Jim Thompson at Dempsey Hill
After numerous trips to Thailand, I have to admit I have a slight obsession with Jim Thompson. It began with my first encounter with one of the stores at an upscale shopping mall in downtown Bangkok. Like flavors in an ice cream shop, silks of every color and hue were perfectly displayed against dark wood floors and sparkling glass shelves. Pillows, handbags, ties, shirts, fabrics, scarves… exquisite patterns and color combinations like I had never seen in my western world. I still remember a particular duvet color in deep raspberry with decorative spiral top stitching — love at first sight. I should have bought it even though the size didn’t quite fit our queen bed.
Still thinking about Jim Thompson several years later, I again visited the store the next time I was in Bangkok. Not only that, but I also ventured a little further on the train to the outlet store in a nearby suburb. Here I found pillow cases, cosmetic bags, lipstick cases and makeup mirrors at prices cheap enough to take something home for me and each woman in my extended family.
Fast forward to Singapore 2011 and imagine my glee at finding out there’s a Jim Thompson RESTAURANT here (in addition to the store at Marina Bay Sands which, yes, I have already visited — not quite as good as Bangkok). So after much waiting and anticipation we finally went last night.
A small circular drive welcomes you upon arrival, followed by a wooden walkway to the outdoor seating area with simple tables and chairs amidst candles and pots of greenery. Inside, the ceiling soars with dark wood and white walls. Tall columns are evenly spaced along the nave of the restaurant with family-style seating and smaller tables interspersed throughout. Like anything Jim Thompson, decorative patterns are everywhere — metal openwork as privacy screens, stained glass as room dividers, checkered tile at the bar — adding a perfect dash of Morocco to the whole Asian mix.
Get to the food, will you?! I started off with a strawberry mojito — crushed fresh and full of delicious aroma. As we pondered about apps (the foodie kind), a Thai dancer drifted by. We chose chicken in pandan leaves, presented in five beautifully wrapped bundles that would make gorgeous Christmas stocking stuffers for that gourmand who has everything.
We followed the bundles with a Massaman chicken curry and whole fried grouper. The Massaman curry, with onions, potatoes and a ground peanut garnish, was presented in a single-size brass chafing dish that kept it hot at the table. The show-stealer was the fried grouper. I’m not showing a photo of it because numerous tries just didn’t do it justice. Take my word for it — this is worth the market price and I’d never ever thought about ordering a whole fish until yesterday. It arrives at the table removed from the bone and fried, but the skeleton has been fried too and twisted into a decorative half-circle that holds and presents the big, wonderful hunks of fish. Creating the flavor are the usual suspects: green peppecorns, red chili, garlic and Thai basil leaves fried into light crisps that dissolve in your mouth. This could have been shared among three to four people but we were happy to stuff our two bellies and clear the plate.
We saved room for dessert — my favorite of all time: mango with sticky rice and coconut milk. With the right mango, this can be the best sweet and salty combination in the whole world (just my opinion). Jim Thompson did not disappoint! It was marvelous and I was swooning with artery-clogging happiness from the whole meal.
Jim Thompson’s restaurant is well on its way to becoming a favorite haunt of mine in Singapore for the food, the decor and even the mystery surrounding the man. After a career in the American military, reviving the Thai silk trade and building his empire, Jim Thompson vanished while on vacation in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967. People searched, people investigated, people hypothesized… but to this day no one knows for sure where he went or what happened to him. The possibilities are endlessly intriguing, much like his legacy.