It’s about that time where ruminating on the year gone by manifests in countless round-ups and looking back at the past 12 months. 2018 has been an intense year for the F&B industry, from the passing of some of the world’s culinary greats (Paul Bocuse, Joël Robuchon, Anthony Bourdain) to several high profile closures and movements. Among the latter was the announcement by Australian chef David Thompson that he would be leaving Nahm, the flagship Thai restaurant that made his name, after 18 years, to focus on his other projects. Thompson did his final service in the Bangkok restaurant on April 30, 2018.
But he wasn’t to stay still for long—the first venture since his departure, Aaharn, has opened less than half a year later. Located in the historic armoury building within Central’s Tai Kwun, the restaurant is a part of the Aylmer Aaharn group, which Thompson co-founded in 2014 as a way to explore, promote and preserve Thai gastronomy. A known authority on Thai cuisine, Thompson set off a flurry of excitement followed the announcement that he would be opening a restaurant in Hong Kong.
Months pass, the restaurant softly opens, and the crowds gather at Aaharn—for cocktails and cold beers at the ground floor bar set into the ground floor of the handsome heritage building, under the shade of a majestic, 60-year-old mango tree. It’s somewhat unclear that there is a restaurant at all; the pulsating crowd on a warm winter evening is far more interested in al fresco drinking than the culinary offerings just upstairs. A search on Instagram reveals a mere dozen photos posted under the Aaharn geotag. Where is everyone, and why aren’t they talking about this place?
The beautifully designed dining room is all about the feminine form, from the circular tables with thick brass detailing to the cosseting, scalloped banquettes and curve-backed chairs contrasting with room dividers that resemble dramatic corrugated iron sheets. A mix of abstract contemporary art—including a few Rothko-esque paintings—dominate the walls. On a balmy night however, the terrace seating with its view over the courtyard is a more relaxed way to dine at Aaharn, away from the romantic spotlighting and plush furnishings.
When it comes to the food, Thompson is known to not shy away from presenting the full spectrum of Thai flavours, meaning his menus are an unapologetic rendering of full on tastes: the spicy, bitter, sour, sweet and salty are all present and punching. A signature menu offers a balanced selection of courses that run from vibrant salads to piquant soups and rich curries, but we went a la carte to sample a wider range of courses.