Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Our trip to Bangkok

C says:

Two holidays in a span of less than 2 months is quite out of character for us; indeed, we used to be strictly ‘ just one big holiday a year’ people, but lately we’ve been thinking that short trips are quite effortless (depending on where you go), and lessen the tedium of waiting a whole year for the next holiday.

Despite some of our friends raving about it and making annual pilgrimages, Bangkok was always anathema to A, because he’s had digestive mishaps on both his previous visits. I’ve only been to Bangkok once, more than 15 years ago, so it pretty much counts as a first visit for me. A couple of things swayed A to relent from his position and give Bangkok a go – that we would eat primarily non-Thai food, and more importantly, that we’d go with my friend S (or Sexy S, as she wants to be known), whose husband KH lives in Bangkok and we’d therefore be in good hands.

Despite A having a few mini meltdowns, both literally in the heat of Chatuchak and figuratively when trying to explain one of our destinations to a cab driver whilst simultaneously trying to ensure that we weren’t being cheated, we had a really good time. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and while it certainly isn’t A’s top pick for our next vacation destination, the fact that he didn’t try to kill/divorce me after Chatuchak is certainly saying something.

We sampled quite an array of food, some stellar and some a bit more ordinary. Much as I would’ve liked to, we steered clear of the street vendors despite tantalising smells of various grilled thingys and wok-fried rice/noodles, because we simply couldn’t risk being ill on holiday. We did the touristy next-best alternative though – we had our fill of ‘street food’ in the Siam Paragon food hall. In addition to typical food court offerings, they have an entire section devoted to reproducing street snacks, so even though it may not be as good as the real (dirty) thing, at least you can indulge without fear.

Amongst the things I sampled, the grilled pork neck slices really stood out, as did the grilled shoyu corn and the crisp wafer-like snacks filled with ribbons of sweet egg (although for this snack, the one at the top floor of MBK was better).

Our one experience with Thai food was at Tongue Thai, near the Oriental. It came recommended by guidebooks as well as friends of friends, but it was quite disappointing – I preferred A-Roy Thai back home! Maybe it’s because we were there late-ish (after 1 pm), but quite a number of items that we wanted to order were sold out. And what we did have wasn’t bad, just a bit lacklustre. The most memorable dish was actually dessert – the giant banana fritter drizzled with honey.

Our seafood experience came in the form of Je-Ngor Seafood Restaurant. This was S’s recommendation, and the style was actually Chinese-Thai. I especially liked how they did the kangkong – they only served the stems, not the leaves, and these were shredded into ribbons and stir-fried with garlic. The grilled seabass with rocksalt was also a winner, as was the crab fried with garlic and black pepper.

Unsurprisingly, our non-Asian meals were the more memorable ones. Le Bouchon was memorable for reasons other than the food… I was really looking forward to dinner here, having read rave reviews about both the food and the ambience. The ambience is certainly quaint – the restaurant seats no more than twenty, it’s incredibly dim inside and the menu is written on two chalkboards which they take off the wall and place on your table when you’re ready to order.

I don’t even have a problem with the restaurant being situated in the heart of Patpong, Bangkok’s red-light district, because I think it adds character. What I do have a problem with, is finding the damn street to begin with, and noticing the tiny “Le Bouchon” signboard tucked away behind an exotic lingerie stall. S and KH – our hearty apologies for dragging you both into town on a Friday night, braving traffic, rain and non-existent street signs.

Food-wise, Le Bouchon is rustic French, and quite the polar opposite of Nicolas. These are really old-school dishes, and while some were tasty, they lacked a certain finesee and refinement. The escargots were good, but when KH’s frog’s legs arrived, they were essentially prepared the same way and tasted almost identical. Some dishes were alright, like the foie gras ravioli and the chicken liver and mushroom salad, but weren’t outstanding, and some were just downright bad, like A’s scallop ravioli and S’s scallop gratin.

Thankfully, towards the end of the trip we had better luck. We found ourselves at Tapas Café in Sukhumvit, where we had an absolutely wonderful late lunch. Maybe there’s just something about having tapas on vacation. We ordered about 8 tapas between the 3 of us, and almost all of them were delicious. We had a whole array, ranging from fried eggplant with iberico ham, scallops, octopus, grilled prawns, and toasts with iberico and tomato pate with honey, all of which were good but the simplest one – grilled pork loins – turned out to be the best.

I think Tapas Café rivals Biscotti as our best meal of the trip. Biscotti is located in the Four Seasons, so you can expect that it’s one of Bangkok’s higher-end Italian restaurants. We therefore decided to go at lunchtime so that we wouldn’t have to dress up or feel too out of place. Service was wonderful and made us feel right at home, and the food was to die for.

The menu here is both interesting and accessible – the ingredient pairings are innovative, yet it doesn’t feel as though they’re trying too hard, or trying to use different ingredients just to make a statement. Even the complimentary bread had a twist, served with half a head of roasted garlic that you can use as a spread. We passed on the Express Lunch (their version of a weekday lunch set) and instead ordered all the items that had the chef’s hat (Biscotti favourites) next to them.

The Roasted Scallop and Porcini Salad was very simple but well-executed. I like that they didn’t try to overwhelm the flavours of the ingredients with any fancy or overpowering dressings. The foccacia is their house specialty – Foccacia with Mascarpone Cheese and Truffle Oil. I expected this to be very heavy but to our pleasant surprise, it was light and crisp and almost like a crepe. This tasted as good as you can imagine.

Pastas here come in two sizes – small and regular. We decided to try as many things as possible, so we had 3 small pastas. First was a home-made Fettucine with Parma Ham, Mushrooms, Truffle Essence and Parmesan. The pasta was silky-smooth but maybe a bit overcooked. A liked this dish but I found it a tad too reminiscent of pesto sauce.

It’s a hard fight which of the next two pastas was my favourite. The Squid Ink Angel Hair with Scallops, Shrimps, Sprouts and Garlic Cream was again very simply prepared but all the individual ingredients just complemented one another really well. The sauce had subtle hints of both seafood and garlic, without either being too overwhelming.

I tend not to order risottos because they can be a bit jelak, but because this was a small portion I decided to try the Risotto with Saffron and Asparagus with Pan-Seared Duck Liver. I’m glad I did cos this was really good. The asparagus added crunch so it wasn’t too monotonous, and even A, a non foie gras connoisseur, had to admit that the duck liver here was really good – crisp outside and almost melting inside.

Dessert was a chocolate parfait, which was almost like a mousse, and those scallop-like things are actually slices of caramelised banana.

Well, there you have it. We’re definitely coming back to Bangkok but probably not in the immediate future, since A would rather go to Hong Kong again or Bali for our next short trip. But on our return visit, Tapas Café and Biscotti are definitely on our list, and maybe we’ll give W’s other Italian recommendations a try.

PS: Again, give us a shout if you want the contact details of any of these joints.

A says:

I went to Bangkok when I was 10 and got severe food poisoning.

I went to Bangkok when I was 20 and got severe food poisoning.

I went to Bangkok this time and only got a bit of indigestion.

Our best meals were at Tapas Café and Biscotti. I’d definitely return to those. I also wouldn’t mind eating at any of the high end food halls.

Je-Ngor Seafood Restaurant is interesting and not bad. It’s just not my thing.

We were well serviced by the thai girls at Le Bouchon (heh heh). But seriously, the service is very surprisingly good. Too bad the food can be hit or miss. Half our dishes were great, the other half very so-so.

So my verdict for Bangkok - I’m willing to return, but no more markets for me for awhile. I’ll stick to Siam Paragon, Central World and Emporium.


Anonymous said...

I don't remember seeing that fantastic food at Siam Paragon!! Must go again!!

Alicia said...

OMG! I adore the foccacia from Biscotti with mascarpone and truffle oil. Seriously I would go back to bangkok just for that.

Have eaten at Biscotti twice just because of it. hahaha. . The bread appetizer is also seriously good with or without olive oil/balsamic. Too bad that I'm heading to hong kong or would book another trip to bangkok.

Anonymous said...

You din try Zanotti's?!? W

Anonymous said...

I am so pleasantly surprised! Bangkok is fabulous and Siam Paragon is fantastic. If you get the chance, try Food Loft at Central. :) K

Madam Bangkok Hotels said...

For Bangkok, I strongly recemmend to visiting the floating marking. In fact, there are many floating markets in thailand but Dam nern sa duak is the original one. The market is actually a canal full of boats selling everything: noodles, fruits, souvenirs, handicrafts, and many more. If you don't wish to pay 1000 Baht for the long tail boat tour , you may just take a non-motor boat instead, it cost only 200 Baht.