Authentic Thai takes a walk on the mild side

After 25 years in the business, David Thompson has mellowed, along with his menu.

He is renowned as one of the world's most exacting experts on Thai cuisine. But after decades in the kitchen expat chef David Thompson says he is now adopting a more relaxed approach.

"I am [mellowing] a little bit, so the menu is much broader," Thompson says from Nahm in Bangkok, his restaurant that recently snuck on to the San Pellegrino list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants at No.50.

More relaxed ... David Thompson.
More relaxed ... David Thompson. Photo: Adam Weaver

"While there are some extreme tastes and overly authentic dishes that can test the most adventurous of palates, there's also some easy stuff for the most inexperienced of diners to enjoy too."

Why was he reluctant to ease off earlier in his career? "Because I was exploring myself," he says. "Now that I'm a little bit more relaxed about things, after 25 years, I probably have a wider view of things. We have some stuff on that's quite mellow. But it's meant to be - it's without compromising the integrity of the dish. There's a greater breadth of repertoire that allows us to do things that are both authentic and with some integrity yet [still appeal to diners who like mild food]. Then we can try to wean them on to a few chillies."

David Thompson.
David Thompson. 

Thompson, who first created a stir in Sydney in 1990 with his take on Thai court and regional cuisines before opening Nahm in London in 2001 and another in Bangkok in 2010, returns to Sydney often. But his next visit, as part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival, is an official one.

On October 1 and 2, he will cook an eight-course tasting menu with Brent Savage at the Bentley Restaurant and Bar, with wines matched to each course by sommelier Nick Hildebrandt. "It can work, but [Nick] will have a bit of a challenge because the flavour profile [of Thai food] is dramatically different from Western food," Thompson says.

On October 7, he will appear at the World Chef Showcase to discuss Thai street food, as part of the Tastes of Asia program. "It will be good fun," he says. "I hope people want to listen and I hope I can say something that's worthwhile, or at least sensible."

This is surprising modesty from a chef whose London restaurant became the first Thai eatery to be awarded a Michelin star. It lost the star last year - something Thompson admits hurts.

"Of course it does," he says. "It would be disingenuous of me to say I disregard either acknowledgement or criticism. It hurts, but what do you do? What I try to do is just concentrate on the work, regardless of awards or the lack of them."
And what did the San Pellegrino listing mean to him? "What it means is that we're just bloody busier," he says. "There's not much time to do too much else."