I first tried Rama V in the late-90s - back then, I thought it served some unique Thai dishes which no other Thai restaurant in Malaysia had, e.g. "mieng kham" (now, a common feature everywhere in KL), and the beautiful flower-shaped "Chor Ladda", steamed dumplings filled with minced chicken & caramelized peanuts.It also occupied a beautiful space, right in the middle of KL's diplomatic quarter (almost next door to the American embassy, in fact) - perhaps guaranteeing some stratospheric prices on the menu. But I was captivated by Rama V then for 2 reasons: its luxurious gardens and individual dining rooms set amidst lush greenery was unlike anything I'd seen back home in land-scarce Singapore, and its take on Royal Thai cuisine was not available in Singapore (I'd first experienced that at Bangkok's magnificent Bussaracum in the early-90s).
Fast forward one and a half decades, and it appeared that Rama V had still maintained its reputation as KL's premier Thai dining spot (though not necessarily serving the best-tasting Thai food). What we ordered last week when we dined there:
- "Chor Ladda", the house specialty - still produced beautifully and delicately here. And still the only place in town where I'd seen this dish.
- A large appetiser platter (more than enough to feed 4-6 pax) containing some of the freshest deep-fried seafood I'd tasted in ANY restaurant (Thai or otherwise in KL, plus spring rolls ("po pia tod"), Thai fishcake ("tod man pla").
- "Tom yum talay" (seafood) soup served in a whole coconut. This was delicious, though not as spicy or sour as I expected. I suspect it's to cater to the foreign diplomatic corps which used this place for entertaining guests.
- "Yam woon sen" (glass noodles salad, halal version here - dang, my fave Thai dish was minced pork yam woon sen) - again, it tasted very, very bland for a Thai dish - not spicym, not sour, no hint of fish sauce being used, no fragrant lime juice scent.
- "Som tum". Green papayas used here, but flavors were not authentic - the spice level was alarmingly low. Disappointing!
- "Kaeng keaw wan kai" (Thai green curry with chicken) - consisting of boneless chicken, aubergines, pea eggplants & mushrooms. Very, very bland rendition - by now, I'm beginning to think they are cooking for folks who do not like chillies? But the ordering was done by my visiting Thai colleague from Bangkok, who said he did not specify any changes to the spice-level of the dishes, thinking that in KL, use of ultra-spicy "phrik kee noo" (Malay: cili padi) should be commonplace. This curry was a big let-down.
- Steamed large freshwater prawns. These were ultra-fresh & delicious, and were meant to be non-spicy anyway.
- Steamed whole fish with lime & chillies. By then, I'd given up looking for any taste in the food there.
- the "Pad Thai" noodle dish which came at the end really, really rubbed salt into the wound - it was practically tasteless!
- Dessert: we were shown an elaborately large platter of dessert choices to choose from. I got the Sangkaya custard, steamed in a pumpkin. It was delicious, the best-tasting item I had that evening.
The bill, including drinks, for 4 of us was an embassy-hostage-taking RM1,200++ (US$380)!
Rama V Fine Thai Cuisine
5 Jalan U Thant
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