When it opened in December 2015, Raya Kitchen was a joint venture between Andrew Van Heerden and Kitima Sukonpongpao, the chef-owner of the ever-popular, eponymous eatery in Hout Bay that was named EatOut’s Best Asian Restaurant in 2011 and 2013 (and one of The Inside Guide’s Most Romantic in Cape Town).
But things changed in October 2016, when Kitima decided to move back to Thailand and Andrew took full ownership of Raya. (Interestingly, Kitima in Hout Bay was bought by the Thai Café group of restaurants).
Fortunately for Raya, four of the highly accredited Thai chefs from Kitima, including the head chef, moved over to Raya when the changes happened, ensuring that the food here remains of a high standard.
Raya, which means king in Thai, is located on the first floor of the contemporary Mandela Rhodes building. The lesser-known innercity gem is decorated to reflect its regal roots – striking chandeliers light up the dimly lit gold-and-black two-storey space, which seats 120 diners in total. We sat upstairs, at street-facing table, with a bird’s-eye view of the downstairs bar.
The epic menu (it’s bound, and thick, and long) offers a tantalising array of Eastern cuisines (from sushi and dim sum to noodle dishes and curries – and everything in between), yet its main focus is Royal Thai cuisine, where the abundant use of fresh herbs and spices is what sets its aromatic and flavourful dishes apart.
We arrived hungry (and thirsty) at 6.30pm on a weeknight and, taking one look at the extensive winelist (another bible-sized chronicle) and cocktail menu, handed all decision-making over to our knowledgeable and affable waiter Galvin.
He recommended a Hendricks Cucumber Gimlet (Hendricks Gin, Cucumber, Roses Lime Juice, R85) to start, which was perfect: refreshing, not too sweet, and a punch-packer. Thirst quenched, it was time to order our food.
To avoid wading through the lengthy à la carte menu, go for value-for-money four-course set menu (R295), which is actually the best way to order, because it allows you to experience an array of flavours, cuisines and styles. You will still have to make some decisions, as there are three choices for each course.
I chose the Golden Platter to start: a crunchy, flavourful vegetable spring roll, a tender and tasty chicken satay, and a slightly douhhgnutty prawn cake. Then came the aromatic prawn broth with coconut milk, mushrooms, galangal, lemon grass and lime leaf, which was utterly delicious. Hot, sour, fragrant and herby, it hit all the right spots. For mains, the marinated kingklip, golden-fried in a light batter, and topped with homemade hot, sweet and sour sauce and crispy basil was the perfect choice. Though not exactly Thai (or Asian), the coconut crème brûlée was a superb way to round off my meal.
If you love Thai food, this lesser-known gem in the city is well worth a visit. Its extensive fusion menu is sure to delight your senses…
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 11.30am – 11pm
Contact 021 422 2266, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it Raya Kitchen, Mandela Rhodes Building, 24 Wale Street, Cape Town