Prior to our dinner at Benjarong we had never set foot inside Abu Dhabi’s Dusit Thani Hotel. A luxurious glass tower inspired by Thai design that houses the world’s third highest hotel atrium (at a staggering 125m). Behind this modern facade and tucked away at the back of the hotel lies the remarkable Benjarong restaurant.
Greeted with a traditional Thai wai and a “Sawasdee kha” we were given a short tour of the alluring dining room, before being seated in a comfortable leather booth. In our experiences Thai restaurants either go ultra modern or overly traditional in their styling and decor. Benjarong breaks this mould with a far more delicate setting that borders on regal. The colour scheme of bright greens and metallic golds complement each other nicely and are offset by hints of dark wood, deep red rugs and beautifully polished marble floors.
Moving onto the ambiance, this is certainly a popular spot for couples (a quick scan of the room confirms this) and although children are welcome, it’s probably not the most suitable environment for them. Benjarong represents a dining experience that exudes elegance and calm, with the exception of the open kitchen which is a constant hub of activity and colourful aromas.
Our first experience of the Thai exoticism from the team at Benjarong arrived in the form of a lemongrass iced tea. A subtle and refreshing beverage of delicate flavours that contains chunks of lemongrass and root ginger, that infused with the green tea, made for a truly refreshing beverage with apparent calming properties. The ‘ginger twist’ meanwhile, takes a heated blend of ginger, sweet sugarcane and grenadine, that was thankfully not medicinal in taste (a common problem with ginger based drinks) but well balanced. Being a licensed premises there is also a large selection of cocktails to choose from that boast the same exotic fruity blends but are particularly strong.
Having had a particularly enjoyable meal at Sontaya just days before. We were particularly intrigued to see how the culinary offerings at Benjarang would stack up against another fine dining restaurant offering a similar concept. While Sontaya may have the lead in terms of picturesque location, Benjarong nudges just in front, when it comes to the quality of food.
The ‘mixed platter’ offers an array of Thai classics. Featuring chicken satay (oozing a smooth peanutty goodness), fish cakes (taking a hint of flavour from their lemongrass skewers), vegetable spring rolls (not greasy despite being deep fried) and rice paper rolls (fresh and summery) with a selection of dipping sauces.
Served on white plates that resembled leaves, we were also treated to a special item from the chef that’s known as ‘Kao Tang Na Tang.’ A popular street food dish, pairing crispy rice crackers with minced chicken and Thai spices to create a complementing mix of textures and flavours that may well be the best thing we ate at Benjarong.
The ‘Pha Hoy Shell’ salad was a welcome recommendation from our server and also comes as a chefs recommended dish. Presenting freshly grilled scallops in a spicy blend of chilli, mint, lime leaves and lemongrass, it certainly has a kick to it. Representing a consolidation of everything typically ‘Thai’ into one mouth-watering plate that has a distinct and enticing aroma.
When it comes to main courses, Benjarong covers a lot of bases and is more than just Pad Thai and curries (though these options are available). We particularly appreciated the create your own wok, in which diners can select specific key ingredients and sauces to customise their Thai meal to their own personal preferences. Aside from this, there is a large selection of seafood options and signature lobster dishes.
Felling brave, we ordered from the ‘Secret Menu’ and were glad that we did when it came to the ‘Goong Makham.’ A simple plate of slightly sour and spicy shrimps, offset with a sweet tamarind glaze. Accompanied by steamed jasmine rice (served to you at the table from a large bamboo basket) and al dente asparagus shards. This is a dish to specifically seek out, if you’re ever dining at Benjarong.
With each dish served to the table on a trolley, the ‘Wok Fried Scallop’ was next to arrive. Once again, the scallops were perfectly cooked and fleshy with a delicate flavour, tossed in an oyster sauce with broccoli florets. It was good but not as exciting as the other menu options we tried.
Generally speaking, we’re not fans of Asian desserts (they are too fruit based or milky for our liking) and despite eyeing the ginger creme brulee, were asked to sample the ‘Puek Gaeng Bued’ at request of the chef. This dish of tarot poached in sweetened coconut milk, can only be described as the texture of a potato meets the flavour of porridge. Definately an acquired taste and a unique menu preference, that divided opinion on our table (next time maybe we’ll stick with the jackfruit tiramisu). Thankfully the accompanying ice cream provided the sweet fix required.
Our meal at Benjarong ended with a palette cleanser of lemongrass sugar water and jasmine green tea. It was evident to us why Benjarong has become an award winner (most recently taking the title of ‘best Thai restaurant in Abu Dhabi’ at the 2016 Fact dining awards).
Service is exceptional and the team are pleasantly referred to as ‘service ambassadors.’ With lemon scented hot towels, constant drink refills, full explanations of the menu and personable interaction. It’s this distinct Thai hospitality that makes Benjarong truly unique. With diners made to feel not only welcomed, but valued.
Benjarong is also part of the Dining & Nightlife Abu Dhabi restaurant month and offers a three course menu for just 195 AED until 30th September.
We were invited to dine at Benjarong. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.