Posted 5th of April 2018

Food Review: Isaan

Tom Stephenson

For as long as I can remember, Isaan has been, without question, the number one Thai restaurant in Doha. Lovers of South-East Asian cuisine have flocked to the Grand Hyatt for years, looking to fill their boots with as much GaengKeow Wan Kai as physically possible. However, until recently, there haven’t been a huge number of other Thai eateries for Isaan to compete with. Therefore, the restaurant has undergone a complete menu overhaul, ensuring that it retains its crown as the best in town.

Named after the North-Eastern part of Thailand that borders Laos and Cambodia, the region is split into 20 different provinces. Using this as a culinary inspiration, the restaurant has split its menu into six smaller set menus, each representing the food in a particular location. The menus are split into eight main categories, each of which provides further insight into the province’s gastronomic background: Fried, Salad, Soup, Curry, Noodles, Grilled, Steamed and Dessert.

On my recent visit, I opted for Taste of Ban Chiang, an 11-course set-menu for a fixed price of QAR 200. For me, that’s more than reasonable, especially considering there’s more than enough for two people. If the set menus aren’t what you’re looking for, the restaurant will more than happily allow you to order individual items in a more classic, à la carte way of doing things. Thankfully, this meant that I wouldn’t be returning home without trying my beloved Pad Kra Pao Gai.

Now, rather than discussing all 11 courses in enough detail to make it worthwhile, I’ll walk you through the highlights that stood out from the crowd from what I sampled. Firstly, the Tod MunPla – Fish cakes, sweet chilli sauce, cucumber and peanuts. As a starter, it was excellent - delicate, fragrant and packed with flavour. The chilli sauce wielded a subtle heat that only became noticeable after the last bite. I’ve had Isaan’s Fish Cakes multiple times – they’re always excellent.

Next, the GiHor Bai Toey – Aromatic diced chicken breast wrapped in Pandan leaves. Although these were pleasant enough, they were quickly forgettable as soon as the Som Tam salad arrived. If you’re for flavour, the Som Tam is the undisputed champ. It was spicy, citrusy and smoky but managed not to be overpowering. If you decide on a different set menu on your next visit, it’s definitely worth the QAR 35 to order à la carte – sensational.