About two decades back, Thai restaurants were all the rage in Delhi. There was (or so it seemed) one in almost every major market, and a chain—Bangkok Degree 1, 2 and 3—had also set up shop. It looked as if Thai food, with its curry-like flavours, its spice and freshness and obvious points of appeal to Indian palates, was here to stay.
Then there was an odd shift. Every other Oriental restaurant (even those which proclaimed themselves as Chinese) began serving Thai curries and rice. That may have been the only Thai dish on their menus, but it was there, often in a not-at-all-authentic form. And the primarily Thai restaurants retreated into the background, either shutting down or just going downhill.
We have always been very fond of Thai food, so this, of course, was a bit of a blow for us. And there was much excitement when we discovered (on a Facebook foodies group) that a Thai restaurant had opened in Greater Kailash’s N Block Market. Someone who’d eaten there had praised the authenticity of the food, so we were especially keen to check it out. Within hours of hearing about Dao, we’d booked a table for Sunday lunch here with my sister and brother-in-law.
Dao sits on the first floor, across from the building housing Kasbah and its sister restaurants. Dao, too, has a sister restaurant of its own, specialising in dimsums, on the ground floor. As we were entering, my husband was tempted to cancel our Dao reservation and go off to the dimsum place, but we were able to dissuade him. Thai food first.
Dao is tastefully decorated, with intricately carved panels in dark wood on the walls, stylish circular lampshades, and upholstery in a muted red (for the chairs) and beige (for the sofas). The crockery is a very pleasantly rustic style: glazed, solid-looking, with flecks of black and shades of grey and black.
Within moments of our arriving and being seated, we’d been handed the restaurant menus—food and beverage. Dao is unashamedly Thai, so all the pages of the food menu listed well-loved and familiar items: soups, salads, appetisers, main courses (including curries), stir-fries, rice and noodles. Everything, as is common throughout the Orient, is a shared dish, not individual portions, so we spent a while figuring out what to order.
Since my brother-in-law doesn’t eat fish, we had to pass up (with some regret) some of the more interesting seafood dishes on the menu. Also, none of us are fans of very spicy food, and Dao’s menu (which helpfully indicates ‘heat’ in each dish, by marking it with little icons of red chillies) had a plethora of three-chilli dishes. Our choice, therefore, was somewhat limited. After some discussion, we picked two appetisers: the kai ho baie toi (chicken wrapped in a pandan leaf and served with a dark sesame-soy sauce), and yam phak ruam mit krob (a crispy vegetable salad with a hot, sweet and sour dressing).
This was when our waiter apologised to say that the chicken wasn’t available, because pandan leaves weren’t available. Would we like a chicken stir fry, instead, with cashew nuts and vegetables? As nothing else on the list of appetisers seemed to fit, we agreed. We then went on to order the main course: a lamb Panang curry (it’s also available with chicken, vegetable or prawn instead of lamb); steamed rice, and phad nam phrik phow (a stir fry of pak choy, asparagus, broccoli and bell peppers in a chill sauce). When asked if this would be sufficient for the four of us, the waiter suggested that it would be better if we ordered one more dish—noodles, perhaps? We therefore added a vegetarian phad thai to our order.
For beverages, we passed up the alcoholic drinks, my husband and I opting to have nothing but water. My brother-in-law ordered a fresh lime soda and my sister an unusual-sounding tamarind water. The latter, said the waiter, was unavailable, sorry.
While we waited for our food, the waiter brought my brother-in-law’s drink and poured water for us. Then came a little dish (looking rather like a deck chair!) with a handful of crisp golden soya bean chips. These were very good, and we were close to finishing them off when our starters arrived.
These proved to be as good as the chips had been. The crispy vegetables included baby corn, broccoli and carrots, encased in an airy tempura-like batter, deep fried and tossed lightly in a tangy sauce that incorporated fresh herbs and sliced raw onions marinated in lime juice to take away the sting. Delicious.
The stir-fried chicken, with bell peppers, spring onions, onions and a mildly spicy sauce, was good too, but it’s something I’ve had before.
The main course (also served up in very good time; one thing I appreciated about Dao was that we didn’t have to wait inordinately long for any of our courses) was as good as the starters. The Panang curry was creamy, with just the right combination of spice and fragrance, with all the goodness of typically Thai ingredients: the kaffir lime leaves, the lemon grass, the galangal and coconut milk and all. Studded with tiny pea aubergines, this, along with the fluffy steamed rice, was for me the best part of the meal. The vegetable stir fry, tangy and fresh, repeated some of the flavours of our chicken starter, so was vaguely boring—we should’ve ordered something dramatically different, I thought. The pad thai noodles were good, with lots of veggies and peanuts.
Mains over, it was time for dessert. Dao’s dessert menu is separate from its main food menu, and—at first glance—looked very appealing, what with coconut mango litchi pastry, passion fruit profiteroles, and more (including some Western desserts, like lemon cheesecake and tiramisu). Sadly, our waiter announced that barring the first three items on the menu, nothing was available.
This was startling, but since we had our hearts set on dessert, we ordered from what was available: my husband ordered a steamed egg custard; I, a sticky rice with mango sauce and ice cream (the waiter informed me that they typically served it with vanilla ice cream, but I could get coconut ice cream instead, which I immediately opted for); and my brother-in-law, coconut ice cream. My sister skipped dessert and had a look at their teas (Dao has some lovely teas and floral infusions), finally ordering a first flush tea.
The desserts, like the meal preceding them, were very good. The steamed egg custard had a firm but creamy, mildly grainy (and very pleasant) texture, and wasn’t too sweet, which got full marks from my husband.
The sticky rice that formed the base of my pudding seemed to have been cooked in coconut milk; the mango sauce it came with was fruity and fresh, and along with the coconut ice cream, a fitting finish to the meal.
The tea—which came in a glass kettle—was enough for all four of us, and little handleless cups were provided so we could all taste some of it. Lovely and soothing.
All in all, this was a very satisfying meal. It cost us Rs 4,693 (taxes and service charges included), which isn’t bad, considering the quality of food. The service is adequate (and wait staff, thankfully, aren’t as clueless as in many other restaurants I’ve been to), and the ambience is good. I just wish they’d make sure most things on the menu are available, rather than not. Because next time I visit (which I will!), I would like to try some of the things I missed this time.
N-17, N Block Market
Greater Kailash Part 1
Tel: 011-65000726, 011-65000727