A Return to Our Roots at Saneh Jaan
High-end Thai restaurants aren’t a rarity in Bangkok these days, but it is a struggle to find a new one that hasn’t tethered itself to some trendy gastro bandwagon, be it molecular, fusion, modern or old-recipe book revivalism. Within this context, the latest restaurant to add ritzy appeal and culinary cred to Wireless Road’s Glasshouse at Sindhorn is something of an anomaly—a very classy anomaly.
Possessing an air of respectability that makes it a shoe-in for business meetings and dressy get-togethers, Saneh Jaan does have an angle, albeit one rather out of step with what’s going on elsewhere in Bangkok: “authentic dishes amid a contemporary setting.”
Implicit in every neo-traditional flourish and pound of the curry paste here is the belief that progress, the flow of ideas that globalisation has brought, is not all its cut up to be. To put it another way, Saneh Jaan’s heart belongs sometime in the last century. You see it in the evocative quotes by national poet Naowarat Pongpaiboon spelt out in a flowery font on the dark wood panel walls by the entrance. You see it also in the 80-seat dining room just beyond, where pictures of Thai temples, maps of Old Siam and mythical art vie for wall space, and plump banquettes create a posh Thai living room vibe.
And, of course, you can taste it. Former Matichon food columnist Torroong Jarunidanan helped curate the concise menu of around 50 pan-Thai dishes, but it’s head chef Phatchara Pirapak and her team who execute it. Only 26, she rhapsodises about home cooking—the unpretentious sort that owes much to hand-me-down family recipes and absolutely nothing to haute cuisine—and her food isn’t far off, albeit a smidge more refined.
There is, for example, a sweet, rich crab curry wherein lumps of soft meat merge with the creamy sauce and stewed cha-plu leaves to make for something subtle yet moreish. Then comes a stir-fry—Chantaburi string beans with shrimp paste, morsels of pork crackling and dried shrimps—and a som-o salad with crispy succulent shrimps and pomelo from Nakhon Pathom. These dishes are proof of Saneh Jaan’s locavore tendencies, we’re told, but it’s their contrasting crunchy-soft textures and sweet-spicy flavours that win us over.
By this stage, a theme has raised its head—bold flavours made using fresh local ingredients—and it’s only confirmed by the southern yellow curry with hunks of red snapper and a complex, fiery flavour; then a herby mixed vegetable soup, or gaeng liang, that’s as assertive and peppery as a cantankerous auntie. Desserts walk the line between classic and obscure, with the more obscure end including sticky rice with crispy fried fish and mango, and the titular auspicious dessert saneh jaan, which are tiny mung-bean cakes with a residual smokiness.
Saneh Jaan is not cheap (you’re paying about as much for the elegant setting and excellent service as you are the food), nor is it a cutting-edge change maker (no sous vide or culinary twists here), but it has carved itself out an appealing niche in a crowded market. With the tinkle of piano emanating from the lavish cocktail lounge each Saturday evening, three private rooms available, a bar rustling up fruity signature cocktails and lunch service imminent, its already finding favour among a certain strata of Thai society—and those who fancy rubbing shoulders with them.
Saneh Jaan, Glasshouse at Sindhorn, 130-132 Wireless Road, Bangkok 10330; tel: 0-2650-9880; sindhorn.com/glasshouse
Get to the Greek at Avra
The range of dining experiences at our disposal has never been greater, but there’s been a good-Greek-taverna-sized gap in Thailand for as long as we can remember. Yes, there have been—and still exist—restaurants that dish up a serviceable moussaka, but for most their claim to be the real deal is compromised somewhat by the inclusion of regional imposters such as hummus and baba ganoush.
Avra has no such identity crisis. This deceptively spacious, ebulliently decorated standalone restaurant at the Lotus Hotel has a Greek verisimilitude that is hard to fault, right down to the blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, whitewashed walls, hanging clay pots, tumblers of iced ouzo, and, all importantly, the persnickety chef. “Konstantinos Sarrimavrogenis is not just a close friend of my husband, he’s also the son of a great Greek chef,” says the owner Anna Avramidou of her star attraction, who hails from Greece’s second-biggest city, Thessaloniki. “He was virtually born in the kitchen,” she adds proudly.
Avramidou and her team are still fine-tuning Avra, which opened in January. “If the octopus isn’t tender enough, we don’t serve it,” she says regarding the paucity of seafood on the menu, something they hope to remedy as soon as they find better suppliers. She’s also upgrading the wine list; 600 bottles of Greek wine, including an aromatic retsina, or resinated white, from Kechris Winery, are hotfooting it over as we write. And great efforts have been made to offer those unctuous spreads taramasalata (her husband managed to track the missing ingredient, cod roe, down) and fava, among other rare dishes.
The attention to detail appears to be paying off. On our visit, the place went from empty at 6pm to lively by 8pm. And this was a stormy Tuesday night. Avramidou has theories for why the place is buzzing, but could just as easily let the food speak for itself. A mezedes of pan-fried feta cheese comes ensconced in a crispy roll and primed with honey, sesame seeds and orange slivers, while the large Greek salad is shot through with morsels of Mediterranean colour, each one crisp and fresh and doused in olive oil. After these comes a slab of moussaka that yields without fuss, as it should, to the fork, revealing soft baked layers of runny béchamel, tender minced beef, potato, zucchini and eggplant.
Avramidou’s insistence that “a Greek restaurant must have a Greek chef ” might seem old hat in a city where an Australian can helm arguably the best Thai restaurant in the world (Nahm) and a Brit confidently fly the flag for Italian food (Theo Mio), but when the dishes are this comforting, and the alternatives so mediocre, it would be churlish to call her out for it. If, like us, you’ve been sating your appetite for Greek cuisine with lacklustre approximations of the real thing, dining at Avra is like being led from Plato’s cave and out squinting into the sunshine.
Avra, Hotel Lotus Sukhumvit, 1 Sukhumvit Soi 33, Bangkok; tel: 0-2258-2876; avrabkk.com
Glass Half-Full at Riedel Wine Bar and Cellar
Food and drink outlets tied to upscale brands aren’t exactly an unknown quantity in Bangkok these days (think Vogue Lounge and the Lamborghini Café), but the news that Gaysorn was hosting a new wine bar tied to the Riedel line of eye-wateringly expensive glassware certainly created noise on the foodie grapevine a few months back.
And wine is clearly the lead story here, dispensed in three glass sizes from a state-of-the-art dispenser holding 40 bottles; the precise line-up is changed every few weeks. Interestingly, the focus of the list isn’t on the big names and bigger price tags that you might expect from the elegant surroundings; this is the place to find a quirky, eminently drinkable (and affordable) Slovenian merlot rather than something posh to brag about on Instagram. And since the place is open from 11 am to midnight, the temptation to work one’s way through the dispenser is, well, tempting.
But you’re going to need something to soak it all up and that’s where Riedel’s secret weapon comes in. Emanuele Guerra is the chef, a buzzing, fast-talking Italian who claims to be not that fond of Italian food (“I quite like risotto,” he admits, grudgingly) and whose culinary hero is the irascible, unfashionable Marco Pierre White. “He was the first British chef to get three Michelin stars—and then he walked away,” explains Guerra, apparently impressed as much by MPW’s rock-star attitude as by his kitchen skills.
But what actually gets served on the imposing tabletops, hewn from single pieces of wood and as elegant and tactile as the glasses? We start with chicken liver pate, the richness cut through with compressed pickled pears and accompanied by a not-too-sweet Van Volxem riesling and slabs of sourdough from Michael Conkey’s bakery. A further exercise in contrasts is bresaola (air-dried beef), given extra salty notes from caviar and parmesan and a wickedly tangy kick from lemon curd.
Then comes sea bass cooked over pine needle charcoal. “It’s real loup de mer, not the Chilean stuff,” Guerra almost snarls, although he claimed not to be as obsessed with ingredients as with processes. “I think of myself as a scientist as much as a chef. Although there are some people who get the scientist but can’t make a decent ragu.” The fish comes with a Vincent Pinard sancerre.
The main is Australian prime rib, cooked over lavender that complements but doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of the meat, and served with a malbec from Achaval Ferrer, while a dessert that appears at first glance to be a simple-ish fruit salad is taken to new textural heights by an emulsion of fish collagen and olive oil and a sprinkling of edible flowers. To accompany there’s a lovely riesling from Pegasus Bay in New Zealand and maybe a longing, sideways glance at the 36 bottles we haven’t tried yet.
Riedel Wine Bar & Cellar, Gaysorn, 999 Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330; tel: 0-2656-1133; facebook.com/riedelwinebarbkk
The Poshest Chocoholics Guide to Bangkok
World Chocolate Day or what we like to call “The Sexiest Day of The Year” is here! To celebrate our everlasting affair with chocolate, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best chocolate desserts to satisfy your cocoa cravings for the rest of the year.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon’s Le Souffle
For this classic French go-to, the bitter flavour of the warm Guanaja chocolate soufflé (600 THB) is perfectly paired with a scoop of Sicilian pistachio ice cream. With very little sugar in the mix, it’s a simple, yet decadent chocolate dessert you can indulge guilt-free. For those wanting an extra sugar kick for their sweet tooth, we recommend the La Foret Noire (600 THB). The traditional black forest dessert is reconstructed to balance the griottine and kirsch flavoured chocolate cream. Plus, the mushroom forest presentation is simply too adorable to resist.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, 5th Floor, MahaNakhon CUBE, 96 Narathiwas Ratchanakharin Rd., Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500 Thailand; 02-001-0698; robuchon-bangkok.com/
VOGUE Lounge’s Jivara Chocolate Banana Tart
It has been said that the flavours and aroma of the Tonka bean is so addictive, the French even has a name for their obsession induced by this South American legume, one they call “fièvre tonka”. Infused with these mystical beans, the Jivara Chocolate Banana Tart (210 THB) is accented with a smoky vanilla taste, made more prominent with the hazelnut and banana finish. Let’s just say, this dessert is so delightfully sinful, it should be made illegal.
VOGUE Lounge, 6th Floor, MahaNakhon CUBE, 96 Narathiwat Ratchanakharin Road, Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok, 10500, Thailand; 02-001-0697; voguelounge.com/
The Sukothai’s Chocolate Buffet
The famous Chocolate Buffet (990 THB++) at The Sukothai hotel is a true test for fanatics who have pledge their devotion to the cacao gods. It should be a sin for those who haven’t tried. The three-and-a-half hour buffet runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 2:00pm – 5:00pm and offers savoury dishes alongside the confections. Try pairing your desserts with the Chocotini (300 THB++), a concoction of Absolut Vanilla, Cacao White and melted Ducey, for a boozy excuse of an afternoon tea.
The Sukothai, 13/3 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok 10120 Thailand; 02-344-8888; sukothai.com/
So Sofitel’s Chocolab Cracking Ball
The Chocolab at So Sofitel is what Willy Wonka would have imagined if he was a well-adjusted gentleman and not an eccentric millionaire who lured kids to their own demise. Case in point, the Chocolab Cracking Ball (350 THB) lets you break the beautifully crafted chocolate ball with your very own chocolate hammer to reveal an assortment of mixed berries inside. They also offer a Cocoa Rush Hour daily from 4:00pm – 5:30pm; a crash course that lets you eat your way around the room.
So Sofitel, 2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak, Bangkok, 10500 Thailand; 02-624-0000; sofitel-so-bangkok.com/
SEED’s Dark Chocolate Fondant
Another chocolate dessert staple, but for those with a penchant for the dark chocolate. Cutting into the outer meringue shell, customers are greeted with a mouth-watering flow of melted dark chocolate ganache oozing from its centre. Topped with caramelised almond, banana gel, and salted caramel ice cream, the fondant (290 THB) will have you crossing over to the dark side.
SEED, Soi Phrom Chit, Sukhumvit 39, Klongton Nua, Watthana, Bangkok 10110; 099-283-6363; seedbkk.com/
Little Beast’s Passion Fruit White Chocolate Panna Cotta
White, milk, or dark is a discussion to ruin friendships, but here is a dessert that will put white chocolate on par with the rest. The zesty tang of the passion fruit cuts nicely with the sweetness often outsized by white chocolate, giving a burst of tropical flavours to the panna cotta (230 THB). Don’t worry, there’s also some chocolate sauce to top off, so your milk chocolate friend can equally enjoy the treat.
Little Beast, Thong Lo 13, Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, Bangkok 10110 Thailand; 02-185-2670; littlebeastbar.com/
Lady Brett’s Chocolate Sundae
Lady Brett’s version of the Chocolate Sundae (240 THB) adds an extra decadence to your childhood favourite with milk chocolate mousse, salted nuts, fudge brownie and whipped cream. However, the highlight is the Ecuadorian chocolate ice cream that nicely ties all the ingredients together. You simply can’t go wrong with ice cream and chocolate, can you?
Lady Brett, 149, Soi Sathon 12, Khwaeng Silom 10500; 02-635-0405; ladybrett.com/
Lady Brett, 72 Courtyard, Soi Sukhumvit 55, Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110; 02-392-7636; ladybrett.com/
Kuppa’s Hot Fudge Chocolate Brownie
Perfecting the art of brownies is not easy a task as it seems. The crust has to be slightly crisp, while the inside remains rich and moist when you bite into it. At Kuppa, they have achieved just that. The Hot Fudge Chocolate Brownie (195 THB) is a loaded dessert for those who prefer the sweeter taste.
Kuppa, 39 Soi Sukhumvit 16, Sukhumvit Road, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110 Thailand; 02-259-1954; kuppa.co.th/