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Khwan Thai BBQ is Friedrichshain’s Most Exciting Restaurant

By Andrew Cottrill . June 26, 2017

Khwan’s Isaan Thai BBQ is smoke, spice, grilling meat. Like Berlin’s never seen.

No one goes to the RAW Gelände for good food. This is one thing that makes new pop-up restaurant Khwan such a treat. Housed in the Craft And Smoke building, you smell Khwan before you see it. Smoke, spice, grilling meat.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ Aubergine
Charred aubergine with soft egg.

Their menu offers Isaan-style north-Thai dishes served in shareable tapas-like portions. Oysters, smoked and BBQ-glazed lamb shank, grilled mackerel, chicken and ribs, all immaculately garnished with crushed nuts, herbs and dipping sauces. And Khwan really know how to pack flavour into every bite.

Smoke, burnt, spice, citrus herbs, sweet and sour, nuttiness, and a deep pungence, the lingering memory of gapi (fermented shrimp). These are the flavours of Khwan. Plus colour. Lots and lots of colour.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ miang kham
“Miang kham”

Even if you don’t have time to eat, or are just passing by, run into Khwan to try their pomelo and pomegranate “miang kham”, with toasted coconut and tamarind and wrapped in a betel leaf. It’s their manifesto of flavour in a single bite. Khwan distilled. And bite one that’ll have you hooked on their entire menu.

We ordered the Full Banquet Menu for 4.

Which is, well, one of everything on their menu. And we ordered their daily special – a whole mackerel with turmeric, chili, lemongrass and gapi spice paste and cooked over fire in a banana leaf. But we couldn’t resist the urge to first try their coal-roasted oysters with green nam jim.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ Oysters
Coal-roasted oyster with green nam jim.

All of us oyster virgins, we had no idea what awaited us as those tide-gnarled shells were placed in front of us. But like good Catholic boys, we closed our eyes and opened our mouths. Whoosh! The spice hit our throats, followed by sweet, salty, sour. That huge, chewy oyster and a taste bud-torching amount of garlic. The perfect aperitif.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ Sausage
Smoked Chang Mai herbal sausage and soy cured egg.

The Full Banquet Menu means your table is suddenly full of beautifully-presented dishes, reds and greens bursting through a cloud of smoke. Sticky, slightly sweet glutinous rice served in bamboo boxes. The garnish is as important as the main, often comprising eggs cooked sous vide or soy cured. The crushed nuts are ever present, as are the fresh, citrus herbs.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ chicken
Corn-fed Chicken with lemongrass, tamarind and wild ginger

Khwan’s not afraid of fat or bones. They know the flavour these things add to the dish. So eating requires your hands, gnawing on ribs and separating meat from bone. It’s not food for polite company and, when it tastes like it does, it’s hard to keep your hands off it.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ 2
Pork belly and apple “Huang lay” curry.

Khwan’s menu is uncompromising. Un-Berlin.

Don’t like spice? Go somewhere else. Don’t like flavour? Stick to schnitzel. Vegetarian? Go elsewhere. Pescetarian? Alright take a seat. You can eat a few things.

The restaurant understands its foods should be spicy, and very few dishes on their menu offer respite from the heat. And their use of gapi as a base ingredient, and garnishes such dried squid “floss”, mean that very few of their dishes are vegetarian.

In my mind, Berlin needs more places like this.

So, what is this gapi?

Gapi is shrimp paste – salted and fermented for weeks. Yummy.

“Rotten fish doesn’t sound that appealing”, owner Dan told me, “but Thai food needs that stinkiness”. I fought off the urge to ask to smell the gapi, and am infinitely glad I did. Dan went on to tell me that in authentic Isaan cooking, this “stinkiness” from the gapi would be a lot more apparent, but Khwan temper theirs with a sweetness that makes their food a lot more approachable and readily delicious to non-Isaanis like us.

Berlin Loves You Khwan Isaan Thai BBQ spices

 

Khwan
Revaler Str. 99
10245 Berlin
Open Thursday Evening-Sunday
Visit Khwan on Facebook.

Photos: Tom Taylor

Camera: Canon EOS 6D