Ever since visiting Thailand a few years ago I have been obsessed by the food. More delicate than Chinese and more robust than neighbouring Vietnam, it is a cuisine that is both simple and complex at the same time. It is full of opposites – the sweetness of brown sugar versus the saltiness of fish sauce. The fire of chilli running head on into the calming waters of coconut milk. And these are just the basics. When you start adding in Thai basil, galangal and kaffir lime leaves, to name but a few, the flavours come alive.
Since those weeks living barefoot in the sand, I have been desperate to find the same authentic flavours, the same delicate balance, all perfectly accompanied by traditional Thai hospitality. And I have at last found it, here in Santa Catalina, at Isaan. Even though she’s only one-year old Isaan is already a firm neighbourhood favourite and it’s not hard to see why.
Stepping through the doors on our visit we were met by a cacophony of delightful colour from the sofas in the entrance bar. They veritably pop, like rainbow peacocks resting their resplendent feathers. Immediately we are greeted by our host and owner of the restaurant, Pedro. His enthusiasm for his new venture is utterly irresistible and our excitement to sit and try everything on offer is hard to hide. But first we were taken on a guided tour of the restaurant, which only added to the excitement.
Pedro explained that the restaurant has several aspects to it that create different ambiances throughout the space. There are the tall, more informal tables towards the front of the restaurant, leading through to more traditional low-lying covers that can take larger groups or intimate couples. Moving to outside we find the beautiful bamboo filled courtyard, an oasis in what can be a buzzing area, with just three tables for couples. The perfect spot for a romantic evening, anniversary or perhaps that elusive third date.
Back inside is my favourite part of the restaurant, and where mine and Anouska, my wonderfully talented photographer and dear friend’s excitement could be contained no longer. We were seated at the five-person bar facing into the glass fronted open kitchen. It was here that the magic was going to happen and we knew it. What greeted us was a wonderful array of colours and textures, tastes and smells. A Thai orchestra being conducted by the wonderfully stoic Noo. So serious in his art, but with a smile that was impossible not to return, especially when teaching Jip, his sous chef, how to turn an ordinary potato into a flowering lotus. We were utterly mesmerised, as were all of the other customers, strolling past to get a better view of the theatrics taking place before us. We truly had front row seats.
Every dish that we watched go out was cooked from scratch with fresh, and as far as possible, locally source products. And we wanted all of it. Unfortunately, as Pedro pointed out, we may have to be carried out if we really were to sample all that is on offer on the menu. So instead we opted for his recommendations, safe in the knowledge that this would not be our first, second, third or tenth time visiting this divine establishment.
Pedro, native of Mallorca, was looking for a new challenge when he opened Isaan. Already owner of the incredibly popular Cala Major legend, La Parada del Mar, where it’s not uncommon to see queues snaking down the road, he felt it was time for something different. Also a fan of Thai food, he began to do his research. And, as is so often the case, the stars aligned. Chatting one evening with the proprietor of the Thai booth in San Juan market, he was lamenting the fact that there were some great Thai restaurants on the island, but just not enough to meet the demand. As chance would have it (the stars I say) Aew, a Thai chef from the best Thai restaurant in Barcelona, also happened to be looking for a change. So the two met, partnered and Aew has since designed the menu and runs the kitchen. Asked if Pedro ever cooks, he grins and says that people are his speciality, he’ll leave the food to the experts. And what experts they are.
So, to the food…
In a word it was delicious. We started with a mixed platter of Isaan starters including vegetable spring rolls and satay chicken that was delightfully succulent and served with a homemade satay sauce. This was accompanied by a Yan Won Sen Salad of glass noodles. The flavours very delectable. Sweet, sour, spicy. Everything worked in combination, yet the individual flavours each had a voice. As we were reviewing the menu Pedro insisted that we also try the Samosa Ped, crispy triangles filled with twenty-four hour marinated duck and vegetables. As their signature starter, it was not hard to see why people return to order this time and again. It was divine. I won’t spoil it for you, but I urge you to go and order it at the first chance.
Alongside the taster starters we were also served the Som Tam or Green Papaya Salad with carrot, lime juice, peanuts, cherry tomatoes, chillies and Thai sauce. Its freshness was just the right compliment for the spring rolls and samosas.
As for mains, I could write a book about how much I loved every mouthful. I was a little reticent at first when Pedro recommended the Prawn Green Curry. Green Curry, hell yes. But for those of you that may have read a couple of these, you may know my adversity to an overly fishy prawn. But into Pedro’s, and those of his team’s, expert hands I placed myself. And thank god I did. The prawns were cooked just the way I like them, sweet, a tiny bit al dente and meaty as hell. And for once Anouska didn’t have anything to peel, so it was a truly win win situation. But I digress. The Thai Green itself was the best I have had here on the island. It was light, yet creamy, spicy but not overpowering. Each flavour had its own level and came through loud and clear.
Just in case we were starting to feel a little hungry we were also served Nou’s dish of choice for the evening, Ped Makham, Fried duck served with tamarind and onion. Thankfully we were sharing, although in this case there would have been no food envy as both mains were as delicious as each other. The duck skin was crispy, yet juicy and the meat itself was cooked to perfection. All of this was washed down with a perfectly crisp and chilled Albariño.
When I asked Pedro why Isaan, he explained that it is the largest region in Thailand, located in the northwest of the country, and bordered by the Mekong River. It’s surrounded by spectacular nature and has a tropical climate of lots of sun and rain, which means rice fields thrive there. The culture of the people is mainly influenced by their traditions and passion for cooking. Their dishes are renowned for their unique flavouring and the fact that, whilst they are spicy, there is a delicate balance that brings out the different flavours of the country.
It would seem Isaan’s border has just grown a little bit further, as there is certainly a part of her living here in Palma.
Isaan – Pursiana, 14, Palma, 07013
+34 971 158 679
Monday to Sunday 1pm-3:30pm and 7:30pm-12am
By Victoria Pearce
Photos Credit: Anouska Foss