By: Claire Locking
Sun, sea breezes and Thai food; sounds like a near perfect combination, but you don’t have to jump on a flight to Koh Samui to get it. Kea’s Kitchen, located on a houseboat in Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter, is a little bit of Thailand right here in the heart of Hong Kong.
Kea Liden hails originally from Chiang Rai in northern Thailand and despite spending many years in Switzerland, and now Hong Kong, she still retains the much-loved calm Thai manner and disposition.
Kea arrived in Hong Kong with her Swedish husband and 12-year-old son three years ago and since then has added 10-month-old Kim to the family, designed and built their stunning floating home and launched her own private kitchen and cookery school. She admits that wasn’t exactly how she planned it. “It all just happened. We were originally looking to buy our own flat and I wanted to run a restaurant but we just knew that was never going to happen so we had this boat built for us in China instead.”
This change of plan was, in fact, very fortunate as the unique location of Kea’s business on board her ultra-contemporary junk offers both Hong Kong residents and tourists a culinary experience like no other. Although there is nothing particularly Thai in the design or style of the boat, apart from the carvings by a local Thai monk above the door to bless the home with luck and good fortune, Kea’s manner from the moment you step on-board instantly puts you at ease.
The day starts leisurely with a coffee from Kea’s state-of-the-art Miele coffee machine. She normally takes clients on a tour of the Thai grocers in Wanchai’s wet market to select fresh ingredients but we were on a time limit, so Kea had already done that for us, as she does every morning after dropping her son at school on The Peak.
After smelling, tasting and touching numerous familiar and unfamiliar ingredients, it was time to don our aprons and get chopping. Thankfully for those whose culinary skills don’t extend to much, the dishes, which hail from all over Thailand, are simple, easy-to-follow and very quick to prepare.
First on the menu were grilled prawns with roast chilli sauce. We started by preparing the raw salad ingredients of fresh lemongrass, shallots, kaffir lime leaf, mint and red chillies (the number depending on your own personal palette). We then set that aside and created a very unusual salad dressing of Thai chilli paste, cow’s milk, coconut milk, fish sauce and lime juice whilst Kea flash fried the king prawns that she had bought fresh that morning. The result wasn’t the expected vibrant fresh flavours of most Southeast Asian salads; it was an assault on the taste buds and surprisingly rich. One of my classmates thought her salad was “over-grassed” – a bit heavy on the lemongrass – but perhaps at the hands of a more experienced Thai cook, the flavours would have been better balanced. Not bad for a first attempt, though.
Most Thai food lovers long to be able to create an authentic curry and Kea shows you how easy and simple it really is when you have quality, fresh ingredients. We were set to task on a beef curry, which you could choose to have “clean” with no coconut milk; we unanimously opted to add the calories!
First it was back to the chopping board where garlic, shallots, galangal, lemongrass and red chilli were roughly chopped before being added to a pestle and mortar and pounded with a spoonful of shrimp paste. The result: a rough and very fragrant base for a curry. This was then dry fried on a high heat for 30 seconds before a splash of coconut milk was added and boiled vigorously. Kea then added more coconut milk, a handful of thinly sliced beef tenderloin, mini Thai green peppercorns, chopped finger root (a cross between ginger and galangal) and a teaspoonful of palm sugar. The dish was then simmered for 10 minutes before being garnished with sweet basil and Thai basil leaves. The kitchen was filled with the most amazing aromas and once everyone had managed to complete their MasterChef moment, it’s was up to the top deck to enjoy the fruits of our labours.
As well as holding twice-weekly cookery classes, Kea also caters to private dinners and larger groups. The white bar overlooking the comings and goings of the harbour and the two round tables underneath the canopy make the perfect setting for any occasion and you can instantly understand why guests have felt compelled to label Kea’s place the coolest Hong Kong restaurant they had been to in years.
At the end of just one morning we felt smug in the knowledge that we can now tell our finger root from our galangal, our kaffir lime from our Thai basil, and can confidently rustle up a Thai curry worthy of the pros.
The perfect combination of unique location, welcoming host and delicious authentic food means that Kea is currently booked two months in advance, but it’s well worth the wait.
6077 5964 | keaskitchen.com