Sing, O muses, of bean curd and coconut, of lemongrass and locally butchered poultry. Of a culinarily gifted Thai Berlinerin anointed with a Michelin star, awarded in February to Kin Dee and its 33-year-old chef Dalad Kambhu. Born into a wealthy Bangkok family and educated in New York (where she famously modelled while honing her self-taught cooking skills), Kambhu floated into town in 2016 on a cloud of hype. With the help of scene connections including contemporary artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and the boys behind Grill Royal and Pauly Saal, she launched a pop-up that set Berlin tongues and food media ablaze. A restaurant – in the Potse space vacated by beloved Thai veteran Edd’s – followed suit; next thing you knew, the New York Times and Vogue were waxing rhapsodic about Kambhu’s homemade spice pastes and deft use of German ingredients. A scant two years later, Michelin came calling. By the time we sat down for our €55-a-head, eight-dish “sharing experience”, we were completely awash in the Kambhu Kool-Aid. Had our expectations been lower and that star plaque not affixed to the door, we probably would have been charmed by the meal. As it was, we were doomed for disappointment.
Kin Dee seems to still be growing into its starred status, with slap dash-feeling beige laminate tables and well-meaning waitstaff who’ll jump to refill your water glass but struggle with the wine menu and have to consult with the kitchen on questions like “where does the chicken come from?” (Our eventual answer: Markthalle IX butcher Kumpel & Keule, which sources its meat from local farmers.)
That chicken came in a mellow peanut satay sauce with sliced yellow beets. At a neighbourhood Thai joint, it would’ve been a delight; here, at the bottom of a fancy ceramic dish, it was just okay. The same went for our other starters: a raw duo of chilli and lemongrass-topped scallop and trout “ceviche”, and a couple slivers of tempura-fried squash blossom. Tasty enough, but we’d been primed for mind-blowing. The closest we got to that was Kambhu’s signature octopus, confited till crispy-tender and served atop a deeply spicy basil, chilli and tamarind paste whose Thai name, kraprao, serves as an onomatopoeia for what it does to your tastebuds. The red rice alongside was overcooked, but helped dull the burn.
For mains, a bafflingly flavourless filet of steamed scabbardfish succeeded only in making us jealous of our neighbour’s chilli and wild garlic clams. Braised beef shoulder in a green curry sauce, with zucchini and silky roasted eggplant, fared better, but we were more interested in the grilled romaine on the side, topped with caramelised coriander seeds for a novel sweet-savoury-crunchy touch. Then a “palate-neutralising” bowl of warm cucumber broth was sold to us as an emotional stage of the meal for Kambhu herself, its humbleness supposedly an empathetic nod to the Thai people’s simple diet (seriously?!). It was followed by a dessert of brioche bits and fruit swimming at the bottom of a coconut sorbet, served in upcycled palm sugar packaging cups. Again, Michelin-worthy? Nope.
KIN DEE | Lützowstr. 81, Tiergarten, Tue-Sat, 18:00-22:00