Outlet 360°: Charm Thai
Front of house
Charm Thai Lounge & Restaurant offers an authentic vibe of Thailand despite its unassuming location outside Muscat’s city limits near the airport. This is exactly what the concept strived for, Arunee Pakaraphang, the restaurant supervisor, tells Caterer Middle East.
“When a guest enters the restaurant, they need to feel like they’ve been brought to Thailand. From the ambiance, to the greeting and to the food on the menu,” Pakaraphang says.
The interior space was designed by Mojo, led by interior designer Martin Meijer. Following a brief from InterContinental Hotels Group, the operator of the hotel, Mojo worked alongside Oman-based Asha Contracting and Interiors of Muscat to source and manufacture the elements used to draw the concept together.
Each piece of furniture was carefully picked with attention-to-detail in mind, points out Pakaraphang. The mismatched furniture are different yet follow a consistent sea life theme. This, she says was inspired by an age-old story of a Thailand warrior princess, Suphankalanya, whose painting hangs above the bar, who once travelled to Oman centuries ago to collect souvenirs from the region.
To add to the continuing theme of Thai culture, the front-of-house consists five staff members including Pakaraphang and another co-supervisor and all of them are expatriates from Thailand.
“Because we come from very similar backgrounds, it’s very easy for us to communicate during work, and this adds to that authentic Thai experience,” says Pakaraphang.
The women work together during the same evening shift, and during off-season handle anywhere between 30-50 covers a night but serve more than 200 covers during the winter months, Pakaraphang says.
The restaurant offers an indoor seating area which can seat up to 62, an outdoor area as well as a lounge that can cater to 38 and 24 respectively but the vast outdoor space allow the restaurant to be flexible in case of busy nights.
When asked what Pakaraphang wants guests to take away from the experience, she says: “A picture. I want them to keep this in their memory. And when you have a good memory of the experience, you’ll share that with others and have a picture to show for it."
Back of house
Shakriya Kanasasanat, the chef patron at Charm Thai Lounge & Restaurant, credits her generational roots for her passion in Thai cooking, back to her grandmother who was a cook and ran a restaurant in Hat Yai in the south of Thailand which borders Malaysia.
The flavours of Hat Yai are also reflected in the menu Charm Thai offers, as Kanasasanat says that while she offers popular authentic Thai dishes on the menu, there is a hint of Malay flavours traceable in her cooking too.
With a kitchen crew of six including herself and the chef de partie who she brought along from her previous gig, Kanasasanat explains she was excited to be involved from the start: “This restaurant is like my baby and my home. From creating the menu to hiring the staff, it was labour of love.”
To recreate the authenticity of spices and flavour Thai food is popular for, Kanasasanat says she imports many of the major spices and other things key to making a good Thai curry directly from Thailand.
“Of course, if you can’t find it, it’s okay but it just won’t bring in that authentic Thai taste then,” she notes.
However, for fruits, vegetables and meat, the restaurant works with Adam Fort Trading, a local supplier in Oman to source the necessary ingredients. And since Oman is a fishing country, the restaurant locally sources certain fish like the sheri which Kanasasanat notes is “quite popular” among its Omani patrons.
Besides being welcomed with an authentic Thai greeting at the entrance, guests are offered a refreshing Thai beverage once seated as part of the food journey. In terms of the menu, the signature main course is the duck tamarind, a bestseller so far, and the signature drink is ocean-blue and named Andaman to mimic the Andaman Sea that borders Thailand. The menu also features regional Thai foods which says she has personally crafted for the menu.
“I also have contemporary Thai food in the menu with Chinese influences — I add pepper corn and other spices to keep the Thai flavours intact,” she explains.
In terms of kitchen equipment, Kanasasanat says she uses a large wok for most of the stir frying but her personal favourite is the charcoal grill which the team uses to slowly cook the duck till it's tender and ready for the signature duck tamarind dish. Other equipment used in the Charm Thai kitchen include the Navato cooker, Electrolux oven, Foster vegetable chiller and Gram to freeze or chill the dishes.
With a tight-knit all-Thai staff at her helm, she says she leads her team as part of the family.
“We all help each other and no one has just one job. I want them to know everything. We are together and this is the core of the Thai culture. Whatever happens, we have to be one family,” she concludes.