When a country’s way of greeting one another is “Gin khao reu yang?” – literally, “Have you eaten rice yet?” – you know that food is a big deal. From delicious curries at the cheapest of street stalls to dishes decorated with carved fruit and vegetables at the finest of upscale restaurants, the food in Thailand is defined by its perfect balance of salty, spicy, sour and sweet flavours.
Thai Eating Etiquette
Thais dine family-style – all dishes are shared at the table at once, rather than starters being eaten separately from mains
Forks and spoons are used for most dishes. The fork is mainly used to push food onto the spoon, which is then lifted to the mouth. Chopsticks are generally only used for noodle soup.
Our favourite Thai food on the island
Price gauge: $$$
Mood: Jungle-Luxe Dining
Cuisine style: Contemporary & Traditional Siamese Cuisine
Service with a wai: Warm, as expected of a culture born in the Land of a Thousand smiles.
Set majestically atop Labrador Nature Reserve is Tamarind Hill, an elegant Thai restaurant that’s been part of Singapore’s vibrant dining scene since 2012. Barely three years old, it’s already received critical acclaim from the likes of Cuisine and Wine, which named it “Restaurant of the Month” just two months after its official opening.
The restaurant – owned and managed by Samadhi Retreats – is housed within a fully restored colonial bungalow that has witnessed the passing of the Second World War. Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s become a very popular venue for couples looking to tie the knot.
Beyond its resplendent façade lies an equally luxurious restaurant and bar where aperitifs and signature cocktails like Tamarini, Pad Thai and King of the Hill are served before and after dinner. Here, diners can also find an extensive wine list that’s managed and attended by Rajeshwaran Gopal, one of the country’s best-known sommeliers.
Aesthetics and alcoholic indulgences aside, what sets Tamarind Hill apart is its authentic Thai food. The kitchen is headed by executive chef Wanthana Nikonsaen who, armed with years of restaurant experience, serves unpretentious yet tasty Thai cuisines, such as the delectable beef massaman curry and crispy duck breast served alongside green pea and eggplant tempura.
30 Labrador Villa Road
Price gauge: $$$
Mood: Posh Phad Thai
Cuisine style: Royal Thai
Service with a wai: Attentive and polite, closely replicating the Thai ideals of meticulous service
Thanying has been in business since 1988; that’s 25 years in Singapore’s competitive restaurant market, so they must be doing something right. A talented Thai chef and excellent service are part of the equation. The menu is extensive and comprises Thai dishes that were deemed fit for royalty, which explains the attention to detail and authentic flavours.
If you can’t resist a tom yam goong ($10), you’ll enjoy this spicy prawn soup with hints of kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass. Refreshing in the humidity is an unusual yam som oh ($18) – a cold salad of pomelo, chicken, prawn, coconut, chilli and lime sauce. Pair the tay po cod curry with khao ohb nam-liab ($17) – a Chinese black olive rice with minced chicken,which is oh so more-ish. If you can squeeze in dessert, the mango sticky rice ($17) is exceptional; but the dessert buffet ($9) is tempting too – it’s jam-packed with traditional Thai cakes and fresh fruit.
165 Tanjong Pagar Road Amara Hotel, Level 2
6222 4688 | singapore.amarahotels.com/thanying
Price gauge: $$
Mood: Casual Curry
Cuisine region: North-eastern (otherwise known as Isan or Isaan)
Service with a wai: Efficient mother Neng and son Guy are happy to help with food recommendations and spice level guidance
Tucked away in quiet a cul-de-sac between Ulu Pandan and North Buona Vista Road, to the side of Ridgewood Condominium, is this little Thai gem. Break away from the usual Thai dishes (anything that contains the words curry or coconut milk) and veer towards some more adventurous dishes.
For mains, try the basil beef ($12.50/$17.50) – the aniseed flavour from the basil made a welcome change from the lime of the other dishes, not that we were complaining – or go off piste with the steamed sea bass ($28.50) – delicately cooked fish topped with crispy baby shrimp, toasted coconut and a lime dressing.
We couldn’t end the meal without sharing a plate of mango sticky rice ($6), and we realised this was the first taste of coconut milk we had had the entire meal; definitely a first for us. The restaurant has come a long way since its beginnings as a hawker stall at Farrer Road Market.
6466 8078 | esarn.com.sg
Price gauge: $$$$
Mood: Posh Phad Thai
Cuisine region: North-eastern
Service with a wai: Cordial, prompt yet discreet – and yes, there are lots of wais, which makes for a true Thai experience
Kha is undergoing a revamp and the new décor will be unveiled this month. We’re betting it will be good if the new atmosphere is anywhere near as good as the new food, which was, incidentally, some of the best Thai food we’ve had in Singapore to date (and we’ve tried a fair few restaurants!).
The new Aussie chef Adam Lee Cliff, straight from a stint in Bangkok, specialises in north-eastern cuisine. Think char-grilled hanger steak with a smoky tomato and chilli relish ($23), som tum ($16) plus more unusual salads like duck salad ($24) and a new personal favourite, salad of smoky eggplant, grilled tiger prawn, Thai herbs and toasted rice ($16) – a fantastically delicious dish bringing together sour, spicy and salty elements with only a hint of sweetness. These are exciting dishes that will pique your interest if you’re used to same-same green curries and phad Thai. Don’t miss the tiger prawns slow-grilled in a dry southern curry ($28) served with juicy shards of pickled ginger: a cleverly tangy complement.
Tip: Great baskets of rice ($4) are dished out at the table – it’s free-flow and, unusually, a brown rice is on offer too, which is a nice touch.
38 Martin Road
6476 9000 | kha.sg
Price gauge: $
Mood: Casual Curry
Cuisine region: Northern Thailand
Service with a wai: The friendly servers are happy to show moo kata first-timers the trick to cooking on the dome-shaped grill
Moo kata, which literally translates as pork skillet, is both a barbecue and a hotpot. How it works: meat is grilled on a dome-shaped grill fired by white charcoal, while seafood and vegetables go into a hotpot filled with broth.
Ordering at MooJaa is simple. Order either the moo (pork) or gai (chicken) set ($39.90 each), enough for two to share, and pick your favourite à la carte add-ons, such as US Angus beef slices ($22) or cheese balls ($8). Both sets come with prawns, Hokkaido scallops, surimi crabsticks, a generous portion of greens and more.
It is not for health-fanatics though; the most important step of moo kata is to place a cube of pork lard on the grill to prevent meat from sticking, which adds to the flavour of the meat and broth together with the smoke from the charcoal. In Thai cuisine, freshness is key so the meat is marinated in an MSG-free marinade every morning by the Thai head chef.
The two popular dipping sauces, spicy barbecue and sweet-sour seafood, are made from scratch with no less than 30 ingredients. MooJaa, which means “my lovely pig” in Thai and is used by girls to tease their boyfriends about their expanding waistline, is an apt name indeed.
Tip: If you can handle your spice well, ask the server politely for a small saucer of the off-the-menu homemade extra spicy chilli padi sauce. And have a Thai ice tea ($2.50) ready to douse the fire.
25 Keong Saik Road
6536 4780 | moojaa.sg
Price gauge: $$$$
Mood: Posh Phad Thai
Cuisine style: Contemporary Thai
Service with a wai: True to the Land of Smiles, staff are friendly, chatty and incredibly attentive to a rice portion running low or a napkin gone astray
You know you’ve stumbled across something great when your senses catch the aroma wafting from this unexpected gem. Part of a successful worldwide chain, Patara’s ever-evolving menu is brimming with clever adaptations and twists.
We recommend starting with the porpia pak ar ($19) – crisp tacos with minced chicken, prawns, tofu and chilli-specked vinegar – and hoy shell ($20) – seared scallops with chilli lime dressing. For drinks, opt for the lemongrass-infused Bangkok martini ($16) and Phuket mojito ($15) with guava and pineapple juice to cleanse the palate. Testament to their pride in sourcing premium ingredients, the use of Australian beef sirloin adds a new dimension to the panang nuea yang ($27) and lamb-lovers will enjoy the see krong kae yang ($34). Marinated in lemongrass and served atop a papaya salad and crisp sweet rice rolls, this rack of lamb is seared to perfection.
It leaves just enough space for a dessert like the flavoursome pandan crème brûlée ($17) with tangy passion fruit meringue.
Tips: Can’t decide? Try one of their two Benjarong degustation menu ($68) options. They also have an extensive vegetarian menu.
163 Tanglin Road #03-14 Tanglin Mall
6737 0818 | patara.com.sg
Aroy Dee Thai Kitchen
Price gauge: $
Mood: Casual Curry
Cuisine region: Northern-eastern
Service with a wai: Service was generally good – attentive and friendly for a casual, hawker-like place. However, the waiting time for food can be long especially when it’s crowded
With a menu boasting an extensive selection of starters and mains from green mango salad and Thai fish cakes to steamed garoupa in Thai sauce and Thai red curry beef, there’s something for everyone here. Those who crave that extra spicy kick should try the sliced beef salad ($10) with hints of sweet and sour. The meat is soft and tender; delightful with the crunchy raw vegetables served on the side. The portion is generous, with plenty to go around.
Unlike many we’ve tried, Aroy Dee’s green curry chicken ($8) is not rich or heavy but creamy and light. It’s filled with peas, long beans and bite-sized chicken pieces and is suitable for those with low threshold for spicy food. Another option for taste buds that don’t handle fiery food well is the seafood basil rice ($6). The sweet basil sauce is tasty, with just a bit of heat. It comes with fried egg, sliced cucumber, squid and prawns.
Don’t fancy seafood? Choose the chicken, beef or pork version instead. Cool down with a Thai iced lemongrass ($1.80). It’s fresh and sweet, with a distinct flavour of lemongrass.
Tips: Arrive before 7pm or after 8pm to avoid waiting for a table as it can be crowded, even on weeknights. If you’re in the area on weekdays between 11.30am and 3pm, order the set lunch ($5.50), consisting of one dish and a fruit juice.
Cheap and cheerful
Looking for authentic Thai food but want change from $10? You’ll find something on the menu at these places:
Nana Thai, 5001 Beach Road, #01-51/52/66C Golden Mile Complex. 6297 8498
Thai Express, various locations, including Holland Village and Raffles City Shopping Centre. thaiexpress.com.sg
Thai Affair, 6 Eu Tong Sen Street, #B1-48 The Central. 6224 6229
Jai Thai, various, locations nationwide including East Coast and Purvis Street. jai-thai.com
Weekend all-you-can-eat fine dining
As well as doing dinners and lunches these two places also offer a weekend brunch:
Patara Thai Restaurant: $39. Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. They do things sophisticatedly here – order as much of anything you want from the menu and it’s served to your table. Their pomelo salad is one of the best we’ve tried. See main review for address.
Jim Thompson: $58, or $88 with sparkling wine and beer. Every Sunday. This firm favourite with expats offers a buffet-style Thai spread in a very glamorous setting. It’s also a good spot to take guests for dinner. One gripe – Oddly, although iced water is free at the buffet, you will be charged for it when ordering à la carte. 45 Minden Road, Dempsey Hill. 6475 6088
Fancy a drink?
22 Mosque Street
A Thai bar adorned with modern art has sprung up on Mosque Street in Chinatown – a fresh face amongst the slightly dubious backpacker hostels and KTV bars. Inventive Thai- and Asian-inspired cocktails include lemongrass mojito ($15) and Pandan Valley ($15). The Ginger 22 ($17) is a real winner – ginger-infused vodka, Grand Marnier, fresh ginger and egg white foam served in a coffee cup. Or get the mixologist to rustle you up something bespoke – our Mai Tai served in a recycled can was a hoot.
The bar is the main draw; food-wise, the usual Thai favourites are on offer, from tom yam seafood soup ($9.50) to spicy mango salad ($9.50), phad Thai ($9.50) and curries.
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