Saenkham Restaurant

Very early on in our critiques of Chiang Mai restaurants, we dined at the Saenkham Terrace at the Clubhouse Ban Naifan Project 2 (still a wonderful memory). This week, we went to the forerunner of Saenkham Terrace, the Saenkham Restaurant on Nimmanhaemin Road, very close to the Amari Rincome, where we were the guests of Somjate Srithongkham, the owner.

The restaurant opened almost 12 years ago and is not large, but clever use of glass and mirrors makes it appear larger. As well as the interior section, there is a small terrace area around the outside for those who enjoy ‘pavement’ style dining. Since it was one of those warm Chiang Mai days when we went, we decided on the air-conditioned comfort of the interior.

The ambience is Northern Thai, without having to go over the top. Tablecloths are local coarse weave, with raffia placemats. The staff are unobtrusive in their black outfits, but very efficient. Understated elegance is the best description.

Unlike many restaurants, the menu begins with the beverages, including an interesting line-up of frappes (pineapple, coconut or watermelon) at B. 30, large bottles of local beers B. 80-95 and softs at B. 20.

The next page has appetizers, generally in the range B. 70-80 including northern sausage and Vietnamese spring rolls. Spicy salads are next, again around B. 70 with some different ones from the usual som tums, including pork ear, fish balls, pork neck and eggplant with prawn salad.

Curries are next (B. 70-120) with the usual green and red variants, but with different ingredients, such as salted beef in red curry, or fish ball in green curry, or northern mushroom in chilli paste curry.

The following group is just called ‘Paste’ (B. 50-60) and has simmered items such as fermented soybean or deep fried eggplant - thorny tree in batter (it would be worthwhile ordering this one to find out what it is!).

Fried items are next up, with B. 70 being the going rate. Water mimosa, morning glory and sayotae being offered as well as the more usual ones. A few northern items (B. 50-70) fill up the page, and then over to fish and prawns (B. 80-180). This section has many types of fish available (sea bass, tub tim, snake head and catfish), and done in many different ways (fried, steamed, deep-fried).

The penultimate menu items come under the heading of “Special dishes” and are all under B. 60 and includes American fried rice, several fried noodle dishes and various rice items. Finally, desserts, with most around B. 30 with ice creams made from interesting bases such as taro, fan palm and pandanus.

Wines are most inexpensive and come from Chile, Australia, France, New Zealand, Italy and California, with prices between B. 490-970.

We began with an appetizer, “kwiteo mieung” which has small squares of flat noodle on garden green, holding some minced pork and coriander. The sauce that goes with it is spicy. Whilst it is northern Thai, it is very reminiscent of Vietnam.

We tried many dishes over a lingering lunch, and I must admit that I would have been happy to stay there for some hours. It is that kind of place. One dish that really stood out for me was the green curry with fish ball and eggplant. This came with a roti bread and I was unashamedly dipping my roti in the curry at the end.

For Madame, the dish of the day was an almost caramelised bass and fried basil with tamarind sauce - very sweet and most delicious.

We also tried the fried vermicelli with salted egg, tomato and cucumber - do try it - and a spicy grilled pork with tamarind sauce. Both are excellent!

Saenkham Restaurant impressed the Dining Out Team in many ways. The venue is an up-market one, with good appointments. The food is of high quality, and the prices are very reasonable. With that combination, it is difficult to beat this for Thai cuisine city dining. Highly recommended and a great alternative for lunch.

Saenkham Restaurant, Hillside Condominium 2, 183 Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai, telephone 053 216 194. All major credit cards accepted. Hours 11 a.m. till 11 p.m.