So-called Thai restaurants in Toronto are a dime a dozen. High-quality, authentic Thai restaurants, however, are few and far between and some would say, completely non-existent—until Chef Nuit Regular made the city her home.
You may recognise the name from other Toronto establishments such as Pai, Sukhothai, Sabai Sabai and Khao San Road, but Kiin is step above and beyond the ubiquitous street food-esque Thai fare available at any other typical Toronto eatery.
Located in a space that previously housed Khao San Road on Adelaide Street West near Spadina, Kiin is a warm, inviting exploration of Thai royal cuisine which exudes passion for taste and presentation. A dying art evening Thailand due to its complexity, bringing royal Thai cuisine to our city (and possibly the only place for such cuisine in the entire country) is clearly a labour of love for Chef Nuit who learned the techniques in her native country. Kiin means "eat" in Thai, and clearly that is what drives Chef Nuit and her head chef, Jaysy Sringern, to consistently provide such stunning plates and experiences.
Atmosphere & Décor
The restaurant itself is tucked into the ground floor of an otherwise nondescript downtown office building, visible mostly due to the fuchsia splash near the door. Inside is a bustling yet incredibly welcoming and brightly-lit space that draws you in immediately. Stopping by at 5:30 PM, there were a few free tables but most were already reserved for incoming guests. (A reservation is definitely recommended.) The bar was half-full and almost every table on the lower level was taken.
It is obvious that the decor has been as carefully designed as the food itself with a contrast of homey and opulent: tiled marble floors, ornate ceiling moulding, gold accents, wooden shutters, and light wood-panelled walls. Like the tropical mansions of Thailand, Kiin feels like you are walking into a friend's home.
The menu at Kiin is small but don't let that fool you into thinking there isn't much to choose from. It is about quality over quantity, an ideal many Toronto restaurants should take under consideration as well. Despite a small number of offerings, there is a wide range of food for a wide range of tastes. Included on the menu are notifications about common allergens such as gluten, shellfish, dairy, and peanuts to keep you safe.
Starting off, there are two snacks if you feel a bit peckish before your meal. Mun Tawt Ruammit is a small dish of taro root chips with a tom yum sauce and Khao Tung Nah Tang which is a small plate of rice crackers with a variety of spreads. Both are reasonably priced at $9 and $12, respectively.
Moving onto the "small" section is where I'd argue Kiin really shows off what it can do. Each of these could be considered appetizers but as with all dishes here, they are family-style and made for sharing with at least one other person. An average person may get quite full with even two of the small plates all to themselves. Out of the six plates to choose from, two are vegan and four are gluten free! The first two items are staples of royal cuisine: dumplings, intricately conceived, prepared, and presented. At $16, the Roy Thai platter is a selection of four different types of dumpling ranging from Mha Hor to Thoong Thong. The second dumpling offering is the vegan Chor Ladda rice and peanut dumplings, for $4 cheaper than the full platter. Salads for the more veggie-inclined amongst us include Yum Tua Plu, a bean plate with duck eggs, and Pad Buab Jae, a dish of angled gourd (similar to okra) with Thai seasonings and a great price of only $8. For the carnivores, Kiin dishes out Hoi Nung Ta Krai, or roasted PEI mussels, and Kang Moo Yang Nam Jim Jaew which is a succulent looking dish of pork jowl with roasted rice and chilli. Both rest at $16 a plate.
There are only 5 large plates to choose from but again, the range is wide open. The most popular dish and another staple of Thai royal cuisine is the Khao Yum, a large vegan bowl full of colourful rice and an exceptional selection of accompanying vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers. On the menu, there is one of each of the common proteins: a fresh fish dish prepared at your table, a beef short rib dish, and a braised chicken stir-fry. The beef lingers at the top end of the price scale at $30, and the chicken rings up $4 dollars cheaper. The fish meal, like all fresh fish, is determined at market price for the day. The other vegetarian option is Chuchee Tofu & Mushroom which is a curry of tofu and fried oyster mushrooms. Both vegan dishes come in at a decent price of $24 each.
Rice side dishes are available in 3 different varieties to complement your large meals: jasmine, sticky, and coconut rice.
Dessert is very limited with only one option of Ponlamai ruam: a platter of fresh Thai fruits, depending on what is best in season and available here. Most likely, there will be a selection possibly including pitaya, rambutan, lychee, starfruit, and pomelo. Occasionally, mango and mangosteen will pop up. It may seem steep at $15 but once again, this is a large platter meant for sharing. After a meal here, there is no way for a single person to finish the whole dessert alone.
As stated above, both the snacks and the small plates can be considered appetizers. For my visit, I took my server's advice and chose the popular Roy Thai to taste a selection of the incredibly pretty dumplings that Kiin is known for. After eating many a Chinese and Japanese dumpling in my time, this was certainly a treat that made me feel a touch like a member of the royal family. There is an order to eat them in, from left to right. The Mha Hor is simply pineapple with tamarind paste that leads into perhaps my favourite, the Chor Ladda which had a deliciously nutty and coconut-y flavour and a lovely texture. I almost felt bad eating such a beautiful little blue dumpling. The Rhoom is a spicy bite with a muted egg flavour that comes on slowly. Finally the Thoong Thong is a chicken and shrimp snack wrapped in a crispy fried wonton wrapper and nested delicately inside a cucumber cup, full of plum sauce with a serious kick. I knew I could eat all 8 of these tasty, almost addictive, dumplings easily myself but I had to save room for the rest of the meal!
The second small plate was the Yum Tua Plu, made with wing beans imported by Chef Nuit from Thailand and free-range duck eggs. This is a perfectly balanced stack of spice, coconut, and crunch. The real beauty of this dish as opposed to other recipes is how it is not floating in a pool of liquid. Instead Chef Nuit serves it drier with a drizzle of sauces to add to each bite as you choose.The crisp beans, toasted coconut, and fried shallots give the whole plate a wonderful crunchiness to compliment the juicy beans and dressing. Bringing it all together, and easing the medium heat of the shrimp chilli paste, are beautifully cooked duck eggs—the perfectly opaque whites with a viscous but not runny yolk. This is clearly a dish that takes skill to balance so well.
The large plates are definitely for more than one person, even something as simple sounding as a rice bowl. I debated for a while between the aforementioned rice dish and the Mieng Pla as I'm a huge fan of Thai fish dishes. Eventually, and with the help of my knowledgeable server, I settled on the Khao Yum instead. Again it is one of Kiin's most popular and most Instagrammed dishes simply for its beauty. The dish is brought to your table in a large bowl, unmixed so you can see all the various ingredients clearly. However, it's Kiin custom for your server to mix it for you as it is very important that the dish be mixed a particular way to thoroughly combine all the flavours, and not favour any over others that people may be wary of, especially if they're not familiar with Southeast Asian cuisine. The various coloured rices, mixed with crunchy long beans and spicy chillis, edible flowers and coconut, and every bite has a tiny explosion of bright citrus from the pomelo bits.
This dish is more than a plate of food—it's an experience. From the performance of preparation, to the artistry of the colourful aesthetics, to the symphony of distinct yet harmonic flavours, the Khao Yum is the epitome of a Thai royal dish.
Although I already was looking forward to the leftovers I was taking home with me, I felt like I needed just that tang of sweetness to finish the meal. The fruit platter arrived to fascinated stares of those dining around me. It was stacked high with fresh fruit that would itself be a full meal. I was lucky enough that rambutans are still on the plate and half-peeled, as well as one of my favourites: refreshing starfruit. It was a burst of slightly sweet and acidic juice and a pleasant crispness. Again there was pomelo, and two types of pitaya (or dragon fruit). It wasn't too sweet but was a nice, refreshing finale to this experience.
The drinks menu at Kiin is larger than its food menu, by quite a few pages. Luckily there is a reason for that. Wine is available by the glass, 8oz, or bottle with a healthy selection of both reds and whites. Seven whites fill up the menu with three being from Canada, two from Italy, one from Greece, and even an organic Albariño from Spain. The red wine list consists of mainly French and Italian wines which what appears to be a strong focus on organic and sustainable wineries, something still fairly uncommon in many restaurants. A few sparkling whites, a French rose, and a dessert wine from Niagara finish off the list. The beer list is very locally-inspired with the majority of the draught, bottle, and cider offerings coming from Ontario breweries including Left Field, Collective Arts, Bellwoods, and Duxbury. Of course, there is the imported Thai Singha lager as well. As a bonus, Kiin serves up two chilled sakes.
The cocktail list deserves its own spotlight. Each of the drinks, almost all designed by bar manager Emily Robertson, fit perfectly with the delicate and beautiful vibe of Kiin. I opted for the Island Thyme as I have a penchant for anything gin and it actually complemented the food seamlessly. I'm sure all the others do the same. I was also tempted to try out The Pink Side of the Moon, by Kylie Dyment which include tequila alongside various liqueurs, sea salt and candied pineapple. Popular for Instagram is the coconut colada and the YYZ-BKK.
If alcohol is not your thing, the regular pop options are available as well as tropical juices. Furthermore, Kiin offers Thai iced teas that not only look great (especially the pandan version), but are particularly thirst-quenching. I opted to try the Ka Jiab which features one of my favourite juices: hibiscus (also known as sorrel for our Caribbean friends). I don't know if it's because I so rarely have hibiscus or if Kiin just does it really well, but it was a huge treat.
Specialty drinks include ginger beer and kombucha which comes in two flavours: organic mango & charcoal or Hibiscus & Goji Berry. You can guess how tempted I was to try yet another drink!
The best servers are those that seem not only to enjoy interacting with guests, but are knowledgeable of the food and incredibly personable. If all of the servers at Kiin is like Daniel ,they have a really good thing going. Excellent service staff is incredibly important to any restaurant but I feel like at Kiin, it's absolutely necessary. Daniel walks new guests through the menu, is attentive, and has an answer to every single question about any part of the menu. He knows what to suggest for your tastes.
Kiin is a rarity in Toronto as a King West restaurant that focuses on family-style dining and a variety of Thai foods that most Torontonians will not be familiar with. Both of these things will take some orientation for people expecting take-away pad thai and green curry, and as such, good staff is imperative. I also have to say the bar staff was on their game, as was the welcoming hostess who graciously found me a table despite not having a reservation. And the chef herself was wonderful and accommodating, making sure each dish was perfect. Not only does Kiin look like someone's busy home but it almost feels like it by the time you leave as well.
There was no rumble of a hungry stomach by the end of the meal and I left the restaurant with a big brown bag full of delicious leftovers to share at home (and everyone loved them there too!). I have to admit to having some concerns about trying yet another Canadian Thai restaurant here with claims of authenticity, as so many times before, most attempts at such places have been nothing short of laughable. Thankfully, I had nothing to be worried about at all. When you taste proper Thai food, you automatically know and this place simply feels real.
I will be returning to Kiin for lunch someday as the menu is completely different with noodles, rice dishes, and curry. Thanks to Chef Nuit, a little bit of my hope for real Thai cuisine in Toronto is restored.