Mak Mak: vegetarian menu for two
02 Nov 2017
In recent years I have developed new distrust born from disappointing forays into restaurants that survive elevated prices due more to their real estate than to their quality.
This was my view before my dinner at Mak Mak, a contemporary Thai restaurant on the second floor of the Landmark Mall in Central. I was additionally dubious because I was dining with my vegetarian friend and would be restricted to his culinary proclivities.
After a several minutes of waiting to be seated, we were shown to our table on the side of the high-ceilinged restaurant. The sparsely lit restaurant produced a welcome change in ambience from the fluorescent lights of the surrounding Landmark arcade. Mak Mak has the typically clean modern aesthetic and an upscale-restaurant cool vibe.
Dinner started with thod poh phia j, spring rolls filled with mixed, crispy vegetables. The rolls themselves were spectacular: perfectly fried to yield a flaky bite, hot and richly-flavoured, while avoiding excess grease that sometimes plagues other rolls. The rolls were served with a cucumber relish and a sweet chili sauce with peanuts. Unfortunately, the sauce did not come with a spoon requiring dipping the roll into the small sauce bowl, reminiscent of the classic Seinfeld double-dipping dilemma.
Next, we tried Lab hed, a salad with roasted mushrooms, spicy rice, Thai shallots, and tofu. The aroma of limes was immediately apparent and combined with the mint and chili spices. My major complaint was that, with a few more bites, the pungency of the lime overpowered all the other spices and made the mixture of tofu and shiitake, enoki, and straw mushrooms too soggy. Although the dish was served with crisp lettuce and thin, fried rice crisps, I would have preferred firmer vegetables or less sauce.
Tom kha - j, a traditional coconut soup served with kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass, came next. The first impression was the smell of creamy coconut. While the soup was rich but not as creamy as I had expected from the aroma, the richness was cut by chili peppers and lime juice. Together with lemongrass, cilantro, and tomato, the soup was lighter and more refreshing than I expected
Following the soup came Makheaw Wan Daeng - j, a green curry with grilled eggplant and tofu, served with rice. The curry had a nice garnish of thinly sliced galangal, coconut milk and lime. The spark of chilies was the first dominant flavour to me, but the coconut and basil were also quite prominent. The green beans and carrots were nice, but the texture of the vegetables was uneven: sometimes the beans had a firm bite but the carrots were often very soft. This was probably my favourite dish of the night and their curry is worthy of another sampling.
A dish of brown rice noodles, shiitake mushrooms, and Thai asparagus with which I was not familiar arrived next. The rice noodle reminded me of cheung fun, the smooth steamed rice rolls common in dim sum, although these were more flavourful. This would have been more appetizing if they had come earlier in the dinner, but after the curry, the noodles were too heavy and oily for my taste.
Lastly, we were served Khao neaw mamuang, fresh mango on top of blue, glutinous rice and topped with a coconut cream sauce. The rice had an appealing deep purple colour and the mango was an almost impossibly bright yellow. While the mango slices were the star of the show, bursting with flavour and sweetness, the coconut cream was nicely creamy and sweet as well.
The set menu included a Thai coconut drink. Although I do not like coconut water, the coconut was nicely sweet and fresh after the rich dinner.
After finishing dinner, I haven’t come around on my initial perceptions of mall restaurants. The fresh Thai vegetables distinguish Mak Mak from the numerous street-level Thai diners in Hong Kong, but normally I would blanch at a $1000 bill for two without cocktails. While the dishes sometimes missed their mark, they were well-spiced and balanced, particularly the curry. The ambience and Central location suits Mak Mak well as an after-work dinner or date destination. Certainly, Mak Mak fills a niche for modern Thai fare in Hong Kong.