This area of Bali offers a very limited choice of stand-alone restaurants. Now there is a real Thai restaurant to add to the small collection. Headed by world-travelled Thai chef, Vaewta Chookasem, TAO presents real Thai food with no apologies. The offerings here do however tend towards what could be described as Modern Thai, and those that reflect an influence from bordering countries. It also offers a few other South East Asian dishes.
TAO is an attractive open area surrounded by ceiling-to-floor glass doors. You can sit inside (cool and fresh), or on the more casual terrace beside the palm-fringed swimming pool, white sands and blue sea. The restaurant is separate from (but managed by) the Ramada Resort Benoa Bali which is just across the road. Fortunately the offerings do not reflect normal hotel price mark-ups so we have the best of both worlds - quality and value.
For an entree, Gai Hor Bai Toey is one of those Thai standards. Traditionally, a piece of marinated chicken breast is steamed in a pandanus leaf to cook the chicken with an infusion of the pandanus, then deep fried just prior to serving to heat and brown the chicken. Dip the tender chicken pieces in the accompanying sticky black sauce - wonderful. Thod Man Goong is another staple: minced prawn meat in a firm breaded patty with sweet chilli sauce, although here another variation sees minced squid added to the mixture although I do not notice any improvement on the original.
Po Pea Rum is Thai spring rolls with your choice of filling, but always wrapped in thin crisp rice paper. From China is Hoi Co: chicken, crab meat and vegetables wrapped in fried bean curd like a string of mini sausages. Very tasty!
From neighbouring Vietnam comes their wonderful version of the humble spring roll, Goi Cuon. The menu says the Martabak is from Malaysia but it is also known as Muslim Pastry and is commonly served in southern Thailand. At TAO minced fish, crab meat and vegetables are contained between layers of egg rather than the Thai crunchy pastry.
Thai salads are unique. Nothing is quite like a good green mango salad to cleanse (or singe) the palate. No matter the immediate effects, the aftertaste is wonderful. Yum Mamung is a simple green mango salad sprinkled with cashew nuts. Yum Woon Sen is thin vermicelli noodles, shrimps and squid, tossed in lime and chilli. Yum Nua is the classic beef salad: grilled pieces of prime tenderloin are combined with thin strips of juicy cucumber. Again there is the use of fruit to balance the spices, which is why you should eat a selection of all the ingredients together for a total taste rather than the European way of eating piece by piece.
Tom Yam Goong is probably the most recognized Thai dish: large prawns bob in a hot sour broth with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms and chilli. The second most popular dish must be the simple, but tasty, Pad Thai. There are many variations of same but here it is stir-fried noodles combined with shrimps, bean sprouts, lime, and chives in a tangy tamarind sauce, sprinkled with crushed peanuts.
Kao Phad is Thai fried rice. A pineapple version with shrimps and chicken is served at TAO. But you can also order Indonesian fried rice, Nasi Goreng, or a Vietnamese one, Com Chen Tom, with prawns and chicken.
For some non-Thai alternatives, TAO also serves that classic Vietnamese soup, Pho. It is a noodle soup usually in a beef broth (or chicken) and you can have it with either rice or egg noodles.
Mains are more of a mix of modern Asian cuisine. From Cambodia a Soft Shell Crab Curry, from China Steamed Fish with a ginger soy sauce. Pepes Ikan is done the Malay way - red snapper marinated in herbs and kemangi, wrapped in a banana leaf for grilling.
Thai mains include a pork special, Moo Yang (pork marinated with coriander, served with a spicy sweet sour sauce), Gaeng Kew Wan Gai (green curry chicken with kafir limes and basil) and Goong Nung Manow (steamed king prawns in a tangy lemon chilli sauce) or a Phad Talay Nam Prik Pow (shrimps, squid, fish and mussels combined with a sweet chilli paste and basil). The King Prawns, lightly sauteed with fresh garlic and black pepper, show the wonderful simplicity of this cuisine as does the deep-fried Garoupa fish, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce, a Thai special in which even the crunchy tail, fins and head get eaten.
TAO is equally at home as a venue for a relaxed casual luncheon or for an evening dinner party. It is a classsy option at the quiet end of town. Restaurant guests are permitted to use the swimming pool that separates the restaurant from the beach. Modern dressing rooms and showers make that an attractive option. The normal restaurant prices invite you to come back again soon.
Jln. Pratama 96,
Tandjung Benoa, Nusa Dua, Bali.
Tel: (62-361) 773.730
Open: Lunch from 12.00 noon, Dinner from 6.00 p.m., daily.
Price: $50 for two (+ drinks)
This is an abridged version of the full review that appears on the BaliEats web site, Bali's comprehensive restaurant guide: www.balieats.com