There’s something about Thai food that’s a real crowd pleaser – everyone likes it. I bet you can’t think of a single person who doesn’t: those who veer away from the spiciness of Indian food will still gamely devour a green curry, and even the fussiest of eaters won’t go foraging through a pad Thai picking out the bits they don’t like, because there aren’t any.
In the unlikely event that you may have a friend who needs convincing, I suggest frogmarching them to Benjarong so they can re-examine their stance on this wonderful, fragrant cuisine. Their taste buds will thank you for it, and you’ll be in for a treat as the menu at the Dusit’s signature eatery is full of things you don’t often see at more run of the mill places.
The name of the restaurant refers to the intricate Thai porcelain that was fashionable in the 1800s and was used to serve royalty. It literally translates as ‘five colours’ as Thai dishes traditionally features five flavours – bitter, salty, sweet, sour and hot. One of the things about Thai food is that because of the specific ingredients used, a Thai curry in one restaurant will often taste similar to another restaurant’s version. So it was particularly nice to see a menu that featured creative dishes like lobster soufflé in banana leaf cups (Dhs195) or Sri Lankan crab with yellow curry powder (Dhs115). The curry didn’t get a look-in.
While we waited for our food, we polished off the lemongrass cocktails and indulged in a spot of people watching; it was early on a Thursday and the place was around half full, with a party of friends, several couples, and a family all wearing smiles.
My partner ordered the Tom Kha Gai (Dhs36), a chicken in coconut milk soup. She’d recently had a similar dish at Spectrum on One and had declared it one of the best she’d ever tried. Benjarong’s version proved to be even better, a sweet, creamy concoction with tender pieces of chicken and the delicate zesty flavour of lemon grass. My Tom Yum Poe Tak (Dhs55) was also a winner, a zesty, hot broth swimming with fat little prawns, lime, lemon grass and basil leaves. My partner’s Massaman Nuea (Dhs55) was a gorgeously peanuty affair with tender chunks of beef, and the accompanying bowl-moulded mound of fried rice (Dhs110) had those lovely fluffy bits of egg and peas that make the dish the ultimate Asian comfort food. The prawns in my Guang Phad Nam Prik Pao (Dhs110) were equally good, swimming in a rich red chilli sauce. More of the rice, job nicely done.
Many restaurants in Dubai have the air of being a bit transient, as if the decor and fittings could be removed at the end of the night and something entirely different be created by morning. Rhodes Mezzanine’s a bit like that, the white tables and chairs looking like they might be sucked away in a moment, Matrix-style, but Benjarong has that rather nice – and all too rare in Dubai – feeling that it’s been there a while; it actually opened in 2001 at the same time as the hotel and despite the proliferation of excellent Thai restaurants in Dubai, it continues to hold its own against strong competition from the likes of the beautiful Pai Thai at the Madinat and the consistently excellent Sukhothai in Garhoud.
That’s got a lot to do with the fact that it doesn’t try to over-Thai itself; the décor is neither flashy nor particularly gimmicky, so a sense of tranquility pervades here. In fact, the flashiest thing about it was the hot pink feather fans wielded by the pretty performer who sat cross-legged and did beguiling things with the fans and a Kim, a kind of Oriental xylophone.
There was a small kafuffle at the close of our meal, when a drinks trolley laden with liqueurs was wheeled up to our table and a selection of nightcaps presented to us by a man who appeared to be wearing one. He attempted to serve us our Bailey’s in a shot glass with no ice – a minor and somehow quite charming glitch to an otherwise faultless dining experience.
The bill for two people with drinks came to Dhs450