Australian-born chef David Thompson reveals a penchant for pinot noir and knockout cocktails, and the secret to matching Thai food with whisky and wine.
What is it about wine that piques your interest?
Doesn’t everyone enjoy a good glass of wine? There’s something indescribably pleasing about having a splendid glass of wine. I was at Bennelong [restaurant in Sydney] recently and had a bottle of Mount Mary Triolet and it was just delicious. I’ve reached the stage in my life where spending a bit on excellent wine is worth it, because it doesn’t happen so often anymore. I don’t drink that much anymore; I may go two or three weeks or longer without having a glass, but when I do, I want to make it worthwhile. My relationship with wine is now far more discriminating, whereas before I was a lush.
Do you have a cellar at home in Bangkok?
I have a haphazard one. I pick up wines here and there. I have friends who are pilferers. They break in. There’s a few hundred, but it’s not too significant.
Any particular favourites in the cellar?
I’ve got some Grange, some good Bass Phillip, some good Burgundy; pinot noir really is my bent. I’ve got some smart wines.
Are there any bottles that particularly remind you of Australia?
There’s the Bass Phillip. I like the winemaker, Phillip Jones. I get on well with him. I remember its delicious quality when it was first released, and now it has evolved into something that’s justifiably said to be one of one of Australia’s best.
Is there a perfect wine match for Thai food?
There are some wines that will go very well with Thai dishes, but in the context of a meal it’s very hard. By its very nature, Thai food is an exercise in contrast. So the wine that might go well with one dish is knocked for six by the accompanying dishes. By which I mean you may have a curry that’s served with grilled beef and some bitter leaves, which works perfectly with a soft and gentle pinot noir without too much tannin. But what should accompany a curry like that is something that’s quite spicy, salty and sour. And so a pinot noir that’s so apt, so delicious and so unctuous with the curry is ruined by the sharp, astringent soup that makes the perfect balance with the food, but ruins the wine.
How do you get around this dilemma?
Choose a wine with a gentle capacity to cover most dishes. Pinot grigio, a nice riesling, an unwooded chardonnay, a chenin blanc perhaps, a pinot noir, grenache or a very old Rioja: things with gentle tannins or little wood are likely to work best with Thai food, with its sweet, salty, pungent astringencies.
Is there a variety you can’t learn to love?
I can’t get on with cabernet sauvignon. Those big Australian reds don’t work with Thai food; they bludgeon and destroy the food. But Thai food has the capacity to destroy the most heavyweight of opponents. So there’s no point drinking those big, boisterous wines with Thai food, or those wonderful white Burgundies or wooded chardonnays, which are delicious with other food, but completely wrong with Thai food.
Have your tastes in wine changed over time?
If they remained as naive as when I was 25, there would be something bloody wrong with me.
Is there a place for Thai wine in your cellar?
I used to say that the best dish with a Thai wine is an aspirin. I can’t say that now. There’s a really interesting syrah rosé, the Sakuna out of Gran Monte wines in Khao Yai, which is quite respectable. More than respectable, we have it on the list at Nahm, and it really warrants being there. So there are wines that are respectable but it will never be a great wine-producing nation. The climate, the terroir doesn’t work. Food-wise it’s fantastic, it’s extraordinary. But wine-wise it has its problems.
Do you have a go-to drink other than wine?
A decent scotch with a touch of water to take the heat of the alcohol away. There are some wonderful scotches and whiskies that go with Thai food. I do enjoy cocktails but I drive barmen mad because I keep saying I want something unusual, delicious, sophisticated, and not alcoholic in taste but really boozy. They sigh – luckily they know me – and usually provide what I want. But they get really cross.
At home in Bangkok do you have any regular haunts?
There are a few great Japanese whisky bars that have about eight seats and around 200 whiskies and scotches behind the bar. There’s one in the Upper Sukhumvit and another in Sathorn near to where I live. No name, just one of those little hidden bars.
Any standout cocktails recently?
While I was in Sydney I had a Bitter Disposition [Dolin Bitter, Lillet Rose, Antica Formula and raspberry granita] at Bennelong, which was quite delicious. Another place gave me a Dubonnet as the Queen Mother would drink. I think he may have been taking the piss. Another barman gave me a knockout one called a Bijou. A combination of gin and chartreuse: hell that’s a wallop – two Bijous and you’re out!
David Thompson’s new restaurant, Long Chim Perth, swung its doors open on December 1.