Restaurant Review: Expat Thai Chef Sara Panisara's Sweet Basil In Bhubaneswar Is Sweet Indeed

This Thai restaurant in Bhubaneswar is a reminder that authentic delights often await and thrive in unexpected corners.

Published On May 21, 2024 | Updated On May 21, 2024

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So, there I was in Bhubaneswar, feeling like a fried samosa in the sweltering 42-degree heat, thinking, "Who in their right mind comes here for Thai food?" I mean, who? Apparently, I do. And let's be real, I wasn't exactly expecting much. I mean, finding authentic Thai flavours in this city felt as likely as spotting a penguin in the Sahara.

We are at Lyfe Hotel’s Sweet Basil restaurant helmed by expat Thai chef Sara Panisara. This place boasts about bringing authentic Thai flavours to Bhubaneswar, and let me tell you, they're not just whistling Dixie. I'm not saying I expected to find a Khaosan Road food market hidden away in Bhubaneswar, but the chef surely knew how to make me forget it’s melting outside. Well, it was now time to let my preconceptions drown in a sea of delectable soups.

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Watermelon salad

Chef Sara suggested we start with the refreshing salad that could just make you forget about boring greens and rethink your entire salad strategy. It had sweet, juicy chunks of watermelon, dragon fruit and pineapple mingled with peanuts and tossed in a homemade sauce. Next up was grilled lobster and shrimps served with peanut sauce and Nam Jim, a classic Thai dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, dried chilies and fresh herbs. Basically, it's everything you love about Thai food in a cute little bowl that had me licking my fingers.

However, I decided to put Sweet Basil's Thai cred to the test and see if they got the basics right. Because experimenting is fine, but you can’t go wrong with the basics and the classics. And I might get a bit picky, since I have climbed the flavour mountain before. So, I bypassed the never-ending options on the menu and went straight for the Tom Yum and Pad Thai, the two dishes that practically define Thai cuisine – the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West of Thai food.

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Tom yum soup

The spicy, sour, and surprisingly sweet Tom Yum soup with celery, lemongrass, galangal, onion, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, bird’s eye chilli, coriander and tomato had me slurping like nobody’s watching. It was spicy enough to clear my sinus, but with enough lemongrass to make me wonder if I was in a spa. The Tom Kha soup with similar ingredients in addition to coconut milk drizzled with roasted chilli oil didn’t disappoint either.

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Pad Thai

However, the Pad Thai served here had me staring at the plate in disbelief. It doesn’t look like what I’ve had in Bangkok, and definitely wasn't rocking that funky umami flavour bomb. For a moment, it did make me question the authenticity of it. The chef comes over, all smiles, and explains that her Pad Thai recipe is straight out of southern Thailand, where it’s apparently sweeter and the umami is a bit more chill. Basically, Thailand's got regional variations like nobody's business, just like back home. So, what seemed like a Pad Thai imposter was actually a delicious treat from the south. 

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Morning glory

Now comes the real star of the show – stir-fried Morning Glory. These water spinach leaves tossed in oyster mushroom and soy sauce with hot chillies and garlic are guaranteed to make one forget about boring lettuce. The crunchiness with the perfect balance of savoury, sweet and spice conducting the whole fiery show left me asking for more. Did it make me sweat? Absolutely. Did I need a whole lot of napkins? Yes. Will I order it again? In a heartbeat!

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Goon Ob Woon Sen (steamed prawns with glass noodles)

When they say the steamed prawns with glass noodles (Goon Ob Woon Sen) come with a generous amount of ginger, they mean it. It’s literally a ginger love letter to your taste buds, where the garlic, coriander root, celery and other ingredients served with spicy sauce take a backseat. Peppercorns and sesame oil? Well, they were all there, but kinda whispering in the corner. Because all I could taste was ginger and glass noodles. A little less ginger and this dish would be a straight-up 11/10.

The only thing missing from this feast was a sweet ending with a bang.

While most will assume that a native Thai chef is bound to whip up a life-changing Morning Glory or a Tom Yum soup, it's not the case always. A Thai passport doesn’t ensure a ticket to flavour town. The cuisine is as diverse as a Bangkok street market, and only a good chef can take you on a delicious journey regardless of their heritage. Chef Sara's got the skills. 

Address: Sweet Basil, Lyfe Hotel, C-5, Road No-8, Janpath Rd, opposite Kali Temple, Bhoinagar, Bhubaneswar, Odisha

Meal for two: INR 3,000 


Photo: Featured restaurant, Zee Zest