In the past I have voiced my amazement at the lack of quality Thai restaurants in Bali. Of course ever since Kin Khao started in Legian back in the early 90's, many other restaurants have recruited an ex staff member and added a Thai section to their menu [you can tell by the dishes they select], but that is not quite the same.
The full Thai restaurants that have opened in Bali [with the exception of a few] have mostly been lacking authenticity. Even some of those with Thai nationals at the wok have not reproduced the 'taste of Thai', instead a far too often insipid version thereof.
Now we have another real Thai restaurant to add to our small collection. Headed by world-travelled Thai chef, Vaewta Chookasem, TAO presents real Thai food with no apologies. The offerings here do however tend towards what could be described as Modern Thai [in Bangkok these days they even stir-fry spaghetti with Thai spices], that reflects an influence from bordering countries. They also offer a variety of other South East Asian dishes.
TAO is an attractive open area surrounded by ceiling-to-floor glass doors. You can sit inside [cool and fresh], or on the more casual terrace beside the palm-fringed swimming pool, white sands and blue sea beyond. The restaurant is separate from [across the road], but managed by the Ramada Resort Benoa Bali. Fortunately the offerings do not reflect normal hotel price mark-ups so we have the best of both worlds; quality and value.
For an entrée Gai Hor Bai Toey is one of those Thai standards. Traditionally a piece of marinated chicken breast is steamed in a pandanus leaf to cook the chicken with an infusion of the pandanus, then deep fried just prior to serving to heat and brown the chicken. Dip the tender chicken pieces in the accompanying sticky black sauce, wonderful. Thod Man Goong is another staple; minced prawn meat in a firm breaded patty with sweet chilli sauce, although here another variation sees minced squid added to the mixture although I do not notice any improvement on the original.
Po Pea Rum is Thai spring rolls with your choice of filling, but always wrapped in thin crisp rice paper. From China is Hoi Co, chicken, crab meat and vegetables wrapped in fried bean curd like a string of mini sausages. Very tasty! From neighbouring Vietnam comes their wonderful version of the humble spring roll, Goi Cuon. The menu says the Martabak is from Malaysia but it is also known as Muslim Pastry and is commonly served in southern Thailand. At TAO minced fish, crab meat and vegetables are contained between layers of egg rather than the Thai crunchy pastry.
Thai salads are unique. Nothing is quite like a good green mango salad to cleanse [did I say singe?] the palate. No matter the immediate effects, the after taste is wonderful. Yum Mamung is a simple green mango salad sprinkled with cashew nuts. Yum Woon Sen is thin vermicelli noodles, shrimps and squid, tossed in lime and chilli. Yum Nua is the classic beef salad, grilled pieces of prime tenderloin are combined with thin strips of juicy cucumber [again the use of fruit to balance the spices which is why you should eat a selection of all the ingredients together at the same time with Thai food, a total taste rather than the European way of eating piece by piece].
Tom Yam Goong is probably the most recognized Thai dish, large prawns bob in a hot sour broth with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms and chilli. The second most popular dish must be the simple, but tasty, Pad Thai. There are many variations of same but here it is stir-fried noodles combined with shrimps, bean sprouts, lime, chives in a tangy tamarind sauce, sprinkled with crushed peanuts of course.
Kao Phad is fried rice in Thai, at TAO a pineapple version with shrimps and chicken. But you can also order Indonesian fried rice, Nasi Goreng, or a Vietnamese one, Com Chen Tom, with prawns and chicken.
For some non-Thai alternatives TAO also serves that classic Vietnamese soup, Pho. It is a noodle soup usually in a beef broth [or chicken] and you can have it with either rice or egg noodles. From China, a Vermicelli Soup, with balls of minced shrimp and vegetable, or an Asparagus and Crab Meat Soup.
Mains are more of a mix of modern Asian cuisine. From Cambodia a Soft Shell Crab Curry, from China Steamed Fish [is there any better way] with a ginger soy sauce. Pepes Ikan is done the Malay way, red snapper marinated in herbs and kemangi, wrapped in a banana leaf for grilling.
Thai mains include a pork special, Moo Yang [pork marinated with coriander, served with a spicy sweet sour sauce] my type of dish, Gaeng Kew Wan Gai [green curry chicken with kafir limes and basil] and Goong Nung Manow [steamed king prawns in a tangy lemon chilli sauce] or a Phad Talay Nam Prik Pow [shrimps, squid, fish and mussels combined with a sweet chilli paste and basil].
TAO is equally at home as a venue for that relaxed casual luncheon [you are even allowed to use the nearby shower rooms for a dip in the swimming pool or the adjacent surf] or for an evening dinner party. The good value restaurant prices invite you come back again soon.