A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur


In its early stages, celebrated chef Darren Chin’s Thai venture Gai began life as a delivery-only service during the Covid-19 pandemic when the intrepid chef – who owns a string of restaurants, including the one Michelin-starred DC by Darren Chin – realised the potential to market and sell his Thai in-laws’ home-cooked meals (his parents-in-law lived with him at the time).

In 2022, that fledgling enterprise flew the roost, opening shop in a small space in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. The business was run almost entirely by Chin’s Thai wife Pachsita Kitikornchalowemwong, better known as Nana, as he wanted to give her something to call her own.

This year, Chin has spread his wings in far more dramatic fashion, launching a brand-new chapter of Gai at the luxurious M Resort & Hotel Kuala Lumpur. The restaurant occupies one floor of a three-storey building adjacent to the hotel. Chin also has two other restaurant concepts in the same venue, including Bref his casual fine-dining restaurant, and Monsieur Darren, his newest venture which celebrates cakes and other sweet treats.

A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur This new iteration of Gai boasts a huge space (about 550sq m) and has a cosmopolitan vibe, as well as a lovely view of the expansive sprawling greens of the golf course beyond from one end of the restaurant. It’s a peaceful space that’s a stone’s throw away from the madding crowd, giving diners respite and relaxation combined with the convenience of a good location.

Chin says the main reason he wanted to open Gai at this new space – which can easily accommodate 150 people – was to scale up his operations.

“The honest reason behind opening Gai is we wanted to scale up – we wanted to see where this thing can go. We saw there was an opportunity and I thought the location was great.

“We wanted to use the concepts that I created in Taman Tun Dr Ismail because, I mean, those restaurants were very small. And I wanted to see how far we can push these brands out,” says Chin.

A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur

The menu at Gai is a replication of what is available at the original eatery but with a bigger kitchen as well as live fish tanks in keeping with Chin’s philosophy of having things as fresh as possible. Chin has also worked on adjusting the pricing based on feedback the original eatery received after opening.

“For the first year that we opened, we got a lot of flak, with people saying our food was overpriced and too expensive – things like that. So we kind of tweaked the pricing a little bit and also the portion sizes so now we make it easier for people to order meals for two persons and share a bigger variety of items. A couple of the dishes are expensive but only because it’s relevant to the crab meat that we wanted to feature,” he says.

At Gai, you can expect to indulge in authentic flavours that honour the roots and essence of northern Thai meals without diluting them with too many Malaysian nuances or additions. Nana is also still on hand to supervise the daily running of the kitchen as Chin himself has no clue how to cook Thai food.

“We do not customise our food according to local flavour. We stick to our beliefs of what the dish represents but we emphasise a lot on quality fresh produce and that’s what customers pay for.

A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur

“We had nearly two years to experiment so what we have now are dishes that we are confident about. And what you will taste is freshness and layers of flavour because Thai food is a composition of four tastes – saltiness, sourness, sweetness and spiciness – all in one bite. But to create layers from that, it needs to start from the beginning,” explains Chin.

To start a meal at Gai, go with the Live Oyster with topping (RM48 per 100g). Here, you will discover huge, corpulent, slippery Canadian molluscs accompanied by a slightly spicy sauce that gives it a distinct kick that elevates the briny, aquatic qualities of the oyster and imbues it with added depth and dimension.

As openers go, this is a memorable one.

A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur

Then there is the Pomelo Salad with Tiger Prawns (RM58) which is awash with fat, fluffy tufts of pomelo alongside large tiger prawns, torch ginger bud and dried prawns. This is a salad that describes the quintessential Thai salad experience – where flavours are robust, sharply contrasting and result in a bombastic explosion of flavours. The hero here is the pomelo, which offers fruity, chewy pearls of goodness which accentuate the attributes of the rest of this ensemble cast, turning it into an all-star offering.

One of the most prized offerings on the menu is Gai’s Signature Crab Omelette by Darren Chin (RM180). This is an omelette unlike any other you are likely to have tried – crispy and crackly in its carapace yet still light and fluffy inside.

The interior is filled with voluptuous chunks of jumbo lump crab meat extracted from a total of 3kg worth of crabs! This is buoyed by the onsen ivory eggs latticed throughout the omelette.

This is an omelette that is just unabashedly, hedonistically good. Each mouthful offers crunch juxtaposed against spongy airiness, plenty of fat crab meat and just enough eggs to give it some body.

The Nam Jim dipping sauce on the side offers a hint of fiery verve to offset all this egg-ellent richness.

A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur

Another gold standard offering is the Lady Boss Nana Signature Tom Yam Seafood (RM128 for two to three persons). This is based on Nana’s recipe and in this iteration, red tom yam is filled to the brim with Sabah river prawns, Hokkaido scallops, jumbo shrimp, fresh crab meat and squid all swimming in a broth that has spicy nuances, a sour tang and a creamy underbelly running through its veins.

This is the sort of tom yam that is both hearty and soothing – the perfect antidote for rainy days or even days where you need a little Thai-infused perk-me-up.

Seafood has a strong, recurrent presence at Gai and you will find it taking centre stage once again in the Jumbo Lump Crab (RM138) which is cooked in the Phong Kari style. This is essentially a style of cooking crabs that involves the use of curry powder, often alongside milk. The curry itself is mild but has a rich soul that soaks in all the flavours of the fat, sweet crab meat, which is the true heart of this delicious dish.

A new chapter for Thai flavours in Kuala Lumpur

From the vegetables on offer, indulge in the Stir Fried Green Eggplant (RM38). Green eggplant isn’t always easy to source on the local front but is a flagship ingredient in Thai cuisine. Here, the eggplant has a freshness and firm bite that contrasts well with the chicken, which rounds the meal out admirably well.

On the dessert front, you would do well to have the Luk Chup (RM25) which is essentially a quirky, miniature sweet treat fashioned out of mung bean paste. Each delicate creation is unique – and you might find tiny little mangoes, ducks or even mushroom-shaped concoctions which provide earthy connotations against a firm bite.

A meal at Gai is one derived from unmistakable Thai flavours, accentuated by a line-up of premium offerings. It is evident that thought, consideration and a whole lot of heart have been poured into Gai and this is what sets it apart from other Thai restaurants.

“We cannot please everyone, but what we can do is we can believe in how we approach Thai food. And that approach is the same encapsulation of how we would like to portray our brand image – that we are serving up quality food which people can relate to and give value back in terms of what they pay for is what they get,” says Chin.

Abirami Durai

The Star

Asia News Network