Benjarong – Dusit Thani, SZR, Dubai

I’m a little bit dubious when it comes to the overall concept of a “high-end” Thai restaurant. The cuisine doesn’t tend to require ‘fancy’ methods of cooking and most dishes are made beautiful by utilizing affordable ingredients like chili, garlic, lime, onion, galangal and fish sauce to gain tasty balances of sweetness, sourness and spice. One of the best Thai dishes I’ve ever eaten was a salad, prepared on a beach in Samui, in a wooden bowl, by a sweet old lady charging me no more than 5 AED, so when I flicked through the menu prior to my visit and noticed main courses going up to 259 AED, I had a few concerns.

Another thing going against Benjarong is that a couple of days prior to visiting, I discovered the best takeaway Thai food I’ve ever had in my life – Fuchsia in TECOM. Oh my word, the Cashew Chicken, Pad Thai and Papaya Salad (all Thai spicy of course) are to die for, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it! (side note: would anyone be interested in seeing reviews of takeaways? I’ve just kept things to restaurants where I’ve dined in for now). 

It sounds like I’m being a bit of a “negative Nancy” and setting Benjarong up to fail, but I’m honestly not trying to. I’d say that Thai is probably my absolute favourite cuisine, so despite me thinking it had some eye-opening pricing and was competing against a recent take-away success, I was very excited as it’s somewhere that’s been on my visit list for a long time.

I entered a few minutes before my (admittedly early) reservation and was led to a table by the window, near a tiny platform with a khim {a dainty, iconic Thai stringed instrument} placed in the center. The dining room was completely empty, but I chalked it down to the earliness of my arrival – unfortunately, by 9pm there were only one or two other diners in the restaurant; however, just as we were leaving, a large group did enter at around 9:30pm.

The interiors of the place look extremely dated in my opinion – my wife enjoyed the charm and felt like she could be in a sweet little restaurant in Thailand, but again, going back to my issue of the pricing, I’d expect something a little more up-to-date and luxurious. My guess would be that the interiors haven’t been changed much since the restaurant opened (I believe in around 2001) and it shows. I did a bit of Google research and found that it had in fact not changed for at least a few years, even the rug which is now looking a bit grubby was there from photos taken in 2013.

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The interiors (photo credit: Time Out, 2013)

On to the food. We started with some appetizers: the Tord Mun Pla (Thai fishcakes), Tom Yum Goong (a spicy shrimp soup) and Pad Thai. The fishcakes were packed with flavour, complimented nicely with the sweet chili sauce; the Tom Yum Goong was very spicy (as requested) and had a good balance of sweet, sour and heat; the Pad Thai was a flop though, it had been tarted up somewhat, with an egg net wrapped round the whole dish with a shrimp skewered on top – it didn’t pack much of a punch, was dry and bland overall. The dishes came with Thai prawn crackers, and they were as delicious as all Thai prawn crackers are; we both enjoyed scooping up elements of each dish to add a crunch.

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Fish Cakes

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Worst food picture ever. Sorry – but the odd Pad Thai.

 

For mains, we decided to mix things up and shared three courses between us. The Pu Nim Phad Prig Thai Dum (crispy, battered soft shell crab with lemongrass and black pepper sauce) sounded good, as did the Ped Yang Phad Bai Kraprao (stir-fried roasted duck with chili and holy basil leaves) so we gave them both a try alongside a traditional Thai red chicken curry with a side of Jasmine Rice.

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Yes.

Whilst waiting for our mains, a smiley Thai lady entered the room, sat behind the khim and enchanted us with some traditional Thai music. It was a really welcome touch by the restaurant and it lifted the ambiance significantly.

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Peppery hell.

The mains arrived and we tucked in – neither of us were a fan of the soft-shell crab at all, it didn’t taste particularly fresh and the sauce was outrageously peppery to the point of inedibility {oh look, another one of my made-up words} – I appreciate that it was a pepper sauce, but it was just far too much. The curry was decent enough, missed a little bit of tang and kick though – a tad flat overall but was our favourite main when paired with the excellent jasmine rice. The duck was another let down sadly; chewy, fatty, and drowned in a pedestrian sauce. The chopped vegetable flower and fancy cucumber leaves were pretty visually, but didn’t add anything other than fluff to the dish.

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The ruby.

I’ve not had many Asian desserts I’ve enjoyed over the years, as I just find them all overly sweet, but we thought we’d give the coconut ice-cream with roasted peanut a try. It was fantastic – beautifully creamy, a good hit of coconut came through and the roasted peanuts were very simple, but a perfect match. It was great to end on such a high.

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Simple but delicious dessert.

Washed down with a couple of Singhas each, the total came in at around 850 AED. I suppose compared to some other fine dining places, it’s not mega-expensive, but there weren’t ,many elements of any of the dishes that we found to be anything better than what a takeaway might offer. We actually preferred the food delivered from Fuchsia a couple of nights prior and that was more like 100 AED. A big shame, as the menu looks hugely appetizing if you’re a fan of Thai food and so many dishes missed the mark.

FOOD: 7.5/15 – Average overall.
SERVICE: 12.5/15 – The staff were polite and friendly, all our food came in a timely manner and our hostess was great.
DRINKS SELECTION: 3.5/5 – Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but they have Singha and a few signature, Thai-themed cocktails, so they get a tick!
AMBIANCE: 2.5/5 – It was very, very quiet for the majority of the evening, but the addition of the live music lifted the vibe significantly.
DESIGN: 2/5 – A bit old and worn, doesn’t portray a high-end restaurant any more.
VALUE: 2/5 – There wasn’t anything from the dishes, ingredient-quality or decor that really justified the high prices sadly. 38 AED for Singha is not bad though!

TOTAL: 30/50

CONCLUSION: What a shame. The menu looks tasty on paper, but the justification to go here and pay the premium for a fine-dining experience just isn’t warranted. I’ll stick to my take-away with a few bottles of Singha at home.

Benjarong Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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