Sharing authentic Thai flavours all around Helsinki and beyond.
Located on Helsinki’s Fredrikinkatu, Thai restaurant Tamarin opened its doors in 2008 and is one of the five Tamarin Restaurants located around the city. This successful family business keeps growing strong and is today managed by Kenny Woo, son and second generation taking care of his parents’ legacy.
The first Tamarin Restaurant opened in 2007 and is located on Iso Roobertinkatu. Because of the predominant use of raw ingredients, they had a difficult start introducing Thai flavours to their new Finnish clientele. However, after a year of persisting with their authentic recipes and fresh tastes, a level of success was reached that inspired them to open a second Tamarin Restaurant in Kamppi, which is that I am visiting today, along with our trusty photographer Thomas.
A tasteful and spicy experience
Warmly greeted by a traditionally dressed Thai hostess, Woo shows us to our table and sits with us right away. Highlighted by Thai ornaments and plants, the atmosphere transports us to the Far East, with the light and friendly ambiance making me feel completely at ease and eager to try Thai food, which surprisingly enough, is my first time as well.
My first taste is a savoury somtom tamarind (€8) or better called a Thai papaya salad, with grated green papaya, apple slices and cashew nuts dressed with a delicious homemade fish sauce. While I am not expecting the spiciness that lit my mouth on fire, I fully enjoy the freshness of the herbs and ingredients. In particular is the papaya, a fruit that I enjoyed all my childhood in South America only fully-grown and orange coloured. In contrast, this time I discover papaya harvested way before its time, giving a completely different and exotic freshness that pleasantly surprises me.
“It was hard to introduce raw papaya to our customers,” Woo admits. But the kitchen insisted on introducing this exotic salad to the public and soon enough, somtom became a very commonly requested dish from the menu.
The second salad is yam woon (€8) consisting of glass noodles mixed with mainly king prawns, Thai chilli paste, tomatoes and tamarind juice. Thai chilli sauce gives the spiciness to the dish this time and while I clamour to keep a straight face with the rising heat, I simultaneously enjoy the legitimate taste of all the other ingredients. “We try to keep the flavour as authentic as possible,” Kenny says, “All of the herbs come directly from Thailand.”
As a main course, Tamarin’s kitchen delights us with a beef pahd prig pao (€14.50), a very traditional Thai dish consisting mainly of fried meat with sweet onions, string beans, fresh basil leaves and evidently fresh Thai chilli as well as Thai chilli paste. Due to both chilli ingredients, this recipe is believed to be too spicy but Kenny assures that it’s actually very sweet. Thomas, who has lived in Thailand for a few years, and who, unlike me, is accustomed to the spicy flavours, confirms this statement.
The second main course is a non-spicy thord fra (€18) consisting mainly of stir-fried king prawns, garlic, green onion, fresh pepper and oyster as well as fish sauce. Since it’s not spicy, it’s a dish that is easily approached by customers.
Despite the fact that he studied two years of marketing, Woo decided to practise a whole different career by entering the restaurant business. General manager of five Tamarin Restaurants in Helsinki plus one opening soon in Turku, Woo cuts himself in multiple pieces taking care of them all.
“I call myself a slave but I’m still young so I enjoy it while it’s fun,” he says with a smile. Of course, he counts on a solid support system having his best friend and family helping with both marketing and recruitment.
Tamarin’s kitchen has been a mentor to several young cooking aficionados, giving them the opportunity to learn and adopt Thai cuisine as their own until they become chefs themselves. For example, Tamarin in Forum has a chef, nicknamed “kiddo”, who started when he was only 15; today, two-and-a-half years later, he’s become a brilliant chef. Here at Tamarin in Kamppi, a native Thai chef named Suthidee Khamphu is mentoring a young 19 year-old girl who will take his place when he leaves for the Turku resraurant.
“The recipes are quite easy so they learn fast,” Woo enthuses.
The recipes might be easy but their menu keeps very diverse giving their customers the opportunity to try the most traditional and tasteful flavours of Thai cuisine. Their late lunch buffet offers several dishes, usually suggestions from customers, for only €10 and they change everyday.
Amongst the most popular dishes, Woo suggests the pad mad (number 27 from the menu), it can be served with chicken, pork, beef, duck or king prawn as a core ingredient; but for me the papaya salad wins over all. Even though I couldn’t feel my tongue for two hours, I know that I will order it again.
Text Valerie Brun, images Thomas Poole