December 2011 | Antoine Lewis

Thai Pavilion - Vivanta By Taj-President, Mumbai

The restaurant introduced Mumbai to Thai cuisine back in 1993 and continues to serve up contemporary Thai dishes that delight the palate

Until 1993, when the Thai Pavilion opened at Vivanta by Taj-President (then called The President), Mumbai had not experienced the sour-spiciness of a Tom Yum Soup, the crunchy-tanginess of a Som Tam Salad or the piquant punch of a velvety smooth Thai Green Curry. As the city’s first and most successful Thai restaurant, the Thai Pavilion inspired a wave of Thai restaurants, firmly establishing, in the process, a new lexicon of dishes and a new palate for flavours.
 
In 2006, along with the rest of the hotel, the Thai Pavilion underwent a renovation, transforming it into a stylish, contemporary-looking restaurant. The culinary spectacle was brought centre stage, with an open-display kitchen dominating the L-shaped restaurant. Diners who favour a more interactive experience can now choose one of the seats arranged around this open kitchen.
 
A series of wine cabinets at the entrance separates the semi-private dining section from the hubbub of the main dining area. For guests who want a more traditional experience, the sunken round table at the far end of the restaurant is perfect. While one wall is made of scrap wood carved with Thai motifs, another is a fretwork of traditional Thai craft.
 
Along with the interiors the entire menu was overhauled. Though some old favourites have been retained, Chef Ananda Solomon’s new menu is reflective of the contemporary influences on Thai cuisine. The style of cooking and the ingredients have not changed, but the Pavilion’s cooking techniques have been modernised. For instance, the basic sauces are now cooked on a slow fire so that the meat is merely coated, and herbs are chosen based on what meats they will be used to flavour.
 
The presentation is also quite modern: elaborate garnishes and carvings have been dispensed with and everything on the plate is edible. One of the most popular dishes on the menu, the Thai-style duck liver foie gras with sea asparagus in mango sauce — which combines a traditional French ingredient with Thai flavours and bold splashes of colour — typifies the new spirit of the place.
 
Signature dish
For the Thai Pavilion, the classic remains its prawns in green curry. What makes this dish so unique is that, unlike in most restaurants, two of the most important and time-consuming elements — the coconut milk and the green curry paste — are made fresh. While the green curry is the signature dish, Chef Solomon suggests that diners order a pomelo salad, crispy fish, steamed rice and morning glory as well if they want to enjoy their meal in traditional Thai style.
The chef
Ananda Solomon, the man who can take credit for the success of the Pavilion, spent months studying and travelling through Thailand before the opening of the restaurant. He ate his way through different regions of the country, tasting the food prepared in Thai homes as well as street-food stalls and expensive restaurants. He is probably the only non-Thai chef in the world to have worked and trained in the royal kitchens of the country.

This article was a part of a photofeature on Taj Hotels published in the December 2011 issue of the Tata Review. Follow the links below to go to the other parts of the photo feature:
Photo feature: Featured are five of the best that the Taj group has, with a sampling of their signature dishes and the opulent ambience in which they are laid out
Karavalli – The Gateway Hotel, Bengaluru
Wasabi By Morimoto – The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai
The Quilon – 51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences, London
Prego – The Taj Coromandel, Chennai

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