Step into The Thai Kitchen at the Park Hyatt Dubai and all is sleek and smart. The lighting is dimmed, staff glide serenely from table to table and baskets overflowing with chillies and limes add splashes of colour. Although you can see chefs energetically working away at their different stations, deftly handling woks and knives, a sense of elegance and calm pervades the restaurant.
The staff, meanwhile, are friendly and accommodating. Our waitress explained that portion sizes are small, plates are intended to be shared and that they would arrive as and when they were ready. She suggested we select three or four dishes each and enquired as to our preferred level of spiciness. Taking her advice, we ordered what seemed like a huge amount of food but the plates arrived in a continuous trickle and they were small, as promised. This meant that we weren't completely full by the time the last one appeared and what a good thing that was, because the sea bass with hot and sour sauce was a real stunner. Moist, well-cooked fish with salty, crispy skin and a delicious honeyed sauce spiked with chewy peppercorns. It was fiery, flavourful, slightly sweet and just generally excellent.
Crab cakes served with a peanut and chilli dipping sauce weren't exceptional but they were good: dense, chewy patties, topped with crispy, aromatic kaffir lime leaves. Also in the pretty good but not quite exceptional group was a green papaya salad. This was fresh and interesting, with a pleasing crunch and a real chilli zip - enough to make the mouth burn, but not unpleasantly so. The heat was countered nicely by the tartness of the papaya, a whiff of fish sauce and a splash of lime juice. Actually, on reflection, this dish was very good, it just didn't quite sing like the plate that arrived next.
Crab salad might not sound particularly special, but here it really was. It was delicate in both presentation and taste, yet still managed to encompass layer upon layer of flavour. The soft, bright white crab meat was tasty and nicely chilled, basil leaves were fresh and sweet, flecks of red chilli were thoughtfully distributed throughout the salad and everything was doused in a light coconut milk sauce that gathered in a pool at the bottom of the bowl. This was a simple but well thought-out dish and each ingredient was there for a reason; the chilli and the basil provided contrasting textures and they also balanced the richness of the crab.
Grilled tiger prawns were fine and nothing more than that really. They were meaty but perhaps a touch on the dry side and were no where near as enticing as the other little plates on the table. Spicy duck salad was the only dish that really missed the mark and after a couple of mouthfuls we both decided not to go back for more. The skin was chewy rather than crisp, the meat a bit fatty and overall, it left a faint greasiness behind.
For dessert, we ate sticky white rice, sweetened with coconut and served with perfumed, properly ripe mango - a fitting tribute to a traditional dish.
The food at The Thai Kitchen is very good; it is authentic, fresh and cooked with care. Flavours are bold, yet delicately balanced and the presentation is pretty, without being over styled. All in all, a restaurant to recommend.
A meal for two at The Thai Kitchen, Park Hyatt Dubai, costs Dh274 not including service. For reservations call 04 317 2222. All reviewed meals are paid for by The National and reviews are conducted incognito.