Unlike its sister restaurant in Tanjong Pagar, there is nothing about the Sentosa version that even whispers ‘Thai restaurant’, least of all its blandly pleasant interior decor. But looks are deceiving, for the dishes that emerge from the kitchen very ably fly the Thai flag, courtesy of a consultant chef to the royal family. Be adventurous and be surprised by the kang kong fritters: dense nests of tempura’ed vegetables paired with a sweet, gelatinous sauce laced with minced pork. Unusually, the duck curry is studded with pineapple and longan, the sweet globes a welcome partner to the earthier tones of the meat. Worth a special journey out to Sentosa.
See our full review of Thanying here.
In Singapore, where any distance more than a five-minute walk away is considered an unbearable schlep, Sentosa remains unfairly burdened with a reputation for being out of the way, grimly far off the beaten path. It’s kind of nice if you’re looking for a lush green bolthole to escape the pressure cooker that the mainland can sometimes become; but not so good if you are a newly opened restaurant with tables to fill and a budget to meet.
On our first visit to Thanying at the Amara Sanctuary Resort, the Saturday night crowd was made up entirely of three small tables. On the second visit, a Monday lunch, we had the entire dining room and staff to ourselves. It’s a bit of a shame since, on both occasions, the kitchen served up fine, memorable Thai dishes; and hopefully, by the time this story runs, the restaurant will have seen a reversal of fortune. Part of the explanation for Thanying’s low-key reception from the normally aggressive Singaporean diner could lie with the fact that it is so oddly conceived.
Unlike the sister restaurant in the Amara hotel on Tanjong Pagar, there is nothing about the Sentosa version that even whispers ‘Thai restaurant’ – not its location (in a nondescript blink-and-miss-it office-like wing off an equally nondescript hotel reception area), and certainly not its blandly pleasant interior decor (giant flower arrangement, peaked blond straw-thatched roof and not much else, not even the usually ubiquitous photos of the Thai king and queen).
You could just as easily be in a jazzed-up country-club room. But looks are deceiving: the dishes that emerge from the kitchen do Thailand justice, with no missteps during our two meals. It’s interesting to note that the restaurant strives for some royal lustre by way of its consultant chef Chalie Amatyakul, who has cooked for various members of the king’s family.
But as a lowly civilian, I can’t tell how much of this association has actually translated to Thanying’s menu, though the flavours ring true – heady with mint and basil, velvety coconut cream, ruby-red chillis, lemongrass and the sea-tang waft of fish sauce and soy – with each dish carefully prepared and simply presented.
The menu (in both English and Thai) is comprehensive without being overwhelming. The usual suspects are present, but it pays to be adventurous and, like the restaurant’s location, venture off the beaten path a little. So yes, order the young-papaya salad with its potent tangle of green beans, toasted peanuts, garlic and dried prawns, or the pad thai.
Order, too, the kailan: thick bunches of green stir-fried over high heat till smoky and then tossed with a sharp hit of salted fish. But then stretch the taste buds. The kang kong fritters – dense nests of tempura vegetables paired with a sweet sauce laced with minced pork – surprised everyone. Even the mango salad, so casually done in most places, was elevated by coconut flesh, chicken and chilli; the slightly tart fruit was balanced by nutty onion flakes.
A sprinkling of pork floss and tiny cuts of sautéed chicken gave the pineapple fried rice a makeover; and, unusually, the duck curry was studded with pineapple and longan, the sweet globes a welcome partner to the earthier tones of the meat. And betraying the Chinese touch that influences so much of Thai cooking, the sea bass was steamed with little more than soy, chilli and a tongue-tingling squirt of lime.
Desserts were a bit of a non-event. Only two items were offered: a cooling glass of water chestnuts, coconut flesh and jackfruit buried beneath an avalanche of crushed ice; and a surprisingly delicious palate-cleansing fruit salad doused with a sweet-and-sour orange lime jus.
The restaurant is, at the time of writing, tinkering with the menu to expand the dessert offerings, though you can’t help but think that a greater effort needs to be devoted to more aggressive marketing. Food this good deserves a wider audience – even one that’s loath to trek ‘all the way’ to Sentosa.