Not Your Average Surf And Turf
Thai food is loved the world over and for a good reason – its mastery of the five basic tastes is unparalleled. Yet, despite my love for the cuisine, it's hard to find a decent, affordable Thai restaurant that doesn't cut corners.
To my surprise, I managed to find such a Thai eatery when I attended a tasting at Meat & Sea in Desa Sri Hartamas. This oddly named restaurant caught my attention a week before my actual visit when I was driving around the neighbourhood and spotted the restaurant's sign. I distinctly remember thinking aloud to myself in the car how unconventional the name was and promptly dismissed it as another restaurant that focused on grilled meats and seafood, given the name.
Boy, was I off the mark. Well, for the most part. There are grilled meats and seafood at Meat & Sea alright, but the actual focus is on home-cooked Kanchanaburi and Isan cuisine, two branches of Thai cooking that I'm told by resident chef Chutikan Parnphan greatly favours natural flavours over the reliance on salt, sugar, and the dreaded three-letter word – MSG. Chef Parnphan, also known as Amy, insists that her food is cooked the way she does it back home, which means laborious effort goes into every sauce, condiment, and dish served here. And this emphasis on authenticity extends to the ingredients, which the chef asserts that only 100% Thai ingredients are used in the kitchen. Already I liked where this was going.
Pow On The Palate
To start, my party was served three appetisers – moo ping (RM18), kor moo yang (RM18), and som tam Isan (RM16). The first of the trio, essentially Thai-style grilled pork skewers, was fantastic. Plump, juicy, flame-licked skewers of meat were served straight from the grill and free of any dipping sauce, which the chef notes is how the dish is enjoyed back home. The skewers were so delicious that I honestly did not care that it was served sans sauce, for the marinade chef Amy used was more than enough to make this an apparent hit.
Kor moo yang, grilled pork neck, was a tougher, leaner alternative. It, too, had a nice char and was served with a somewhat spicy and herbal dipping sauce that I figured accompanied the dish due to its leaner quality.
Som tam Isan on the other hand came with a twist. The much loved Thai papaya salad was served with cured baby crabs, which added a wonderful briny element to the spicy, sour salad. Also extra was fermented rice noodles that came on the side, which had a texture similar to lai fun, that surprisingly went well with the salad, turning it almost into a very light and flavourful meal for one.
Meat & Sea serves two tom yum types, a clear seafood option and a chicken and coconut milk creamy option. I got to try the former called tom yum talay (RM27 for medium, RM38 for large), which featured a mix of prawns, squid and mussels. The soup itself was very light, toning down the spices to put the spotlight on the seafood. Most diners tend to prefer bolder tasting tom yum, and as such, I predict that a majority may not necessarily enjoy this due to its lighter approach. While I wouldn't say it's the best tom yum I've ever had, and I'm certainly no expert, it fitted the meal I had, especially when most of the dishes were rich in taste.
When it came to the mains, there was plenty to indulge in. My personal favourites were khaeng phet (red curry beef), khao ka moo (braised sliced pork leg, salted vegetables, hard-boiled egg and kai lan), and sataw talay (prawns and squid petal cooked in a special sauce).
I only mention this for formality, but no self-respecting diner here will eat any of these mains without white rice. That's just disrespectful! I kid, of course, but to have these dishes without white rice is to limit the enjoyment of these dishes. Sure, they're flavourful on their own, but the rice helps to tone down those targeted flavours a few notches, allowing you to savour the dish as intended.
White rice side rant aside, let's talk about that red curry beef! It was brilliant – chunks of tender meat with a satisfying hodgepodge of spices and coconut gravy. Introduce a fried egg into the picture, and you've got a winning lunch right there. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of the khao ka moo was also gratifying. That perfectly braised leg of pork never fails, especially when you sneak some pickled vegetables onto each spoonful. The layer of fat and meat creates such a lovely texture in the mouth. And when that meaty taste begins the dominate, take a bite of those leafy greens or braised egg to mix it up. It's pure enjoyment.
My two other hot recommendations are goong ob wooden (RM30) and sataw talay (RM35). The first is a house speciality, called Le Creuset glass noodles with prawns and pork belly. If you haven't noticed already, the restaurant has an affinity for Le Creuset cookware, going so far as to name their house dish after it. The noodles were perfectly springy and rightfully seasoned with coarse black pepper to cut through that seafood and pork taste. The portion was also pretty generous, easily accommodating two to four people depending on how hungry the party is and how many dishes were ordered. Cilantro haters beware; there's a generous amount of cilantro thrown into the mix for a fresh counterbalance to the dish's heavier flavours.
Sataw talay, which petai with prawns and baby squid cooked in a belacan-like sauce, was also a favourite. This seasonal dish is a sure win for those who like petai. The beans were cooked wonderfully, tender with a slight crunch, and the milder than belacan "special sauce" that the kitchen uses has a savoury-umami quality to it that really complements the seafood included.
I also got to try pad pak boong (stir-fried morning glory; RM16) cooked with chilli, black bean paste, and garlic, which was a great addition to the dishes I've already covered in previous paragraphs. It's a green dish with lots of flavours, what's there not to like?
At the end of this review, I finally touch on the actual "meat" and "sea" part of Meat & Sea. True to its name, the restaurant offers a small selection of grilled steaks and seafood using banana leaves, such as Argentinian rib-eye (RM80), sea bass (RM45), stingray (RM28), prawns (RM45), and more. I only got to try the grilled sea bass, which was decent, but I dare predict that the deep-fried sea bass (RM45) cooked with a hearty concoction of ginger, shallots, chilli, lime, lemongrass, mint, cashew nuts, and fish sauce might be a far more attractive option.
Meat & Sea may not necessarily catch your attention, thanks to its name and somewhat obscure location, but trust me when I say that this small Thai restaurant rocks the socks off most other popular places around town.