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Newly opened Apinara in Pacific Place – underspiced Thai food

The Bangkok-based Nara Restaurant Group has brought a branch of one of its popular restaurants to Hong Kong. Apinara, in the posh environs of Pacific Place, is quite large and decorated in a contemporary style with Thai touches such as bamboo fans on the ceiling. The marble tables are spacious enough for several dishes, although we had to lean in to chat as it was quite noisy.

The pictorial menu is extensive and the friendly staff make suggestions on what to order. It seems the spice level is toned down considerably for the Hong Kong market, which seems unnecessary because many of those who come here have been to the Bangkok branch.

Larb tord, described as spicy northeastern pork balls (HK$98), were served with lettuce leaves. We were instructed to wrap the large, mildly spicy meatballs in the lettuce before dipping them into the chilli sauce.

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Our tom yum kung (HK$118) had a candle lit underneath to keep it warm. This helped the flavours blend further so our second bowls of the fragrant, mild soup with bits of lemongrass tasted better. It came with large prawns that had been sliced in half lengthwise.

There are a few menu items exclusive to Hong Kong, such as the pad thai “diet” (HK$118). This is a low-cal version of the traditional dish, with the noodles replaced by shredded green papaya with lots of carrots and prawns, bean sprouts and chives. The dish was refreshing, but more of the crushed toasted peanuts would have given it a better texture.

Phunium pad pong karee, or yellow curry soft shell crab (HK$198), featured the crustacean lightly deep-fried and placed on the bed of thick curry sauce. As with the other dishes, it wasn’t spicy enough.

The dishes arrived quite efficiently and so we decided to linger a bit longer and try dessert. Our server suggested the mango pancake with vanilla ice cream (HK$78) and it soon arrived on a wooden board. It was a very carb-heavy dish: three pancakes, with sticky rice in between each layer, were covered in a coconut sauce and garnished with cubes of mango. We wished for more mango – perhaps in between the pancake layers, in place of the sticky rice.

Apinara Hong Kong, shop 205, level 2, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, tel: 3107 1888