Spice Makes Nice

What happens when you bring the best of two award-winning Asian
restaurants together?

Maha Chai Road is a magical place in Bangkok. Between the beloved pad thai at Thipsamai and legendary crab omelette at Michelinstarred Raan Jay Fai, it’s a humble street crammed with culinary gems. But hopping on a nearly seven-hour flight to Bangkok for a couple of great meals in these circumstances isn’t exactly appealing, is it? It’s no wonder, then, that we’re loyal patrons of the awardwinning Royal Thai. But this restaurant isn’t the only eatery at The Gulf Hotel Bahrain boasting multiple accolades. China Garden, which brings a taste of Mainland China to diners across the island, is located a mere paces away. Translation: if you have an affinity for Asian cuisine, this is a tough choice to make – or so we thought.

The experts at The Gulf Hotel put their thinking caps on when the events of 2020 made dining out more complicated than ever before, combining the most popular dishes across both menus in one scenic venue. The FACT team arrives for lunch, starving and giddy with excitement over the prospect of indulging in a feast rife with fragrant herbs, potent spices, fresh vegetables, and even fresher seafood. But despite us returning to Royal Thai for the umpteenth time, we still pause to take in our zen-like surroundings. The pagoda-style building that houses this Thai restaurant is surrounded by lush foliage, sprawling lawns, soothing birdsong, and even a koi pond. Stand in the gazebo long enough and you’ll forget you’re in Bahrain. Honest.

Alternating between Thai and Chinese dishes, we start on a familiar note – prawn crackers with dip – but are pleasantly surprised to be served a little bowl of kimchi on the side. Gut health boost? Check. Next comes the creamy Tom Yum Koong generously accented with giant Arabian prawns. This is certainly not the type of soup where you have to go looking for them. It also takes us no time to see that Royal Thai still does things with style. You know how Som Tam Koong is just a papaya salad at most places? Well, here it’s a spectacle. Yours will be prepared tableside to your liking, spice level and all. We even spot a couple of traditional dolls on the chef’s trolley as she pounds the ingredients together! Another highlight comes courtesy of China Garden: the shockingly tender Roasted Beijing Duck, complete with Chinese pancakes and fixings of your choice. As for the reason behind that texture? A secret, signature five-spice blend whipped up by Chef Ding. We continue to up our calorie intake by trying both the Thai Khao Hohn Koong (fresh spring rolls) and Sichuan Chili Baby Corn, but neither appetiser feels heavy or overwhelming. That’s the thing about most Asian dishes – all that flavour never results in feeling uncomfortably full. Other winners in the appetisers section? The Shrimp Siu Mai for pescatarians, the Beef Dumplings for meat-eaters. We’re tempted to order a second round of dim sum, but clearly, it’s time to move on to the mains. Ordering a curry at a Thai restaurant practically feels obligatory at this point, so we go with the Gaeng Kiew Wan Kai (or green curry with chicken). If you expect this dish to be creamy and comforting, you won’t be disappointed. We aren’t. We carry on with a couple of Chinese mains, but it’s the Crispy Beef that we have to rave about. Is it the perfectly balanced sweet-chilli sauce or that smattering of sesame seeds and crunchy bell peppers that makes it so good? We’ll never know.

What we do know is that it paves the way perfectly for dessert. All those spices have our taste buds calling out (well, screaming) for something sweet, but we can’t quite decide between the Toffee Banana and Khao Neow Mamuang. So we get both. The former pairs sticky, gooey, caramelised bananas with vanilla ice cream, while the latter is an authentic dessert found in every nook and cranny of Thailand – including Suvarnabhumi Airport, where tourists seek one last fix before heading out of Bangkok. We suggest you pick based on how much room you have left for dessert. But let’s just be honest here: when has mango with sticky rice ever been a bad idea? ✤