Birthday dinners are extra special occasions that require celebratory meals out at carefully selected restaurants.
Honouring my father's birthday adds extra poignancy to the process, and thus we found ourselves at Saan on Ponsonby Road, sans the guest of honour.
His deep and abiding respect for Thai cuisine has been much noted in these pages, and to find Issan cuisine on these shores a rare treat, one I am confident he would have appreciated on his special day.
Saan opened in 2015 to much fanfare, and customarily self-assuming head chef Wichian "Lek" Trirattanavatin made much of the traditional ways of cooking passed down through his family for generations, mining the very different Lanna (Northern Thailand) and Issan (North Eastern) regions of Thailand the menu is spectacular, no Tom Yum here people!
We only travelled up North once, in our myriad of trips to Thailand, a journey made with Thai friends and made so much more authentic for that.
I relished the different tastes we found there and developed a taste for Nam Prik Pla and Nam Prik Noom, the fiery fish sauce and chilli combo that I simply cannot eat Thai food without.
We started with the Lon Phu Nim: Softshell crab, creamy and coconutty with a sublime crunch; Yum Muek Yarng: Chargrilled squid tube w celery, Lebanese cucumber, herbs, peanuts, dried shrimps, tossed in pickled chilli dressing, perfectly textured, never chewy or stringy with a sharp citrus tang; finally the Khao Greab Nah Moo: Caramelised pulled pork on crispy prawn crackers that always transports me straight to street dining on soft dark Chiang Mai nights, wreathed in smoke and divine smells.
Each of these ‘small plates’ yielded sufficient quantity to share without overwhelming, leaving us room for the larger plates to come.
Next up was the Satay Leu: grilled pork shoulder strips, Sao Isaan: meltingly soft wok seared eggplant with silken tofu and the delightful straw mushrooms spongy and perfect, thence to my own all-time favourite Thai dish Kua Gai.
I have never been able to find these caramelised rice noodles, smoky and satiny, outside of Thailand, except here at Saan. More Jaew was ordered and I was in heaven.
The majority of the menu is too spicy for little taste buds, so a banana leaf wrapped bundle of sticky rice and an extra helping of prawn crackers (at no extra cost) provided much joy for the little one.
The service was attentive and as always front of house went out of their way to make the little one feel like a princess at a banquet.
With delicately carved fruit umbrellas in her apple juice and a serious discussion on flavour and texture, Granddad looked down approvingly at his little gourmand granddaughter carrying on the tradition of conscious consumption.