We love Thai food, whether it’s dining out or whipping up something spicy at home. Hearing the rave reviews about new Ponsonby establishment Saan, we knew we had to taste what all fuss was about. Coming from the Cafe Hanoi and XuXu Dumpling bar stable, we’ve got high hopes.
Being a Metro Top 50 restaurant, we were more than surprised to see a rather empty dining room at 8pm on a Thursday night. I’m told they only allow reservations on half of their tables and keep the other half for walk-ins – so if like us you’re a late planner, this might be your best bet in town for a great meal at short notice. The menu looks unbelievably divine, but once we roll out our seafood allergy we’re down to slim pickings as most meat dishes contain fish sauce. We’re not too worried as we love vegetarian fare and are in no way scared of tofu – on the upside, a limited menu just makes choosing easier, right? Allergy-free diners, you may struggle as there are almost too many amazing sounding dishes on the menu to choose from. We want to give them a huge congrats on their allergy menus though – no sooner had we mentioned ‘no seafood’ than a new seafood-free menu was placed in front of us. We’re so impressed to see a restaurant take the initiative, if only all restaurants were this thoughtful.
What we ordered…
Puak Tod (v) $11
Deep-fried shredded taro & bean curds with herb-salt & homemade sweet chilli sauce
Sai Krok Isaan $16/200g
Isaan pork sausages with lightly pickled ginger, green chilli, shallot & blackened peanuts
Miang Jin Nuea $15
Semi-cured beef on khom leaves with peanuts, toasted coconut, crispy shallots & tamarind chilli jam
Pad Pak (v) $14
Spicy stir fry of straw mushroom, seasonal greens, hard tofu, garlic & chilli
Sao Isaan (v) $22
Wok-seared Asian eggplant with tofu, straw mushroom & lemongrass
Sticky rice $3
The wine list is a good one and felt more reasonably priced than some of the other top Auckland establishments. On hearing that we were deliberating between the Bogle Chardonnay and the Milton Viognier, we were offered tastes of both – amazing service. We absolutely adore all of the offerings from Milton – if you ever see them on a wine list, do not be afraid to order with confidence. The Milton Viognier’s smooth and subtle fruit driven sweetness is a perfect match for the fiery Thai cuisine on offer – highly recommended.
Our three starters arrive looking super fresh and covered in herbs…something we love to see. We’ll take all the coriander you’ve got, and this coriander looks beautiful (oh how we miss herbs that are actually flavourful living in the UAE). The standout of the three is the Puak Tod, something we’ve never heard of let alone tasted before. Move over onion bhaji, this is the new deep-fried vege morsel du jour. A crispy bundle of taro and bean curds, these taste amazing. Put these on your must order (and must reorder) list.
The Isaan pork sausages are certainly interesting, and flavourful – but the dish, on the whole, was a bit dry for me and felt like it was screaming out for a dipping sauce or dressing of some kind to complete it. It’s definitely something we’ve never tasted when dining out Thai style before, and the third dish also fell into the ‘creative’ category. From our poor menu interpretation we had visions of medium rare seared beef instead of semi-cured beef – so the dark, jerky-like beef slices caught us a little off guard. Personally, we’d prefer if the cured beef was changed out for seared beef, as this texture combined with the khom leaves was just a little unusual for us. The coconut definitely made for some interesting flavour sensations though.
Our mains, Pad Pak and Sao Isaan, are just as beautiful and fresh looking as our starters. This is our kind of food. Full of vegetables and herbs, they were both delicious on the night and the leftovers perhaps even more delicious the day after. We can’t say that they felt hugely different flavour wise, though the Sao Isaan definitely had more of a lemongrass vibe. We loved the juicy straw mushrooms (they don’t actually resemble straw as I erroneously assumed, they grow on rice straw, hence the name) and the firm tofu was divine. Both dishes are spicy…enjoyably, addictively spicy, but spicy nonetheless. (Just a warning for the faint of heart.) If you have an aversion to heat, stick to the first dishes listed in each category of the menu – they get progressively more spicy as you move down the list. Another impressive piece of menu wizardry from Saan.
Saan is certainly a world away from your usual Thai fare and there are enough amazing dishes on the menu that should keep your tastebuds entertained for many visits. The service is lovely, the decor light, warm and cosy, and the prices extremely good. Make this your new regular Thai joint, now.