Rakuen-Asia is a Thai restaurant in Kyoto, Japan. Its sister restaurant is in Petitenget, Kerobokan. Both restaurants share the same menu and cooking style.
Now Japanese cuisine is perhaps the blandest in all of Asia, whilst the Thai cuisine, along with Indonesian, uses a vast variety of herbs and spices producing a myriad of different tastes. It would appear that the two are extremes apart?
The wait-staff, for me, have that infuriating habit of asking whether you want your food 'spicy' [whatever that means?]. If I want Thai food, I want it 'Thai'! However as long as you say 'yes very spicy' you will get something that resembles Thai food, still a touch on the mild side but very acceptable, and very cheap and in a most congenial atmosphere. If you ask for it 'not spicy' you will finish with all the base ingredients but with no taste. This small warung style restaurant is found down a narrow lane directly beside Gourmet Café, and it is a relaxing spot for lunch.
All the Thai standards are here. Tod Man Pla [fish cakes] and Tod Man Goong [prawn cakes] both with the correct cucumber relish, Po Pia Tod [spring rolls with the house sweet and sour, very good] and a Chinese Thai Lok Ching Kung, deep fried shrimp balls with sweet chilli sauce. Mee Grob is another dish the Thais borrowed from the Chinese and improved, it is a nice sweet dish to balance the more fiery ones, consisting of dried vermicelli noodles [mee hun] pan-fried in palm sugar, tamarind and fish sauce, this version having been tossed with shredded chicken and tofu. Rarely found on Thai menus in Bali it is a good dish to order to balance the meal, Thai style!
Amongst the few Vietnamese dishes on the menu at Rakuen-Asia are excellent Fresh Spring Rolls [goi cuon]. Rice paper wrapped around prawns [always my choice] rice noodles and shredded vegetables. No traditional Nuoc Cham dipping sauce but surprisingly they offer two different alternatives, a sweet chilli and their house special which is a wow of a sauce, thick and gooey with the kick of a mule!
Yes, they have Tom Yam Goong [that hot and sour prawn and straw mushroom soup] but who does not? They also offer Tom Kha Gai, a soup for every taste; soft tender chicken pieces in coconut milk spiced up with galangal, lemongrass, fried chillis [less heat] and coriander, of Laotian origin, as are many Thai standards. A wonderful, quite subtle and overall well-balanced taste, but make sure you say spicy otherwise it may resemble a milk shake. Something completely different is a Vietnamese Pho-Sa [I think they mean Pho-Ga], a chicken version of their famous beef noodle soup, redolent of onions and ginger with a little coriander and cloves.
Soms [Thai Salads] are integral part of any Thai meal. The most famous of all is Som Tam, shredded green papaya tossed with chilli and lime, producing that renowned Thai taste combination of hot and sour [which is why a Thai will also order sweet side dishes, as all dishes are eaten simultaneously, balancing the extremes of taste, unlike normal western eating habits of devouring the various dishes one by one]. This Som Tam is the real thing. Their Shrimp Salad goes almost Vietnamese with mint added whilst the other options get into fusion territory, combining with avocado.
Amongst the main courses is one that I always order as one of my starters, Gai Hor Bai Toey, small pieces of marinated chicken breast wrapped and deep fried in pandanus leaf. It comes with a sweet chilli dipping sauce instead of the traditional reduced tamarind and sesame but still very good.
The stir-fries include old faithful dishes such as another Chinese import Gai Pad Himmapan, strips of chicken, onions and cashew nuts, pan-fried with garlic, chilli and the Chinese pair of soy and oyster sauces. This is yet another Thai dish that only has a hint of chilli [often decorated with a large red fried chilli], almost sweet in total taste. A refreshing contrast is Rakuen-Asia's Neua Polo, pieces of local beef that have been stir-fried with star anise. The beef is a little chewy but the anise taste is an unusual option, almost palate cleansing.
Kain Pad is a weird food name with no real meaning although the dish supposedly originates in Chiang Mai. Chicken pieces are served with three different sauces; hot, sweet and sour. Hor Kok Pla is another uniquely Thai dish of white fish in a red coconut milk curry wrapped in banana leaf and steamed.
It is impossible to order a complete Thai spread of dishes, covering the broad taste range that is so encompassed without at least one curry. At Rakuen-Asia the curries are all served in a coconut shell, the contents having been combined with curry paste to form the base of the dish. Again make sure you say 'spicy'! The result will be a nice mild curry.
The Green Curry [Kio Wan] can be with chicken, beef, prawns or just vegetarian, The Red Curry tastes great but is a bit of a mystery. Called Pa Neng [Penang curry, with peanuts, is not really a red curry], the chicken version is quite luscious and chicken is preferable to the beef version. Yellow Curry can be seafood or vegetarian.
A very pleasant lunch time pit stop and whilst some of the portions are quite small a well balanced selection can be assembled for very little cost. I am constantly amazed at food spreads you can enjoy in Bali at $10 per person, the cost of a sandwich and coffee in western cities, and only then if you avoid the trendy locations.