Som Chai was built to be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Sarong Group. It was designed to have a large formal dining room at the rear for evenings with an equally large casual area at the front for casual all day dining extending into the late hours. Will Meyrick has permanently left his mark on the Bali dining scene and his incredible journey has been at the forefront of what has become a culinary master class, as the Bali food scene attracts world wide acclaim.
I have followed Meyrick’s journey from his days at Sydney’s Longrain where his fascination with the intricacies of Thai cuisine began when working with Martin Boetz, the star apprentice of Australian guru Thai chef David Thompson, then on his own at Jimmy Liks. He arrived in Bali many years ago at Husk determined to cook Thai, Thai! This was followed by the sensational Blossom and then at his own Sarong by which time he had developed his own personal style and a perfection of ‘balancing the flavours’ of the exotic Thai cuisine, a feat not mastered by many. Sarong also received world wide acclaim and today still needs a reservation for a table virtually any night of the year.
The casual dining MamaSan followed and it shares Sarong’s popularity. The awe in which the Bali food scene is viewed by foodies world-wide owes a debt to Meyrick who has led from the front.
However it was still a surprise to many when Som Chai was announced as it would result in the group having four restaurants [including the latest, Tiger Palm which is still struggling for an identity] within a few kilometers of each other in Kerobokan.
Som Chai has lived up the hype with a range of Thai dishes that have been researched from every corner of the country in Meyrick’s never-ending journey to remote villages and hill-tribe communities seeking out the incredible tastes of this exotic cuisine.
The menu is large, as is Meryrick’s norm. So much so that it makes dish selection difficult, perhaps a smaller one would be more sensible. It would certainly make things easier for the first-timer.
However at the front of the menu is a small section of Chef’s Specials, and they are gems. To begin there is Khanohm Gai Chaai, dumplings like you have never had before, spinach with garlic and chives wrapped in a coating that has included sticky rice flour, the dipping sauce is sweet soy. This dish obviously has, as with many others in the Thai cuisine, originated in China, came with the immigrants from there and then adapted to Thai tastes over time.
The highlight of this little group is a dish from the 19th century, Tom Kar Pet, shredded duck cooked in a broth of light coconut cream and young galangal. Perhaps it has some connection to the Chinese as well, as it is served with a pile of steamed Mandarin pancakes [as used with Peking Duck] strips of juicy vegetables and a selection of leaves, all to be layered together on the pancake before it is rolled and dipped into an intense sauce of chilli, shallots and tamarind. What an incredible and unusual dish!
The number of choices on the main menu is almost overwhelming. It includes simple traditional dishes such as Tod Mun Pla, small cakes of minced fish that have been pounded with red curry paste, lime leaf and coconut milk. Or a Chicken Sate, the meat having been marinated in coconut cream and curry powder. Perhaps one of the simplest dishes is Ma Hor, a caramelized pork mince combined with crushed peanuts and served with a juicy fruit, here it is on a small slab of pineapple. Ma Hor has always been David Thompson’s tasty starter but with the mince stuffed into mandarin segments.
Salads are probably the most misunderstood item in Thai food, they have no connection with western dishes of the same name and the addition of such things as lettuce, tomato, etc usually shows the management’s lack of understanding of this cuisine, as seen all over Indonesia with Thai Beef Salad. Not at Som Chai of course and their Smoked Shredded Chicken Salad is a perfect example, combined as it is with green mango, banana blossom, shallots, Thai basil and chilli jam. The Thais have been using flowers in food for centuries, long before the current fad began in western restaurants.
Other salads worth considering are the Prawn and Pomelo [palm heart, lemongrass, shallots, kencur and nahm jim], Air-dried pork, Som Tum [green papaya, apple eggplant, dried shrimp] or for the adventurous a spicy Chiang Mai Chicken Laap.
Stir Fries are everyday food in Thailand, Krao Pao being the most popular an any time dish, minced meat and Holy Basil with a fried egg on top, In Thailand it is commonly done with pork here it is with minced chicken. Other options are a Thai Omelette, again different from what you expect from the western name [minced chicken, dried shrimp, banana blossom, sweet radish, garlic chives and a sweet tamarind sauce], Crispy Salted Pork, or the exotic Pad Cha, chicken and baby lobster with wild ginger, chilli, Holy basil. lime leaf and green peppercorns.
The Mains include wonderful curries, the ambrosial Massaman of Beef or Prawn Choo Chee, Gaeng Kee Lek [cured and smoked salted beef brisket with cinnamon, wild ginger and lime]. The many seafood options include Steamed Fish or Salt-baked Barramundi.
A visit to Som Chai will be a tasting feast for all who can appreciate the complexities of Thai cuisine. However with the main dining room already closed [only used now for private functions] and a scarcity of diners whenever I have visited, I hope that the ‘jewel in the crown’ was not a step too far!
Restaurant : Som Chai.
Address : Jln. Raya Kerobokan, Kerobokan.
Telephone/WA : 878.8866.1945.
Open : Lunch [12.00 – 3.00], Dinner [6.30 – 11.00].
Smoking Area : None.
Non-smoking Area : All.
Parking : Valet.
Price : Rp. 800,000 for two [+ drinks].
Credit Cards : All major cards.
Food : Thai.
Wine : Good list, expensive.
Service : Reasonable.
Atmosphere : Formal.
Overall : Tempt your taste buds.
Reviews that appear in Bali Advertiser are based on actual visits to the establishments listed, without the knowledge of the restaurants, and are not paid for by the individual restaurants.
Opinions expressed here are those of Gerry Williams and not necessarily those of Bali Advertiser. Gerry Williams attempts to write from a ‘typical’ diner’s perspective and, whilst quality of food is the most important criteria overall, value for money is the real measuring stick.
Copyright © 2020 Gerry Williams