Prague has its fair share of good Thai restaurants, but the Žižkov/Vinohrady area has been sadly lacking one for some time. Kiin Modern Thai Restaurant opened in early May to very little fanfare. It’s in the basement space formerly occupied by the ill-fated Soave Italian restaurant, on a quiet residential street between Jiřího z Poděbrad and Flora.
Perhaps it was the inconspicuous location, the lack of passing traffic, or the fact that it still looked so similar to Soave (it was a few weeks before the old signs on the exterior were painted over, after all) but this new Thai upstart, with its modern fusion menu full of quirkily-named dishes, didn’t seem to be attracting much attention.
Since it opened, the place has often been half-full at best in the evenings and only slightly busier at lunchtime. There were only two other tables of two in the main dining area on a recent visit, shortly after the menu was revamped in early October.
One surprising thing about the menu is its prices. You could expect them to charge more, being in a relatively upscale area a stone’s throw from some pricey restaurants, specialty food shops and delis. But the food at Kiin is reasonably priced, with the most expensive dish on the menu coming in at 225kč and most starters and desserts under 100kč.
The restaurant’s interior hasn’t changed a great deal since it was home to Soave, but the clean design with exposed brickwork, minimal table décor and retro black-and-white wall art, all brightened by touches of lime green – has an energetic, modern feel.
Despite the restaurant being mostly empty on our recent visit, the low lights and quiet music made for a cosy enough atmosphere – or would have done, if it wasn’t for the loud party going on in what’s advertised as the “private dining area,” an adjoining space which is really semi-private at best. The hard surfaces and minimal decor throughout the space meant the already-loud noise was amplified, and far from giving the whole place a lively buzz it just meant diners in the main part of the room had trouble hearing each other speak across the table and were inadvertently joining the party.
After 20 minutes of attempting – and failing – to talk over the party and its by then rather loud singing, our starters finally arrived. Almost Naked was the name for two large summer rolls with salmon and dill, halved and bursting mainly with crisp salad leaves, carrot and glass noodles. The small amount of smoked salmon in there tasted exceptionally fresh. But this starter seemed too big and could have been more enjoyable if the same amount of salmon had been used for just one roll, instead of filling out two with loads of noodles.
Despite a minimal (10Kč) price difference, a much smaller starter option was Pok Pok, two tender, glazed whole chicken wings that packed a decently spicy punch served on a warm, citrusy carrot salad which was slightly crunchy and had a slow-building heat of its own.
Before we’d got halfway through these starters, though, our main course made an early appearance at the table. This is something I really hate. If the kitchen was struggling that much to keep track of orders with just the five tables sitting down by then (the big party had finished eating) I dread to think how they’d handle a full dining room (though if they’re making errors like this regularly, having too many customers won’t be something they’ll need to worry about.)
After spending 10 minutes sitting there getting cold while we finished our starters, these dishes probably weren’t as good as they could have been. Lonesome Heart was a crispy roast duck breast glazed with chili garlic & ginger sauce, served on a bed of red lentils cooked in spices and coconut milk.Had this dish been a movie, its star would have been the sweet glaze on the perfectly crisp skin. The duck breast itself was slightly overcooked, bordering on chewy in some places, and without even the slightest hint of pink. Being so well-done, the meat could merely play a supporting role. The lentils had a hint of heat, and worked well with the other flavours on the plate.
The rather luxurious-sounding tiger shrimp ravioli with truffle oil and coconut butter sauce, known as Paranoid Android, turned out to be a less-than-glamorous big bowl of flat parcels which had a sloppy consistency – the pasta was overcooked and had lost any shape it might have had, and the filling was just as soft and texture-free. The shrimp seemed elusive and could barely be tasted, though that was probably because the rich truffle oil and coconut butter sauce was so overpowering. More comfort food than exciting Thai fusion.
The 2010 bordeaux we tried was distinctly average, and slightly disappointing at 110 Kč a 0.2 liter glass, while the 2012 Neuburger was a mild, dry white at exactly half the price. A half-litre of Pilsner Urquell, on tap, cold and well-poured on this and previous visits, is 35 Kč.
Dessert was the high point of the meal. For those who find it impossible to choose, ‘Café Gourmand’ is a set of three small desserts of the chef’s choosing, with either a ristretto, espresso or lungo coffee. This time, it included a miniature version of the Candy Coated Cloud – a pandan crème brûlée. It was much lighter than the traditional version, with a thin glaze of caramelised sugar, a slightly floral taste and hint of green from the pandan leaf.
There was also a small square of the Happy Ending chocolate fondant, which was more like a brownie in taste and texture, and a square of cassava cake; firm, spongy and far less sweet than a western-style sponge cake, gently flavored with cassava (tapioca root).
We also tried the BFF, described as wrapped mini banana strudels on a bed of coconut and mango sauce. Whilst the six delicate parcels were more like mini spring rolls than strudels, the warm, soft banana inside the crispy wrapping was really a pleasant surprise after a few mediocre dishes. It was complemented well by sauce, which wasn’t overly sweet. The coffee meanwhile was, surprisingly, better than that found in many coffee shops. A stop here for dessert and coffee alone would be worthwhile, and I’m not sure if that’s a big selling point at a Thai place.
Kiin has a lot of potential. It’s creative and offers the chance to try new and unusual flavor combinations in an informal setting with friendly staff. There’s plenty of room for improvement though, with some aspects of the food as well as ambiance and waiting times, but if Kiin sets its sights a little higher it could yet manage to become one of the area’s more popular restaurants.
Overall 3* (out of 5*)
Kiin Modern Thai Restaurant