The butterfly pea flower, also known as Asian wings, is a vibrant deep blue bloom with yellow markings. It is a flower that finds many uses in South East Asian cooking – as a food colouring in Malay cuisine, served in drinks in Thailand, and dipped in batter and fried in Burma.
At Nara Thai India (NTI), which opened on Monday, the flower also serves many purposes. A dehydrated version sits atop the heady and purple Butterfly Pea Sour (₹600); in the SukhoThai Fizz (₹400), it is found in syrup form blending with gin; and the fresh flowers add a pop of colour to the juicy pomelo salad, Yum Som O (₹390).
The flowers themselves may be missing from the restaurant’s interiors, but purple orchids step in for that floral touch. The décor at NTI is a blaze of purple, from the ceramic tableware to the plush sofa seating. The place may be casual but it has just the hint of a fine dine with embellished lamps, traditional Thai fans on the ceiling, bevelled mirrors hugging the walls, silk cushions and decorative ceramic pots. The al fresco courtyard leads into the dining area, and an enclosed private section. The place is spacious and yet cosy.
Nara — which comes from the Sanskrit word meaning Thai woman — was established in 2004 by Narawadee (Yuki) Srikarnchana and Sirisopa Chulasewok. The duo wanted a place to serve fuss-free local food in a contemporary setting. They soon branched out to Singapore, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. Nara has been brought to India by KA Hospitality, the group who earlier gave us Hakkasan and Yauatcha.
The restaurant features a lot of staples and new vegetarian dishes (and an exclusive vegetarian menu). There’s the Yum Phak Boong (₹240) which has leaves of morning glory fried in a light, thin batter till crisp, served with a sweet and tangy dip. Som Tum (₹390) is a refreshing salad with raw papaya and peanuts adding different textural notes. The medu wada-like Tord Man Goong (₹540) is a spongy shrimp cake with a distinct flavour thanks to some briny sweet shrimp. Big juicy fat prawns also feature in the hot and sour Tom Yum (₹290) with a thin broth redolent with flavours of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and lime juice.
The ubiquitous green Thai curry, Kang Kiew Wan (₹390) is unlike any other version we’ve had in the city – it’s thick and creamy, with just a hint of sweetness. Packed with chunky bits of pea aubergines, eggplant and basil, we lap it up with sticky rice, Khao Niew (₹150). The star of the meal is the Butterfly Pea Rice or Khao Phad Samunprai (₹250) – a mound of blue rice infused with the tint of the flower, which has the warm, nuttiness of sesame. It comes with cashews, tofu and Thai herbs. That comforting Thai favourite, the omelette with crabmeat or Kai Jiew Nua Phu is fluffy and has crispy edges, but lacks the flavour we would expect from the crab.
Dessert comes in two forms, a beautifully plated Thai Tea Crepe Cake and the very simple Nara Coconut Ice cream with Condiments (both ₹290). The former features layers of thin savoury crepes sandwiched between light-as-air cream and served with a drizzle of thick milk tea crème. The latter comes with six condiments to mix and match – sticky rice, spandan, sweet corn, peanuts, coconut jelly, and water chestnuts. They each bring in a pop of colour and texture to the smooth coconut ice cream.
NTI imports all its vegetables and herbs to maintain consistency and offer a more authentic taste. Their aim is to get diners to enjoy simple, flavourful Thai food and return for more. We certainly will.
Nara Thai India, Bandra-Kurla Complex. 61378080.