Deigning restaurants in shopping malls as unworthy of a professional food writer's scrutiny is a poor, indeed pretentious judgement. It's been proven over and over that location does not affect the quality of a restaurant.
A few weeks ago I happened to have a weekday lunch at Kum Poon, an Isan-style joint adjacent to the cineplex on the 7th floor of CentralWorld. Although I'm familiar with the sight of a crowded Kum Poon during my weekend shopping sprees, that was the first time I dined there, and, as usual, the place was packed to the gills even though it was a Friday morning.
Launched five years ago by a group of fresh-faced Thai restaurateurs, Kum Poon serves up hardcore Isan fare. Its large menu presents a complete repertoire of pungent northeastern dishes prepared to authentic recipes with the level of spiciness adjusted to diners' preferences.
The first dish to arrive at our table that day, tum koed mua (loosely translated as "super jumbled salad"), featured sour and spicy green papaya salad tossed with assorted fermented Thai pork sausages (naem and moo yor), string beans, fermented rice noodles (kanom jeen) and pork crackers (95 baht).
Though som tum has always been a wildly popular delicacy among Thais thanks to its well-rounded flavour, making a memorable dish is never easy _ most people tend make it with overwhelming sweetness or fieriness.
With Kum Poon's som tum, however, it was love at first bite. My initial impression was the subtle combination of tastes led by the tanginess of the lime juice, followed by a toothsome amalgam of different textures.
The impressive deep-fried pla ra steak with the works.
Enhancing the crunchy green papaya and string beans were the pleasantly rubbery slices of sausages, soft and smooth rice noodles and pulpy tomatoes, while the pork crackers, which retained their crispiness even when immersed in the clammy salad, provided the perfect finale to a bite.
Fans of the sour and spicy tom yum soup may not want to miss tom sab kradook moo on, or spicy soup of young pork spare ribs (155 baht). Soothing rather than burning, the clear soup, redolent with the fragrances of galangal, shallots and lemongrass and flavoured with lime juice and chilli, featured a generous portion of tender spare ribs in a tastily subtle broth that proved addictive.
When the charcoal-grilled Thai-French sirloin (265 baht) arrived our table, the presentation of the beef made me wonder whether we'd made the right choice.
Rather than sleek and succulent-looking, the Thai-style steak was diagonally cut into thin ragged slices and served on fresh banana leaf sheets. However, despite its slapdash appearance, the quality and taste of the perfectly cooked medium-rare sirloin enjoyed with house spicy sauce proved above par.
Should you prefer a personal dish, the restaurant has a pleasing selection of rice and noodle items to suit your preference, from a variety of pungent fried rice, stir-fried noodles to fermented noodles with curry, and glutinous rice with meat topping.
One dish that's really worth sampling is pad Thai goong sod malakor, or Thai noodles with papaya and prawn (125 baht). Instead of the typical rice noodles, the dish features green papaya strips stir-fried with all the traditional elements such as egg, bean sprouts and chives in a savoury sweet sauce.
Since it's known that the tastiest pad Thai must be prepared with sen jan noodles, which are a bit chewy (one may say al dente), substituting them with the bracing green papaya strips didn't just add a natural sweetness but also a crunchy texture to the dish.
Pad mee Korat (90 baht) is another delightful noodle item. While looking quite similar to pad see-iew, this stir-fried rice noodle dish which is a signature of Nakhon Ratchasima tasted very different but was equally addictive. Kum Poon's version also yielded a pleasant wok-burnt aroma that nicely complemented the well-seasoned gummy soft noodles.
I'm no pla ra fan and my closest encounter with the notoriously stinky Isan-style fermented fish was to suspect some trace of smell in the mortar left by a previous order in a som tum dish.
So when a friend was about to order deep-fried pla ra, aka pla ra steak (95 baht), I immediately told her to count me out. But when the dish was served, I couldn't resist its visual temptation. A fillet of fish, slightly battered and deep-fried to yield a soft but firm texture, was accompanied by roasted peanuts, pickled ginger, shallots, cabbage and bird's eye chilli. Instead of the expected "rotten" taste and smell, the fish offered pleasant salty sour meat without the unholy whiff.
Coconut milk ice cream with the works (70 baht) is highly recommended for those looking for something sweet after the pungent meal. The super luscious homemade ice cream made with coconut cream and palm sugar, complemented by assorted condiments including look chid (sugar palm seed), tubtim krob (water chestnut pearls), jackfruit, roastedh peanuts and condensed milk, was one of the most impressive ai-tim kati I've ever had.
The restaurant is packed at lunch on weekdays and all day on weekends. During my visit, the orders arrived quickly and the service was cordial.
About the author
- Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter