I gathered much material for Thai food; this might yet evolve into a Rambo-quality series.
This is my second instalment about eating Thai off the streets, sitting down in air-conditioned comfort ordering food off a menu. Waiting for food to come to you rather than walking up to it. Haute of a sort.
Thailand is, in a sense, like India – most of the best renditions of classic cuisine is found in the hole-in-walls rather than at fancy places. Like most Indian food, prices are usually attached to ambience rather than to food quality. This can make for a minefield of disappointment for the dedicated foodie – how do you decide visually what is worth visiting? Worse in a country where local reviews, blogs and even menu descriptions are written in gobbledygook. Haute can end up with pretty waiters instead of pretty good food.
The (English) guidebooks’ choice for high thai seemed to be Bo.Lan. From decidedly hippie Lonely Planet to the decidedly snootier Travel+Leisure, Bo.Lan seems to be much in the news with its hip story of imported chefs and michelin-star origins and all in all seemed a visit. A beautiful, lush space suitably tucked away in a hard-to-find lane, populated by the aforementioned pretty waiters and a generous helping of both foreigners and locals – it seemed to meet all the tick marks required for the experience.
Once you’re seated and settled in, Bo.lan offers you (in impeccable English for a change) a choice of a la carte or their version of a set menu – Bo.Lan Balance. Since the Thai also do not eat course wise, the set menu is closer to thali than pre-fixe – a starter thali, a main courses thai and an array of desserts. Put together, the five “courses” of Bo.Lan’s Balance put a large number of options in front of you.
First comes a wonderful drink of rice beer, sake-like, all light amber and beautifully fruity in a beautiful martini glass, accompanied by three tiny pickles and a green drink that I’ve since forgotten about. This is followed by a boat plate of starters, then a soup, then five main courses, a dessert and finally petit fours with tea. Alongside, they offer traditional white jasmine stickyrice (with a twenty baht carbon tax added on) or guilt-free organic brown.
The presentation, as you can see, is quite spectacular. The petit-fours, in particular, came artfully arranged on a spectacular slab of stone. Everything is deliberate, planed, refined, plate designs chosen to match, portions arranged with picture-perfect precision. This is a date place, very much a special occasion dinner.
And of course, I’m headed to the big question – what about the food?
Unquestionably, Bo.Lan Balance was a good introduction to Thai food – multiple courses, lamb, chicken, fish, different vegetables – everything tender and perfectly fresh. I won’t try and describe the menu; I’ve been told it changes all the time but it was wide ranging, well executed, undoubtedly refined - the tastes complex and nuanced. As an exercise in high dining, there was little to fault the experience.
Very nice, but ultimately … less satisfying than the street.
The mellow, refined, oh-so-civilized notes of a string quartet are nice, but I was hoping for a rock concert of a symphony orchestra. Years of chillies and India and days of Thai on the streets may have set my spice levels much above the international norm, but what I like best about Thai food is the subtle, complex flavours doing playback for a couple of strong, distinct, delectable tastes. It reminded me of the paradox of five start Indian – often well executed, but less grabbing, less addictive. Still a very nice dinner, and less expensive than a big night in Mumbai but for transcendent Thai, I would need to keep looking.