When the restaurant formerly known as Kiin Thai Underground Kitchen first opened in early 2018, it was in a small 20-seat space on Mount Eden Road. The food was prepared in the downstairs kitchen, hence its moniker – but this has all changed since it opened its doors at a new site, just over two kilometres away, at the end of September.
Now, Kiin Thai Kitchen has dropped the “Underground” and can be found in a light, bright and high-ceilinged space in a busy block on Dominion Road – right opposite Mr Hao, Ooh-Fa, Omni and Movenpick. It seats up to 40 people and feels much more spacious, which bodes well for its many existing fans and those to come.
The restaurant has built a loyal following for its fragrant, punchy dishes that are made with love and dedication by head chef Somkiat Chattai and his wife, Nitchapha Kasanthia. Chattai, who has over 40 years of kitchen experience, originally hails from Prachin Buri in central Thailand, while Kasanthia comes from Nakhon Rachasima in Thailand’s Isan region.
Chattai makes all his dishes, marinades and sauces from scratch, busy every service at his wok tossing signatures such as pad Thai or pad krapao with plenty of fresh basil.
It’s a family business; Kornwit “Bon” Kunthip opened the restaurant with his partner Rangsima “Yok” Chatthai (Somkiat is Yok’s dad), and the pair – a business analyst and accountant, respectively – are in charge of day-to-day logistics.
“Because we’re Thai, and we go out dining often, we saw a lack of the comfort food that, as a Thai person, I would want to come and eat,” Bon tells Broadsheet. While it took about two-and-a-half years to build a following, they’re happy with the range of communities that now frequent Kiin and are always keen to hear how they can better cater to their customers.
“I think the game changer for us was the som tum platter,” says Bon. “That was on our first monthly specials menu.” The large dish includes papaya salad (either a classic som tum or som tum plu ra, with Thai anchovies and pickled crab) surrounded prettily by chicken wings, sliced pork ham, pickled cabbage, pork crackling, vermicelli and crescents of hard-boiled egg. It’s a refreshing dish that’s fun to eat, thanks to all the flavours and textures on the plate.
“Thai people started coming in and appreciating it, and then we expanded to noodle soups and things like that.”
Kiin’s menu is predominantly from the central Thailand region, incorporating a balance of sour, sweet, creamy and salty flavours. Some dishes are from Isan region in Thailand’s north-east, including papaya salad, larb and nam tok (grilled-beef salad).
There’s a “classic wok and pot” section with noodles, curries and stir-fries; a street food section; and seasonal specials. At the previous site these were monthly, but the team opted for longer-running seasonal versions to keep the regulars happy.
Order the fried snapper in Kiin chilli sauce and you’ll be treated to an expertly cooked whole fish doused in a rich, tamarind-laced sauce that packs a good amount of heat.
The krapao is a street-cart favourite – described by Bon as “an easy, authentic dish from Thailand that’s really hard to make”. The large version eschews vegetables to make spicy fried pork mince the star, served on jasmine rice and topped with two fried eggs. And any meal is off to a good start with the fried tom yum wontons, topped with minced pork and drenched in a sour and sweet sauce that gets your salivary glands working.
Chattai doesn’t half-cook anything, says Bon; every dish is made fresh to order.
The mango sticky rice has a following all of its own – Kiin has been known to sell upwards of 110 servings of the traditional Southeast Asian dessert a day via pre-order and takeaway. It’s infused with butterfly pea flower here, which gives the rice a beautiful purple tone, and served with juicy ripe mango and sweetened coconut cream for pouring over the top.
With all they’ve achieved over the past five years, Bon says he’s most happy they’ve got a great chef and dedicated staff. “I’ll keep raising the awareness that the team’s really important here.”
Kiin Thai Kitchen
360C Dominion Road, Mount Eden, Auckland
(09) 600 2166
Tue to Sun 11.30am–3.30pm & 5pm–9pm
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