Ashlee Starratt tucks in to a tempting taste of Thailand at the Crowne Plaza Muscat OCEC as their new signature restaurant, Charm Thai, offers up sumptuous dishes brimming with flavour from the Land of Smiles.
Restaurant, or temple? As you enter Charm Thai, you wouldn’t be wrong to say ‘both.’ Located on the lower level of the Crowne Plaza Muscat OCEC, the décor of their flagship signature restaurant is a testament to the architectural heritage and rich cultural tradition of Thailand – the Land of Smiles.
A golden statue of the princess Suphankanlaya greets guests at the entrance to the restaurant’s cloistered foyer, while a waterfall curtain of Thai coins shimmers like iridescent fish-scales at the entryway. Wood reigns supreme throughout the space, with varnished beams inscribed with Thai scriptures juxtaposed against wall paintings of ancient deities from Thai mythology.
The low banquette tables adorned in cushions of jewel tones offer unimpeded sight-lines straight down the spine of the restaurant to the kitchen, where the colour palette is a wash of robin’s egg blue. Diners tonight are surprisingly sparse, given that it’s a Friday night – clearly word hasn’t got out fast enough for Muscat foodies to make the trek over to OCEC to sample the wares. Trust us, it’s worth the venture.
Run by an all-Thai, all-female staff, under the culinary vision of Head Chef Shakriya Kanasasanat (who, by the way, comes out to greet every table…), the restaurant is as much a feast for the eyes as the senses with its lush décor, intimate outdoor terrace, and all ingredients and elements imported directly from Thailand.
We’re seated at a large banquette table in the centre of the restaurant, with royal purple cushions and a table-top crafted from crystallized glass and driftwood. The menu is an ample culinary journey crafted around regional dishes and favourite Thai classics. The waitress brings us a refreshing welcome drink of jasmine rice water with ginger and lemongrass. It’s sweetly nutty and the perfect palate-cleanser for what’s to come.
We begin with some starters – sharing portions of Tod Mon Pla (Thai fish cakes), and Gai Satay (chicken satay with peanut sauce). Both entrées arrive piping hot and beautifully-presented. The fish cakes, served on a lemongrass skewer are light, flavoursome, and herbaceous with peppery notes of spring onion, infused with the same lemongrass, and garnished with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce.
The satay is unctuous, the morsels of chicken stained with turmeric and falling off the skewer – the perfect vehicle on which to drive home the depth of flavour in the creamy peanut sauce, while an additional tumbler of pickled onions and brined chilis offers a welcome balance of tartness to cut through the sweetness of the peanut sauce.
Two of my dining companions opt for warming bowls of Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut milk), and Tom Kha Talay (seafood in coconut milk) soups which arrive fragrant and hot, with depths ready to be plumbed – and every surfacing a laden spoonful.
We chose to stick with the sharing concept for our mains as well, order several dishes off the menu that caught our eye. A richly-comforting Massamun Naeu (massaman beef curry), packed with toothsome cubes of slow-roasted beef, buttery potato, and peanuts for that added crunch factor.
The curry was sweet and evenly spiced – not too heavy-handed for those who fear the heat. Tassels of delicately-fried onion sprinkled atop the dish round-off the crunch factor to pack a textural punch. Our must-try dish of the night was the Ped Tod Num Makham (crispy duck in tamarind sauce). So sticky-sweet and delicious was it that we demolished two portions.
The duck skin was crisped to perfection and the meat juicy, tender, and drenched in sweet tamarind. Off-setting this was a bed of delicately deep-fried Thai basil leaves that were crunchy-delicious and ideal fodder for sopping up the remnants of tamarind sauce from the plate.
We also indulged in an order of Kiew Whan Gai (Thai green curry), bursting with piquant flavour and fiery chilis, the balance of coconut milk, creamy eggplant, and Thai basil brings an earthy depth of flavour to this classic Thai favourite. served atop a steaming bed of fragrant jasmine rice. Capping off our meal was a portion of Pla Saam Ros (deep-fried fish) served with a Thai chili jam sauce.
While the jam was smoky and luscious with the right ratio of heat-to-sweet, the fish – we weren’t sure what kind it was – was slightly soggy and could have done with more crunch to its light, delicate batter.
With a stellar ambience and all-star line-up of Thai favourites. Charm Thai delivers in both taste, overall experience and, to some extent, price-point. While menu items are priced quite reasonably, be aware that the service charges, municipal fees, and tourism tax can quickly add up – especially if dining in a larger group. Our overall taxes and surcharges tacked on an extra RO10 to our final bill.
Will that stop us from coming back? Probably not. As with very few options in Muscat for an authentic taste of Thailand, Charm Thai is a unique contender in a market that’s ripe for the picking.
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