Cover Chefs Santipap Tonkanya and Ray Choi are hoping to redefine the Thai dining scene in Hong Kong (Photo: Affa Chan/Tatler Hong Kong)

Plaa is a seafood restaurant created in collaboration with chefs Richie Lin and Ian Kittichai, who are based outside the city

For those who don’t know, what does Plaa mean?

Choi: Plaa means “fish” in Thai, which matches our Thai-influenced seafood dishes as well as the ocean-inspired interior of the restaurant. The menu is built around fresh seafood and produce that reflects the seasons and sustainability. Herbs, spices and sauces, the core of traditional Thai cuisine, are used to let the vibrant seafood flavours shine through.

What makes Plaa special?

Tonkanya: The fact that we are a chef duo makes us special. We have Chef Ian and Chef Richie as the chef partners of Plaa, and Ray and I are the joint head chefs [in Hong Kong], which is not common in other venues.

Choi: The Thai touches on every dish make Plaa stand out. From the inspiration behind each creation to the Thai herbs and condiments we use, we want to convey a contemporary Thai dining experience to guests and showcase the unexpected fineness and exquisiteness of Thai cuisine. [People often] associate Thai cuisine with casual dining or street food. At Plaa, we want to showcase the potential and long-standing history of this cuisine and elevate it to a fine-dining level.

Chef Tonkanya, you grew up in Bangkok before honing your skills in prestigious French kitchens. What brought you to Hong Kong, and how does it feel to come back to your Thai roots?

Tonkanya: I arrived in Hong Kong in May to prepare for the opening of Plaa [in August]. Hong Kong is a lively city with an outstanding food and beverage community, and I was happy to take on this new challenge. I grew up in Thailand surrounded by chefs in my family. I am proud to come back to my roots. This is what I always dreamt of: gaining experience in other cuisines, learning different techniques and then applying what I have learnt back to Thai cooking, levelling it up, and making exquisite dishes while staying true to Thai flavours.

Which unique flavours and ingredients from Thailand are you bringing to Plaa?

Tonkanya: Thai flavours vary according to the regions of Thailand, and I would like to bring all these different and authentic tastes to Plaa. In the northern part of Thailand, you can find herbal flavours with mild spiciness, and we added that to our amuse bouche: the miang kham bonito tartlet. In the northeastern part, there is a signature spicy and sour combination, which you can find in our larb scallop dish. Our creamy coconut curry represents the central part of Thailand, and we’ve infused this specific taste into the tom kha oyster dish. We also have a gaeng som soup dish to showcase the intense seasoning of the south.

Choi: Most of the Thai ingredients we use are true to their origin, but not commonly seen in Hong Kong; for example, Thai basil, culantro, blade coriander and snake gourd.

Tonkanya: We have an abalone dish which comes from the concept of Thai boat noodles, but instead of using pig’s blood, we use abalone liver to prepare the sauce in a new rendition of a traditional dish. 

 

Chef Choi, you have worked at some of the best known restaurants in Hong Kong including Tate Dining Room and Arbor. How different is the experience at Plaa?

Choi: I think the main difference is the ingredients. The produce and condiments I used in the past were more commonly seen and known, but we are now using uncommon Thai ingredients to create a truly authentic flavour at Plaa. I am not just referring to lemongrass, ginger, tamarind or palm sugar, but rather lemon basil, wild ginger, carissa carandas and tulip flower, as well as specific sauces, such as nam pla wan and nam prik kapi, which I needed to learn about and understand in order to bring out the best in them.

Do Lin and Kittichai give you both the freedom to create dishes on your own terms?

Choi: Of course. This project and concept is helmed by Chef Richie [based in Taiwan] and Chef Ian [in Thailand]. They brought this modern rendition of Thai gastronomy to life and have designed an unparalleled tasting menu at Plaa. Santipap and I were glad to be part of developing the dishes and modifying the tastes to fit the Hong Kong market. We had endless discussions, trials and tastings to make sure all the dishes were perfect. I also gave feedback as a Hongkonger on how locals would perceive these unique tastes.

How do you believe Thai cuisine has evolved both globally and in Hong Kong?

Tonkanya: When talking about Thai cuisine, people tend to think of typical dishes like tom yum and pad Thai, but we actually have much more than that. There are many flavours and ingredients yet to be discovered by Hong Kong diners, with great potential to light up the global dining scene with unique and sophisticated tastes.

Now Read:

Plaa, a Thai Seafood Restaurant, by ZS Hospitality to Launch This August

The Best Hong Kong Chefs to Book for an At-Home Gourmet Dining Experience

The Best Thai Restaurants In Hong Kong
  

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.