Image: Para Thai
The Paradise Group, known for restaurants such as Taste Paradise and Paradise Dynasty, has been expanding beyond Chinese eateries. It opened its first Thai restaurant in the new OneKM mall last month.
Para Thai is a mid-priced restaurant targeted at families and other mall shoppers. Its open concept allows passers-by to look into the dining area, making it less intimidating. It is working as the restaurant has been packed the four times I visited the mall in the past month.
Its menu is also designed for mass appeal, with popular Thai dishes that are familiar to Singaporeans. So are the prices, with many items priced below $10 and only fish dishes costing more than $20.
However, it delivers much better quality than many Thai eateries charging similar prices.
The Tom Yum Goong ($19.90 a pot), for example, is as good as versions served in expensive restaurants. The milky soup pulls no punches. It is spicy, sweet and sour all at once, and yet the flavours are so well- balanced that the soup goes down easily, sparking fireworks on your tastebuds all the way. It is filled with sea prawns and straw mushrooms to provide respite from the chilli heat, but it is the broth that's the star.
Chilli cowards can opt for the Clear Pork Meat Ball Soup With Egg Beancurd And Glass Noodle ($16.90 a pot), but I am a little disappointed by the meatballs. The pork is ground too fine and the balls feel dense as a result.
Another dish that turns out too firm is the Hor Mok Pla or Thai Style Otak-Otak ($10.90). This spicy souffle of seafood and coconut milk should have been whipped into airy lightness, but the one here is almost as dense as steamed fishcake.
My favourite dish is the Assorted Vegetable Tempura And Grilled Sea Prawn Served With Shrimp Paste And Shredded Mango Sauce ($19.90). The seasoned golden batter is not as light as Japanese tempura, but it is very crispy and a nice contrast to the soft vegetables inside. And its heavier flavour is perfect with the spicy shrimp paste, which is a mix of sour, salty and spicy.
Stir-fried dishes are done well here too. The Stir-fried Minced Pork With Basil Leaves ($11.90) is very tasty, with enough chillies to spice things up, but not overwhelm the palate.
Stir-fried Kangkong ($9.90) is another dish to try. I have had two versions - with belacan sauce and with garlic and fermented bean - and both are delicious.
For curries, I'd recommend the Roast Duck In Red Curry With Pineapple ($14.90), which is generous with duck meat. The creamy curry is mildly spicy and slightly sweet, which is how it is usually done in Thailand.
I prefer it to the Traditional Thai Green Curry Chicken ($12.90). The curry is fine, but the meat has a slightly spongy texture that suggests it has been tenderised unnecessarily.
Para Thai also clearly has a problem with its staffing. There was just more than a week between my first and second visits, but almost all the staff were different. A server who heard me remark on it said most of the staff were part-timers.
Perhaps that explains why most do not have a clue about good service. Customers are kept waiting outside the restaurant when there are empty tables inside. Orders are left out, rice that has turned cold is served and it is quite a task catching anyone's eye.
A couple of more senior staff are good though, but they cannot be everywhere.
And even they can't help with something which the management has imposed - the restaurant's charge of 30 cents for a glass of water. Perhaps the bosses should know that that is a sure-fire way to douse customer goodwill, mine included.
Where: 11 Tanjong Katong Road, 02-23 OneKM (no reservations)
Open: 11am to 10pm (weekday), 10.30am to 10pm (weekend and public holiday)
Price: Budget about $30 a person
Assorted Vegetable Tempura And Grilled Sea Prawn Served With Shrimp Paste And Shredded Mango Sauce ($19.90)
I like the contrast between the crisp batter and the soft vegetables, and the shrimp paste is addictive.