Nestled in the Sofitel Thalassa Sea & Spa Hotel in a further out part of town, Wok restaurant is predominantly known as the source of pho and steamed dumplings at the resort’s weekly Friday brunch, and is often overlooked as a dining destination in favour of more centrally located eateries. Nevertheless, this establishment is one of epicurean delights, thus deservedly earns the oft overused accolade of ‘hidden gem’.
As this restaurant rarely fills to capacity, it is not strictly necessary to make a reservation, although it is advised if you are celebrating a special occasion as staff can assist with any arrangements. Charming service continues for the duration of your visit, with a unique blend of Oriental and French hospitality derived from the heritage of both the cuisine and the hotel chain.
Your journey begins as you enter the ornate grand foyer of the hotel, below cascading Moroccan lanterns. Wok restaurant is tucked beneath the grand staircase. It is a modestly sized venue featuring a wall of windows with views across an outdoor terrace to the gardens beyond, which can be appreciated in daylight during lunch service three days per week. Come nightfall, this is a romantic destination, with dimly-lit corners and most tables set up for two. Ambiance is further enhanced by Eastern-inspired decor, which features warm tones, natural elements and private dining rooms behind traditional sliding walls.
Driven by its dedicated Head Chef Hoang Minh Duong, Wok has recently revamped its formerly pan-Asian menu into an entirely Vietnamese affair. True to the geography, Vietnamese cuisine merges typical Thai and Chinese ingredients, flavours and cooking styles. The menu offers hot and cold starters and soups, with mains fairly evenly divided among red meat, poultry, seafood and vegetarian dishes. There are plenty of vegetable sides, fruity desserts and beverage choices to complement your meal with, too.
The authenticity of the cuisine is emphasised by the use of Vietnamese names on the menu, with English descriptions. As you peruse the choices you are offered a trio of amuse bouche consisting of rustic ingredients bursting with flavours which sets the tone for the rest of your meal. Meanwhile the staff have a good grasp of the dishes on offer, and will gladly provide personalised recommendations based on your stated preferences.
We opt for the quintessentially Vietnamese starters of prawn and pomelo salad, Saigon rice paper spring rolls, and deep fried salt and pepper soft shell crab. Portion sizes are impressive, ideal for sharing. The deep fried dish is not at all heavy or greasy while the spring rolls are light and fresh, distinct from the ubiquitous crispy Chinese versions. As for the salad, we are impressed by the amount of fresh, juicy prawns included.
For mains we order a beef and a sea bass dish, and find both proteins to be equally well handled. The chef’s signature take on Shaking Beef is delicious, with perfectly cooked prime ingredients. The Hanoi classic grilled marinated sea bass is served in a deceptively large clay pot, releasing a torrent of heavenly aromas when opened. A word of warning – do not leave the fish fillets in the pot over the flame for too long or they will begin to dry out.
Overall there is an emphasis on fresh quality ingredients steeped in bold flavours.
Expect a riot of taste sensations and a few surprises, such as the chilli-infused exotic fruit from the dessert section that teases the palette.
Everything is made-to-order, dishes are well-proportioned, nicely presented and expertly served. Dining here is thoroughly satisfying without leaving you feeling overly full. Plus, the restaurant offers excellent value for money, particularly considering the five-star setting.
Wok will certainly be tempting us back again and now we are considering signing up for Chef’s traditional Vietnamese cooking classes so we can continue the excellent dining experience at home.
The bill (for two) 1x prawn and pomelo salad BD5.4 1x deep fried soft shell crab BD13.5 1x summer rolls BD5.4 1x shaking beef BD8.8 1x sea bass BD11.9 1x fried banana BD3.8 1x chilli-infused fresh fruit BD3.8 1x large water BD2.7 1x Punchbowl juice BD3.6 1x Cocoberry slush BD3.6 Gov levy 5% Total BD65.625
Time Out Bahrain staffhttp://www.timeoutbahrain.com