its crispy skin and lovely, flaky flesh, this cod languishes in a thick, creamy coconut cream sauce, studded with prawns — an outstanding dish.

And yet on a subsequent visit (and an enthusiastic repeat order), Korn actually managed to surpass that initial order by simply leaving out the turmeric – allowing the delicate, floral bite of galangal to come to the fore. This one is probably going to be the final version to make it to the new menu, he said.

Thick cuts of New Zealand lamb with Paneang curry (RM98) were cooked to the perfect pink, with the thick, nutty, herb-laden gravy proving a great complement. A battered betel leaf and shredded, crispy galangal lend complexity.

Finally, dishes of Thai laksa (RM38) made their way to the table. Available for lunch, this is a substantial serving of slippery noodles with assorted shredded vegetables – the thinly-sliced bittergourd works very well to add balance with its gentle bitterness – Thai fish cakes and a wobbly, soft-centred onsen egg. It’s all served with a piquant green curry.

© Provided by Star Media Group Berhad

Thai laksa with a wobbly onsen egg.

There is a host of sweets available, but one of the most popular is the selection of house-made ice creams in intriguing flavours, including the black rose, and a toasty, nutty coconut.

Thanks to the bar at the entrance, there is also a selection of wines that is recommended to go with Thai food, and Thai-inspired cocktails can’t be far behind.

Erawan is the place to head to when you want something out of the ordinary, food that requires contemplation and understanding. The prices may seem a little steep, but they’re fair – portions are large, the quality of the produce is commendable and many dishes are very labour-intensive.

A peek into one of Erawan's two private dining rooms. © Provided by Star Media Group Berhad A peek into one of Erawan's two private dining rooms.

A peek into one of Erawan’s two private dining rooms.

Erawan

Lot L1-17 & L1-18

First Floor DC Mall

Plaza DC, Damansara City

6 Jalan Damanlela

Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 03-2788 4180/81

Open 11am to 3pm (lunch), 3pm to 6pm (tea) and 6.30pm till late (last order 10pm)

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