Sunday, September 7, 2014

Restaurant review: Mai Thai @ Chip Bee Gardens, Singapore

Me and my girlie gang spasmodically go out for dinner on birthday celebrations but since the past few months we've all been so preoccupied that our outings kept getting postponed until we realized that there were not one but THREE birthdays that were pending celebration. Not wanting to push it any further, we finally settled on a date where all of us were available (no mean feat that was!). The date being finalized, the next tricky bit was to pick the cuisine and restaurant. One of the birthday girls, expressed her inclination for Thai food and since all of us happen to be Thai cuisine enthusiasts, the choice was unanimous. Even though Singapore has many Thai restaurants, none of us had an absolute favourite so it required a little bit of brainstorming before we arrived at Mai Thai at Chip Bee Gardens, Holland Village. 

Established in July 2009, Mai Thai Restaurant is a casual fine dining restaurant with both indoor and alfresco seating, offering authentic Thai cuisine and warm hospitality in the rustic Chip Bee Gardens just opposite Holland Village. The location was super convenient for us because of its proximity to our workplace. We made a reservation in advance for 8 people, something I would recommend especially on a busy Friday evening. 

On arrival, we found that our reservation was in someone else's name so there was a little bit of a muddle before we were shown to our table. The restaurant isn't very big but the interiors are pleasing to the eye with subtle Thai influences. The largely white decor is interspersed with Thai-inspired art work, statues, rustic table setting and warm lighting. 

The restaurant seemed short of staff so it took a while before we got the menu. Talking about the variety of food, the menu of the restaurant is very impressive. It has an array of dishes in categories ranging from appetizers to salads, soups, rice, noodles, side dishes, drinks and desserts. What's more is that there are certain dishes that come in a large serving that is suitable for sharing and there are vegetarian versions of several popular dishes. 

Here are a round-up of the dishes that we ordered:

Tom Yum Soup - Tom Yum Goong  (Single serving: $8.50, Large serving: $16.50)

Being a soup lover, I wanted to start off my meal with the popular and tantalizing Tom Yum soup. Everyone else was keen on it too so there were soup orders all round the table. There are two versions of the Tom Yum soup - one with prawns and the other being a vegetarian version. You can also either order an individual single serving or a large serving (that can easily be shared by 3-4 people). The soup was great! It was hot, sour and spicy and it made my taste buds go tingling like mad. Potential diners be forewarned....this soup packs a punch! Heavily recommended. 

Thai Mango Salad - Yum Ma-Muang ($12)

I am a sucker for Thai Mango Salad and order it by default at any Thai restaurant. I love the freshness of the salad, the texture of the julienned raw mango, carrots and crushed peanuts and the balance of sour, spicy and sweet flavours. The mango salad at Mai Thai however didn't work for me. At the first bite, I got a strong fishy taste which I immediately recognized to be from fish sauce and I assumed there were fish bits in it too (which I was not expecting at all). I'm not sure whether that is how it is supposed to taste from an authenticity point of view but that was a definite turn off for me and I didn't go back for more. Some of my friends found the raw mango too sour for their liking but that aspect was not the issue for me. 

Fish Cakes - Tod Mun Pla ($12)

One of my friends said that the fish cakes were good so she promptly ordered it. It was presented nicely and came with 6 pcs of deep fried curried fish patties served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, side salad and crushed peanuts. It proved to be quite popular as it was devoured in no time.

Cashew nut Chicken - Gai Med Ma-Muang ($15.50)

This dish had stir-fried chicken with dried red chillies, bell peppers and roasted cashew nuts. It was well-liked all round. 

Pineapple Rice - Khao Pad Saparod ($14.50)

There are also two variations of the pineapple rice - one with chicken and another vegetarian version. The yellow pineapple rice was served in an actual pineapple (thumbs up for presentation!). The roasted cashew nuts that were used as garnish was a great addition. The rice was subtle and bore a mild sweetness from the pineapple chunks. A good dish to be had with some spicy Thai green curry. 

Thai Green Curry - Gaeng Keaw Wan ($15.50)

The Thai Green Curry also had two variations - one with chicken and another vegetarian version. I wasn't in a curry eating mood on that particular day so I gave it a miss. But it got some good reviews from my friends. They said that it was flavourful, had good consistency (not overly thick as it sometimes can be) and apparently was a good accompaniment to the plain white rice as well as the pineapple rice.

Mixed Vegetables - Pad Pak Ruom ($12)

This side dish had stir-fried baby kai-lan, babycorn, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and mushroom flavoured with garlic. Quite generic tasting i.e. nothing distinctly Thai about it but a decent side dish for rice or pad thai and a good way to get your fill of veggies and greens. 

Pad Thai ($12)

My friends had decided to share portions of plain rice and pineapple rice with Thai green curry and a side of mixed vegetables among themselves but I chose an individual portion of pad thai for myself. When it comes to choosing between rice and noodles at restaurants, I almost always prefer the latter. The pad thai is another dish on the menu that comes in two variations - one with meat and another vegetarian version. The version you see in the pic below is the vegetarian one. The pad thai came in a generous portion, was authentic and yummy. The balance of flavours and the texture of the noodles mixed in with the bean sprouts and crunchy peanuts was good. It was quite a generous serving though and it took me a while to plough through it!

We ordered a ridiculous number of dishes representing a smorgasbord of Thailand. I kept wondering if they would all get polished off (wasting food is just sad isn't it?). But never underestimate the power of eight hungry girls because at the end of the meal, our table looked like it had been decimated by a of swarm of angry locusts! hahaha 

I'm not a huge fan of Thai desserts but most of my friends are so they ordered three desserts off the menu to share. 

Red Ruby - Tub Tim Krob ($7.50)

This dessert consists of water chestnut rubies served with crushed ice and coconut milk. Sweet, chilled and quite refreshing! I would recommend this dessert. 

Mango Sticky Rice - Khao Niao Ma Muang ($8.50)

This dessert has fresh mango served on top of Thai glutinous rice topped off with creamy coconut milk. In general, the sweetness of the fresh mango, creaminess from the coconut milk and stickiness of the rice works well together. The fresh mango in this case however was a little sour so that tipped the flavour balance of this dessert. 

Tapioca - Mun Chearm ($7.50)

This dessert consisted of boiled tapioca served warm with creamy coconut milk. I'm not a fan of tapioca and certainly not in desserts so I passed up on this one. My friends said that the cooking of the tapioca was a bit uneven so there were parts of it that were softer than the rest.

To be very blunt, the service was pretty lousy. Like I said before, the restaurant was understaffed (silly in my opinion for a Friday evening) and although our orders were taken fairly quickly (we actually helped by writing it down for them!) and the food arrived in a reasonable amount of time, there were inadequacies which we could not ignore. For example, we ordered two large servings of Tom Yum soup to share among all of us and only one order was brought to us. The second one was served (after repeated reminders) only after we had begun our main course so half the table went without soup for a long time. And at the end of our meal, the mountain of empty plates were not cleared for ages which finally got to us so much that we started stacking up the dirty plates ourselves and one of my friends who had prior waitressing experience, even cleared them away! We wondered where the famed Thai "hospitality" was if restaurant patrons were pushed to go to such lengths! One of the waitresses remarked that we didn't "have" to do that but considering no one else came over to clear our table even after noticing what we were doing, reeks of indifference to me. 

To conclude, Mai Thai is a good place for authentic Thai cuisine. The location at Chip Bee gardens is ideal for a relaxed evening of dining with family or friends. The restaurant is not very big and if crowded, it can get very noisy. Overall, the food is good and this restaurant could be considered one among the better Thai restaurants in Singapore. For the amount of food that we ordered, we found the pricing to be reasonable (we spent about $34 per head). The portion size is pretty good which makes the dishes good for sharing (variety is the spice of life isn't it!). We found the service to be less than satisfactory on the day we went but I expect it to be better on weekdays. We had a pleasant evening and this is a restaurant that I would be willing to go to again. 

My rating for this restaurant is 3 out of 5 stars

Mai Thai
Holland Village, Chip Bee Branch
(65) 6474-3108
(65) 6474-3100

Seletar Branch
(65) 6752-3688
(65) 6752-4688

Open Daily:
Lunch 11:00am - 2:30pm
Dinner 6:00pm - 10:30pm


Note: This is not a sponsored review

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