“Just you dining?” asks the maitre-d. “Yup, just me.” Momentary discomfort. “Will anybody be joining you?” “Nope. Just me” Awkward silence. It’s ok, no sympathetic look required, let’s just head to a table, I’m all good dining alone.
In fact, I do it a lot. We can analyse the psychology behind that in a future piece, once we know each other better. But for now please accept just how much I value a welcome, that is unflustured by my solitary habits. And I found one.
Saan, in Ponsonby, which is not short on restaurants, when Saan opened last year, I wondered if our restaurant strip had room for another eatery. As it turns out, it had plenty, especially for the new flavours they bring, focused around the Lanna and Isaan regions of Thailand.
To the crucial first question, what to drink? The wine list is considered and, happily, has plenty of by the glass options, which lets the solitary diner at a decent number of the wines on offer.
First drink options are plentiful. Decent craft beer and the superb Quartz Reef sparkling ($13.50) are excellent options, but the go to for me is Millton Vineyards Viognier, Gisborne 2014 ($13.50). An aromatic white, Viognier is textured enough to cope with the strong flavours and spices that populate the menu and Millton do it better than any. Another interesting option might be the Escarpment Pinot Blanc ($12) but I am more inclined to suggest that as an apéritif, as it’s easily overwhelmed by the food.
My favourite starter, the Ab Pla, grilled banana leaf parcel stuffed with market fish, lesser galangal & Thai herbs $14, works with both of the above.
Drop down the menu and you are deeper into heat, which is how the menu is arranged. The further down you go, the hotter the dish – a clever device facilitating easy decisions, particularly for those with limited wine knowledge.
Mid-menu and below, the sole ‘by the glass’ white that I think can cope is Envoy Gewürztraminer, Marlborough 2015 ($13.50). Spy Valley’s best. It is a lush, ripe drink.
Sparkling wine matches this cuisine superbly and must not be dismissed during the decision making process. If you haven’t tried Quartz Reef, I highly recommend you do. For red I have a clear favourite, Schubert Pinot Noir ‘Selection’, Wairarapa 2013 and at $13 by the glass, it’s a ripper. Fragrant and earthy, it has a delicate appeal but the strength and acid to match all but the biggest and hottest dishes. To those, it brings a refreshing contrast. I love this with the Pad Pak, a spicy stir fry of straw mushroom, seasonal greens, hard tofu, garlic & chilli, a brilliant dish that dances with the savoury Schubert pinot.
Dessert is tempting and I have gone in for the water chestnuts alone. Oh, I see that we are back on the alone theme again. Why do you keep bringing it up? The staff never do. They’re friendly, chatty when I feel like it, distant when I don’t, damn I appreciate that. But maybe next time I will go with friends. Ooh, then we can order by the bottle. This dining with others could just catch on.
Leaw-jor-kan-mai (ka kite).
Where: 160 Ponsonby Rd
When: Sat – Tue 5pm till late, Wed – Fri 12 noon till late
Contact: (09) 320 4237, firstname.lastname@example.org