Saffron, Banyan Tree Bintan: Thai Food in Indonesia at its Best, One of the Best Meals This Year

The restaurant offers a spectacular view of the ocean in the afternoon. At night, it’s a blanket of darkness.

Like many people, I was skeptical about eating Thai food in Indonesia. But after the meal, “How can it be good?” became “How can it be this good?”

Welcome drink: A cold, syrupy ginger cordial

Saffron Banyan Tree first opened in 1995 at Phuket and has now expanded to–according to its un-updated website—ten outlets including two in Mexico. We had a 6-course dinner (800K IDR, or S$76) at the Bintan outlet by the very talented Chef Porntip Eumanan. A la carte is available with starters from 226K IDR (S$22) and mains from 310K IDR (S$30). Toto, we are not in a mid-range restaurant anymore.

Saffron wafers with three dips of varying spiciness. Doh re mi your way up.

The fresh ingredients are sourced locally from growers and they also have their own garden. “The Thai eggplant was just plucked from our garden this morning,” Porntip said. Good food comes from good ingredients, and this farm-to-table freshness is hard to beat.

They have Thai-inspired cocktails, which are quite costly. Selections include a bold Tomyum martini.

Amuse bouche: crispy rice and pomelo salad

Smoked duck spring roll, dumpling, calamari

The first course started strongly and set the bar for the rest of the meal. The smoked duck spring roll had such complexity that it made me tear. I kept chewing and couldn’t bear to swallow the explosion of flavours. It started lightly, but soon the mint, Thai basil, duck, cucumber all mixed beautifully with a sweet chilli.

Smoked duck tartare – note the saffron on top.

Unfortunately, the course that followed the first was also a duck dish. Given that this was only a 6-course meal, there shouldn’t be a repetition although this duck tartare was delicious and handled differently from the spring roll. While smoked duck was only part of the flavours in the spring roll, here, it took over the tartare.

Beef in sour soup, not soursop.

Unanimous praise for this sour soup (I think, made from tamarind mostly). It was so boldly sour that it tasted almost fermented, almost like liquid sauerkraut. But the sweetness from the extremely tender beef counterbalanced the soup, giving this dish a yin-and-yang factor.

Deep-fried prawn in tamarind sauce – with saffron. Cute.

This deep-fried prawn arrived a little cold, and we know that fried food loses its appeal when cooled. Otherwise, it was competent.

Palate cleanser: raspberry granita in an ice-cube thimble.

Curry chicken

Choice of four types of rice: jasmine, brown, saffron, and pandan. Don’t choose, just take a bit of everything.

What audacity! The main course was a curry chicken with quail egg and coconut flesh; with a choice of four types of rice. How many curry chicken have we eaten in our lives before? It took guts to serve this as a main course.

But the gambit paid off. The curry itself had depth (did I taste pineapple?), the chicken was tender, and the quail egg was mind-blowing. That crispy bits of fish added to the curry–I want to add it to everything I eat now.

Petit four

Dessert: Coconut ice cream with long’an stuffed with butterfly pea flower jelly, and a syrup. It’s much too sweet with the syrup. The ice cream is great on its own.

Without a doubt, it is expensive for Thai food. Even Singapore’s only Bib Gourmand Thai restaurant, Yhingthai, costs about S$40/pax. Here, it is twice as much. But this is one of the best meals I have had this year. The care and sophistication taken to transform traditional Thai food into modern creations require great culinary skills, finesse, and creativity. And Saffron has lots of those.

Saffron Banyan Tree Bintan
Jalan Teluk Berembang Laguna Bintan Resorts, Lagoi 29155
t: +62 770 693 100
6pm – 11pm

Food: 8/10
Decor / ambience: 8/10
Service: 8.5/10
Price / value: 4/10

Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.

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