I have a friend who chooses restaurants based on the wine list, not the menu. It’s not that he’s not interested in food – far from it – but his logic says that if he sees the care and attention put into a wine offering, he can assume that the same level of thought goes into finding the ingredients as well as and in cooking. Cooking.
Perhaps it helps that he is a wine merchant, and better than many others, for such an assessment, wherever in the world he happens to be.
I don’t know if my buddy ever ate at the night market, a Thai restaurant owned by Conor Sexton and his partner Jutharat Suwankiri (known as “R”), but I’m sure if he ever gets his expert eye on his wine list, he would order, especially if he likes Riesling. The listing has a whole page devoted to “King of the Grapes” and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an extensive selection anywhere in Ireland.
Riesling has a bad reputation (unfairly in my opinion) – a long legacy of mega-bottles of sickly German wine in mass circulation here back in the 1970s and 1980s. I have a fondness for it because it’s one of the first grapes I ever “harvested” and I still remember how mind-blowing it was to sniff a glass and smell the gasoline fumes (referring to a chemical compound called TDN, which occurs naturally in some foods). aged Rieslings) and finally understand what is at stake.
Be that as it may, Riesling is not a trendy grape, although perhaps it is so unfashionable that it is perversely in trend.
Dry or semi-dry Riesling is also a brilliant addition to Thai cuisine, its minerality and acidity, with subtle, almost imperceptible notes of honey, well countering the full composition of Thai herbs and spices. Sexton offers Keller Trocken Riesling 2020 from Rheinhessen (€52 and thankfully just 11.5% ABV, no trace of petrol), one of the best estates in Germany. (Wine writer Jancis Robinson describes Klaus-Peter Keller’s wines as the Montrachet of this country.)
R’s cooking focuses on the seafood dishes of Hua Hin, where she grew up, and the more rustic cuisine of Chiang Mai, where her grandparents had a food stall. I last ate here in 2017 when it opened and it was one of my favorite new restaurants of the year. Five years later, things are even better, with a more sophisticated menu, an inviting new semi-outdoor dining area on the side, and on a Sunday night sitting at the bar, a group of hospitality professionals gobble up food and cocktails – always a good sign.
We start with miang kham, cha plu leaves, four of them, each of which is used as a wrap to cover a filling of ginger, shallots, dried shrimp, roasted peanuts, roasted coconut, lime and chilli, which you then dunk in a savory combination of fish sauce, palm sugar and dried shrimp sauce. Aromas pleasantly excite each of our taste buds. Then yum poo nim, a trio of crispy soft shell crabs – kryptonite of the menu for me – served with a salad of a delicious mix of mango, shallots, green onions and coconut flakes dressed with fish sauce, palm sugar, tamarind, chili and coconut . milk.
Goong ob woon sen is a good shrimp with pork belly and glass noodles with hints of ginger and black pepper in a spicy nam jim sauce. On the softer end of the spiciness scale, a generous half serving of gan massaman, made with slow-cooked lamb in coconut milk with potatoes and cashew nuts and topped with crispy shallots, is rich and tender.
Garnish with som tum salad – spicy green papaya with dried shrimp, peanuts, beans, cherry and chili tomatoes, lime – all fresh and crunchy, a dish that can be eaten every day.
Throughout, and sometimes excessively, we experiment with prik-nam-pla, four cups of chili, fish sauce, citrus and aromatics, which is the Thai equivalent of our salt and pepper. The idea is that you personalize your food to your taste, allowing you to make it more sour, salty or spicy. Break the balance and you’ll reach for the Riesling.
With a couple of spicy margaritas (€12 each, though not very Thai, but still quite tasty – night market cocktails are a joy), our pre-service bill is €149.
With rare exceptions, Thai restaurants in Ireland tend to play it safe, but the night market does not.
Tom yam goong followed by a vegetarian Thai dish will set you back €26.50.
A three-course seafood lunch for two with side dishes can cost 100 euros, excluding drinks or service.
Night market, 120 Ranelagh, Dublin 6, nightmarket.ie