THE MANY colors of Thailand are tempered in the sanitized setting of SM Mega Fashion Hall in the Roku Group’s latest offering, Nara Thai Cuisine.

Nara Thai has consistently placed in Thailand Tatler’s Best Restaurants list, a feat, considering that Thailand has recently been recognized by the Michelin Guide for the quality of its cuisine. In Thailand Tatler’s latest review, it earned a score of 16/20.

“I think I’ve been in the food business long enough for them to trust the group,” said Sheila Romero, owner of the Roku Group. Ms. Romero has been in the food industry for more than 20 years, beginning with a Mediterranean bistro in the 1990s, and at present, has restaurants Roku Sushi + Ramen and Sushi Nori under her belt. Ms. Romero’s family also has interests in port operations.

While one may think at first that Nara fits into her company’s portfolio due to its Asian profile, the answer is simpler. “As a family, we enjoy eating Thai food. It’s something that I think, if I bring into Manila, it’s something that could have a premium in the sense that it’s authentic.”

“I’m not saying that the others are not,” she adds, but says that in other restaurants, fusion has taken over or else shortcuts have been taken in terms of the ingredients, or technique. “I want to make it accessible. Bottomline is, whatever we do… we don’t do shortcuts.”

Phad Thai and chicken and pork satay were handed over to guests as appetizers before the official opening last month, along with rose-flavored cocktails, and frankly, didn’t leave much of an impression. The Tom Yum Goong (prawns in lemongrass soup) and Tom Ka Gai (a medley of vegetables and chicken in coconut milk) changed this impression, as freshness and vitality seemed to be cooked into the soup. Meanwhile, a must try for anyone with a hardened palate is the Kang Phed Ped Yang which is roasted duck red curry. The duck’s firm flesh seemingly yields to the heat of the red curry, as if the sauce it came in held a little bit of the fire it was cooked in. The result is an eye-opening, forehead-glistening experience, but the fool in you comes back for more.

And therein lies the catch: not everybody really relishes the thought of sweating during a meal, but, no, Ms. Romero, as mentioned above, does not like shortcuts. Sure, the chefs could be asked if they could add a little more coconut milk or something to ease the heat, but for the rest, she had instructed the servers to suggest something milder, instead of having the heat and spice adjusted on particular dishes.

“You don’t want the kitchen confused. Taste is relative. What’s spicy for you might not be [spicy] for me,” she said.

“My aim is for them to say that you don’t have to go to Thailand to try [this].”

Nara Thai Cuisine is located in the third floor of SM Mega Fashion Hall, Mandaluyong City. — Joseph L. Garcia