Date of review: August 20, 2016 | Reviewed by: Charmaine Mok
Built to resemble a slightly ramshackle Thai grocers with a mishmash of colourful murals and faded “vintage” posters, Chachawan is like the loud, carefree spirit you encounter on a whirlwhind trip to Chiang Mai— unusual, attractive, and not too serious. If you want to catch the chefs in action, grilling thighs of marinated chicken and pounding papaya salad to order, try and sit at the kitchen bar. The ground floor space has an open façade where diners wait for their tables while propping up the bar, while upstairs has the feel of a secret loft; between the two spaces, we prefer the former, as the latter often gets a bit too loud and a bit too hot for comfort.
Chachawan specialises in the dry, fiery flavours of northern Thailand, with chefs eschewing the use of coconut milk dishes favoured by their southern sisters; you won’t find items such as green curry or pad thai here. The signature larp (also known as larb) and green papaya salads are essential orders here, and the larp bet (duck salad) we order comes with plenty of moreish crackling to contrast with the softness of the finely chopped bird meat. It’s curious to then find the same flavour profile in a newer dish larp tort (describe as a salad of deep-fried minced pork meatballs with shallots, spring onion, mint, coriander, corn flour and spicy sour dressing)—it is to larp what arancini is to risotto, and feels a little derivative. We enjoy the smokiness of aubergine paired with grilled river prawns and its accompaniments of shallot, mint, coriander and a toasted rice dressing but found the shellfish a little overcooked. For dessert, there’s much to praise about the ice cream guti—young coconut ice cream served in a coconut shell, sprinkled with toasted peanuts and kernels of fresh sweetcorn, which is a soothing and cooling end to an otherwise rather ferociously spiced meal.
A place like this is better known for their cocktails than their wines, with libations that are fresh and vibrant with ingredients such as lime, calamansi, pomelo and ginger playing major parts in the mix. We found the non-alcoholic options such as pineapple and guava slushie and the calamansi and salted plum soda to be effective antidotes to the spicy food, too. If all fails, an icy bottle of Singha beer is always an option.
Staff are friendly and have gotten the art of the welcome down to a tee—a necessary skill given that Chachawan doesn’t take reservations. We were immediately shown a seat at the bar and drinks orders taken while we waited for a table.
A meal for two with drinks and service usually comes to around HK$800, which is a fair price to pay.