's Australian chef David Thompson is a man who thrives in adversity. Cutting his teeth in the kitchens of Sydney's high-end French restaurants, what could have been a conventionally western career trajectory was radically altered by a culinary excursion to Thailand. Losing his heart to the strong aromas and complex flavours, he resolved to do what few farang outsiders have dared to attempt: master the fine art of Thai cuisine.
Such a man must have an appetite for a challenge as well as green curry and tom yam soup. Notoriously clandestine with few authoritative cookery texts, Thai recipes are passed down from generation to generation, making it practically impossible for a non-Thai speaker to infiltrate this secretive world. After conquering the language, Thompson was fortunate enough to find a mentor who had learned to cook in the Thai royal court, and he studiously perfected dishes that few westerners had been privileged to try.
The results of his labours speak for themselves. Opened in 2001, his first restaurant outside Australia, at the Halkin in London, became the first Thai restaurant ever to be awarded a Michelin star. The following year, he released Thai Food an encyclopedic 700-page cookery book and paean to Thai culture that is widely considered to be the best of its kind. Then in 2010 he took on the ultimate challenge: opening a restaurant in the Thai capital Bangkok. Greeted with a mixture of anticipation and scepticism, the global community of gourmands and critics contemplated the same question: Would the locals be impressed by the foreigner's interpretation of their food?
The answer was a resounding “yes”. In a city famed for its street food and cut-price (yet high-quality) eateries, Bangkok natives have been quick to embrace the new addition to their growing fine-dining scene. In recognition of its achievement, nahm at the Bangkok Metropoliton has recently been listed as one of Restaurant magazine's “World's 50 Best Restaurants” — the first Thai restaurant to feature on the prestigious list in a decade.
The secret to Thompson's success? Some might say it's his respect for tradition. Often, foreign chefs will seek to stamp their personality on a cuisine with unconventional twists and awkward fusion elements. Not so Thompson, who prizes the authenticity and robustness of traditional cooking, once describing his role to The Observer as that of a “culinary archeologist”.
As such, the menu at is a treasure trove of lost classics, many of which will be unfamiliar to international guests. Must-try dishes include a coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with calamansi limes, and a red curry of wagyu beef and bai yor. nahm's menu also features an impressive range of soups, relishes and stir-fried dishes that reflect the variety inherent in Thai cuisine. Highlights include the stir-fried frog with chilies and cumin leaves and the minced prawn and pork simmered in coconut cream with fresh vegetables and deep fried cured carp.
With two successful years at the Metropolitan Bangkok under his belt, it's safe to say that Thompson has relished the return to his adopted homeland. Diners who embrace Thai cuisine with that same sense of adventure and wonderment will be handsomely rewarded at nahm: a modern fine-dining restaurant with a very traditional soul.