Culinary offerings from the Land of Smiles leave us frowning at this Thai fine-dining chain’s outlet on Al Mouj.
Thai gastronomy is one of those cultural culinary identities that’s generally hard to fault. Unique in its flavour profile, it balances sweet, sour, acidity and salt in a perfect marriage that enlivens every tastebud. And a night out for some good Thai in Muscat is, hands down, one of our favourite weekend splurges – be it eat-in or takeaway.
So, it was with prodigious appetites and great expectations that we headed over to The Walk at Al Mouj in search of satiation at the Shang Thai outlet located in the heart of its pedestrian promenade. With several branches throughout the capital, Shang Thai has managed to set itself apart from other big-box restaurant chains in that it upholds authenticity in the preparation of its offerings and quality of ingredients.
While The Walk at Al Mouj boasts a plethora of restaurants, cafés and takeaway options Shang Thai has somehow failed to benefit from the constant flow of foot traffic in this nightly and weekend hotspot. We’ve popped in for a takeaway a fair number of times and the restaurant is usually fairly quiet, and its outside terrace empty. To be fair, it’s got some stiff competition on its hands; positioned kitty-corner to two restaurants with large outdoor shisha terraces that are always heaving on any given night. Yet still – the food at Shang Thai has, in our experience, always been consistent and delicious.
With this precedent in mind, it’s on a whim that we decide to head over to dine in for a change. It’s early in the week, and there are just two other booths occupied. Bellies rumbling, we reckon a slow night will mean fast service and all items made freshly.
We decide on three bowls of steaming Thai soup to warm us on this cold winter’s night. Two portions of Tom Kha and one Tom Yum – extra spicy, at our request. Twenty minutes later when our soups still haven’t arrived, I flag down the waitress to enquire about the delay and to ask if they have any prawn crackers with sweet chili sauce – a Shang Thai staple, to nibble on while we wait. She assures us the soups are ‘coming soon’ but offers no other explanation for the unusual delay, given the restaurant is practically empty and there’s more kitchen staff on-hand than wait-staff. She also apologetically tells us that there are no prawn crackers available, so we continue to sip our water and wait.
The soups finally arrive, piping hot and plentiful. The Tom Kha is creamy and comforting, packed with succulent morsels of chicken, plump cherry tomatoes that burst in your mouth, fragrant lemongrass, and fiery chilies. It’s a perfect specimen of what a Thai soup should be. The Tom Yum, on the other hand, is an oil slick. While we asked for a bit of extra spice, they’ve poured on so much chili oil and chopped up so many raw red chilies that the dish is rendered practically inedible. Digging to the very furthest reaches of the bowl brings up tender pieces of chicken, lush mushrooms, and lemongrass that are the hallmarks of a good Tom Yum. However, their flavour is muted due to the fire in our mouths that leaves our eyes streaming and our napkins oil-stained.
Hoping our starters are just a hiccup, we order for our main courses a sharing portion of Nuea Pahd Isaan Style – marinated grilled beef served with a spicy chili sauce. Having had this Thai classic elsewhere at restaurants of high repute we know that the morsels of dried, marinated beef should be akin in consistency to a jerky or South African biltong. What arrives are morsels that equate to cold roast beef leftovers from Sunday dinner. Dry and flavourless, they rely solely on the chili sauce (which is quite good!) to carry the dish. And at a price-point of RO7.4, they give us nowhere near our money’s worth.
The red Thai chicken curry isn’t much better. Used to the depth of flavour in Shang Thai’s rich, smoky-sweet sauce what arrives is a clay pot of curry with hapless slices of chicken floating in a sea of raw red chili landmines and virtually little to no other veg. Overly salted, it lacks any resemblance to the quality we know and love from this brand. Drizzled over fluffy clumps of jasmine rice, we add some of the chili sauce from the beef, which is slightly sweet, to the curry just to make it more palatable.
Our waitress comes over to clear our plates on and off throughout the meal but doesn’t ask us once if we’re enjoying our meals or if there’s anything else we need. When we complain about the quality of the dishes, she explains that they’ve got a new chef who – no surprise here – isn’t Thai.
It’s early days yet in 2019 and we hope this restaurant can get back on its feet in short order.
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