Review: Thai Chef's Restaurant
We’re greeted by the raised trunks of twin elephants at the entrance. These symbols of good fortune are obviously proving fortuitous, as the Christchurch incarnation of the renowned national chain of Thai restaurants is abuzz on a Tuesday night. And that’s not the only greeting – it’s warm smiles all round as we’re welcomed into Thai Chef’s Restaurant.
It’s a huge space to be sure, with a large, open dining area that still maintains a sense of cosy intimacy via muted – but not too dark – mood lighting, rich wallpaper, Thai artefact finery lining the walls and traditional lanterns suspended above.
From our table, through dividing walls of ornate bells, a guilded dragon boat at the pass ferries offerings to the gods, while a slick, long-reaching bar with croc-embossed panels makes for a striking feature. Further exploration reveals several private dining rooms of various sizes and spaces, each similarly opulent, and including a pool table room that invites locals to make use of the fabulous bar.
With the menu looking as extensive as the venue, it's again fortunate that friendly staff, including manager extraordinaire Ronnie Guevarra, are on hand to happily help navigate the numerous delicacies that have been awarded the Thai Select Premium standard by the Prime Minister of Thailand.
While it all looks (and sounds) good, we order Rainy Season (next level crispy, lightly battered mushrooms stuffed with tasty minced pork and prawns) and the intriguing No Moon Tonight, Honey – crisp discs filled with tangy marinated prawn mince freshened with coriander and a nectarous plum sauce – for entrees, setting the bar high for the culinary odyssey that awaits.
An exceptional drinks menu features Thai classics alongside Kiwi and international faves and, feeling vacationy, we opt for the insanely popular Chang beer (noting we’ve ordered our dishes Hot on the 7-level heat range that starts at ‘Not Spicy’ and hits the ceiling with ‘Bloody Hot’) and the Bangkok Dangerous cocktail. The colour of a fiery Bangkok sunset, the fruity concoction lives up to its name, packing a potent punch and would go down just as well when sipped at sundown on one of the city’s many bustling roof-top bars.
We’re instantly won over by the aromas coming off our mains as they are placed on the table, bewitching and heady with promise. The Royal Panang (from the Royal Thai recipe no less!) sees large, succulent tiger prawns in a rich, creamy bath of curry punched up with chilli, slivers of kaffir lime leaves and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts, and features the tell-tale fibres of freshly-made-from-scratch curry paste. The fleshy, plump prawns practically pop as we bite into them, while the curry’s decadently rich and feisty finish perfectly complements the seafood, the sensationally flakey buttery roti on the side and moreish coconut rice also helping to make it an immediate favourite.
The harmony continues with the intriguingly named Naughty Pig, where crispy, crackled-to-perfection pork marries seamlessly with the piping piquancy of the green curry paste cutting through the pork’s meaty hit, while a slew of fresh, lightly crunchy vegetables tossed with fragrant Thai herbs ensures a clean plate returns to the kitchen.
Still feeling the gentle hum from the mains, we split the Sago Layers dessert, where a trifecta of creamy layers of sweet, slightly salty pudding rich with coconut cream beautifully stills the heat and makes for a fitting finale to our midweek Thailand escape. We leave vowing to try the challenge of ‘bloody hot’ at our next visit sooner, rather than later.
Thai Chef’s Restaurant
1 Riccarton Road
03 341 1163