Bo.lan Essentially Thai ร้านโบ.ลาน อาหารไทย, Bangkok, Thailand

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Category: Thai – Fine dining

2 of Asia’s top 50 restaurants are located in Bangkok city itself, and since I was headed that way earlier this month, I decided I had to dine at at least one of them. While I couldn’t get down to Nahm, I did manage to get lunch at Bo.lan – No. 28 on San Pellegrino’s list for 2015. Helmed by a couple (Duangporn Songvisava and Dylan Jones), this restaurant came by recommendation of a chef friend’s chef friend (did you catch that?), and is known for serving up refined and authentic thai cuisine.

24 Sukhumvit 53 Alley, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

Bo.lan Bangkok Thailand

Bo.lan recently just moved to their new premises a few blocks down from where they were. They’re now at house #24 on the right hand side, barely 150m in from the main road, along Sukhumvit soi 53. On the route the cab driver took us, the Sukhumvit district seemed to be sort of a grid, with the soi branching off to the left and right, the numbers increasing. It’s a long way in and we got stuck in crawling one-lane traffic through what looked like a low-rise residential area. We’d left earlier to cater for the chaotic Bangkok traffic but were still late by half an hour, so you might want to factor in a longer commute.

Damage: $$$

Food in Bangkok is so affordable, especially with street-side hawkers setting up tents whichever way you look, that even the fine dining experience is reasonably priced compared to other cities around the world. At lunch time, Bo.lan (as well as Nahm) has set menus, which are great for people like us who don’t have a lot of stomach capacity but would like to taste everything. The Prix Fixe menus were 980++THB which works out to about $50+ each, and for each course you can pick between two options.

To go: Sure, but just keep in mind that the menu was about equal parts hit and miss

I love Thai food but I find that after a certain point, it’s really hard to differentiate oneself as truly phenomenal, especially if sticking true with an “authentic” approach. There’s bad Thai food, to average, to good – In general, Thai dishes already encompass so many complex flavours that the “very good”s for me span an entire spectrum from casual eateries to high-end restaurants, but of course, you could disagree. Overall, Bo.lan was a pleasant dining experience, but food-wise, it was a consensus that only a few stand-out dishes saved the day. I don’t know why there are so many rave reviews out there, but I figured the only possible reason would be that they are (much) better at dinner.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

We disembarked the red taxi on the opposite side of the street. Immediately, I spotted a black sign with white letters spelling “Bo.lan Essentially Thai” against the side of a white house, to the left and just above the brown brick walls which lined the driveway leading to the restaurant. At first sight, Bo.lan immediately enrolled itself into the category of rustic decor, with lots of traditional and old-school elements – charming, really, yet understated and quietly intentional. The inside of the restaurant was more modern, albeit a little dark, with dark wood fixtures and black tables.

Bo.lan Bangkok Thailand

Fine dining at Bo.lan Asia's Top 50 Restaurants Bangkok Thailand

Amuse Bouche Bo.lan Bangkok Asia's Top 50

The amuse bouche was Amazing. If there was one thing that I would say Bo.lan did exceptionally well at, that would be the salads. The amuse bouche was a mixture of local leaves with shallots and chilli, but it was the dressing that hit the high notes – refreshing, intense, tangy, and yet savoury, it was an explosion of flavours in the mouth, singing in harmony. I dare say one of the best salads I’ve ever tried in my life, and I made sure to have the leaves pick up every drop of dressing on the plate.

I had the Salad grilled Ranong squid with lotus shoots and it was just as phenomenal. The dressing tasted the same, but I received it without complaint. The squid was tasty and grilled to a juicy and tender perfection. I had a taste of the Salad of grilled Spanish Mackerel with local rosella which was tossed with crunchy fish bits, and that was lovely too.

Prix Fixe lunch at Bo.lan Bangkok ThailandChicken Soup Bo.Lan Bangkok Thailand

Collectively, we had a mixture of mains which I shall address course by course. We had both the Coconut cream based soup with local chicken, banana blossom and vietnamese mint (above, centre) and the Clear soup of free range chicken and pickled mustard greenI have to be honest – both soups were pretty poor. The coconut cream based soup was surprisingly not creamy. Instead, it was thin and very flat. The only flavour it had was a scarce hint of coconut juice, and it did not complement the chicken (or vice versa) in any way. The clear soup was passable, but the chicken was similarly tough and tasteless. We wondered if perhaps the chicken was just used to flavour the soup, but in a restaurant such as this, we expected that anything served to us would be intended as part of the dish. I really would encourage Bo.lan to reinvent its soup options because these really pulled the grade downwards.

Stir fried prawns with paddy oat leaves at Bo.Lan Bangkok Thailand Asia's top 50

Asia's top 50 restaurants Bo.lan Bangkok ThailandFor the stir-fry option, mom and I went with Stir-fried prawns with paddy oat leaves while my dad opted for the Tumeric fried market fish of the day. The prawns were okay but forgettable, and so I don’t have much to say about them. The fried fish was beautifully presented, but was surprisingly limp when pricked with the fork and lacked the crispiness which we were expecting. The flavour was assisted by the lime but nothing noteworthy, and in fact, could be easily trumped by the Thai restaurants in Singapore.

We all opted for the same curry – Red curry with chicken & winter melon (featured picture) because the curry with pork neck sounded risky. This was a stronger candidate of the meal – the curry was a good thick consistency, very tasty and creamy, with the notes of the traditional herbs breaking through. I happily dished out the curry on the brown rice (which was fluffy and delicious by the way), and had it to help strengthen everything other dish possible. The finale was a Lemongrass ice jelly which was light, refreshing, and packed with strong aromatic lemongrass flavour, helping to end the meal on a stronger note.

Zabrina Alexis C at Bo.lan Bangkok Thailand

Poetry by Photography: Serenity

A golden light

Caressing stately, gilded domes.

They reached towards the sky;

the symbols of Christ the Saviour pointing heavenwards.

Victorious, a promise made – a light even in the darkness slowly falling.

A moment – just, standing still.

A moment, of unexplainable serenity and comfort in the knowledge of the time to come.

October 2014, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, Russia

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”

Travel Diary: The Mystery of Lake Mashu, Hokkaido, Japan

I awoke to Lake Kussharo. Pulling back the day curtains, I watched as the soft light of the early morning played on its surface a gentle soothing melody. There was a cream-colored wall to the right of my bedframe and where I’d slept, my toes were pointed towards the window. I propped myself up on my elbows so that I could get a better look. A few white swans hovered near the shoreline where we’d had set up a picnic of Japanese takeout the day before, but besides that, Lake Kussharo was a scene of quiet calm.

Lake Kussharo is the largest of the lakes in the Akan National Park, with Lake Akan and Lake Mashū lying to its southeast and southwest. The region has a mix of natural and manmade outdoor onsens (hot thermal springs) – some of which I thought were beautiful and others, not so. Ikenoyu was right along the banks of Lake Kussharo. It sort of reminded me of an ‘infinity’ pool, and going closer, I could see right through the water to the giant rocks beneath which formed an uneven, overlapping base, while the steam left the surface of the water from above, creating a soft mist. Personally, I don’t think I liked it very much – maybe because it was so quiet, and the steaming water which was an unusual intense blue-green had a bit of an unsettling effect on me. But that could just be me and my vivid imagination – I imagine a whole bunch of people could have a blast in that onsen. Note – whole bunch… (Safety in numbers haha)

Ikenoyu outdoor onsen Lake Kussharo Akan National Park Hokkaido

Lake Akan is famous for its marimo (essentially balls of moss which look like what they sound – round furry green things, but yes, surprisingly cute), and the whole town thrived on the lake’s claim to fame by selling all sorts of marimo souvenirs. Today’s itinerary was a short detour down to Lake Mashū, followed by a drive northwards to our next stop on the Shiretoko Peninsula where we would spend the next two nights. We began on Route 243 towards Teshikaga and then exited onto Route 52, which was a long straight road in an open field with a sprinkling of trees which stretched as far as the eye could see.

Lake Mashū, formed in the caldera of a potentially active volcano, is known for being the clearest lake in the world and also one of the deepest in Japan. The tricky bit was that the lake is also known for being frequently blanketed by a fog, so one might never really know what to expect.

Barely a third of the way on Route 52, I saw the start of the fog. It started like a wispy white mist, but very quickly withered visibility down to 60m and then to barely 30m where we slowed to a crawl, especially nearing the lake where the road had several kinks before it veered left along the left border of Lake Mashū, and also where the observation decks were located. At this point, we wondered if there was any point in making a stop at all because the fog was so heavy, but since there was no alternative route to Route 52 which would lead us away from Mashū, northwards and back in the direction of Shiretoko, we continued on.

There were few visitors that day, and if they’re fogged over most times of the year, I’d be surprised if they got any more than a handful on an average day. The road to the observation deck had been a constant uphill climb which took us pretty high up, and besides the headlights of occasional cars passing by us and down the pass from where we’d come, the drive through the quiet and thick blanket of a fog was a little unnerving for me, so I ended up talking and singing a lot in the car.

It’s funny how the only pictures of Lake Mashū on Google are of the lake on a clear day. Or perhaps, it was with good reason, considering we couldn’t see A THING when we got to the observation deck. Till this point I’d kept mum about the local legion which said seeing the surface of Lake Mashū was bad luck, just in case – but seeing (… or not) the lake like this, I decided it was an opportune moment and happily informed everyone of our fine luck.

So for everyone planning to visit Lake Mashū, this is what you can realistically expect on most days. Unless you like driving in fog and thrive on a sense of mystery, I suggest skipping the stop and turning back around should you encounter fog early on in your journey to the lake. For the rest of you, lucky(?) enough to catch Mashū when it’s in the clear, just forget about the local legion which I’d told you about – who believes that ancient stuff anyway… right?

Baking: StellaCakes’ Pineapple tarts

Finally. I’ve found it.

The perfect balance on the sweet and tart notes of the pineapple fruit, encased in a velvety pastry with the right crumble. As far as I’ve tasted, the best pineapple tarts in Singapore.

I don’t know about you, but pineapple tarts are the hottest thing at my family gatherings during the Chinese New Year. They’re usually the first thing that’s picked up by the guests when they’re visiting. They’re also the ones I love the most, BUT – they’re also usually kick-ass unhealthy.

We’ve never managed to find a store-bought pineapple tart that we really liked. It’s either one thing or another – the pineapple jam either not being fresh or lacking flavor or being too sweet, or the pastry being overly compressed or too greasy. And even if those elements are fine, there’s the ratio of the pineapple jam to the pastry. I like the pineapple in the Le Cafe ones, but it’s a huge gob of jam wrapped in too little pastry and it packs a mad-load of calories. Sure, it’s Chinese New Year and we can afford to loosen our belts, but I’d rather spend it on something more worth it.

StellaCakes‘ Pineapple Tarts have a pastry that’s not greasy but still creamy, filled with homemade pineapple jam made from carefully ripened fruit – I think I’m in love! There’s still nothing like homemade and handmade pineapple tarts. If you’re in Singapore, they’ve just opened their orders for the Pineapple Tarts (you can order online through their website: www.stellacakes.com or drop them an email at enquiries@stellacakes.com).

Yummy.

Travel Diary: Shiretoko Pass (知床峠), Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido is full of untouched natural flora, and the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Shiretoko National Park located on the Shiretoko Peninsula, the northeastern tip of Hokkaido, is probably the prime location from which to witness Hokkaido’s beauty. There’s something about Shiretoko, something about it that’s so innocent, so special – I can’t quite put a finger to what it is.

Hokkaido is a fantastic place to drive about, and I don’t think there’s any better way to go about it besides renting a car and doing just that. Shiretoko, in particular, gave some of the most scenic, beautiful drives – its wide cement roads gently folding over the undulating landscape, with the most beautiful views of the Sea of Okhotsk.

Driving on mountain roads Shiretoko Hokkaido

They said the Shiretoko-tōge (known as the Shiretoko pass) would be quite a sight, and they were right. It wasn’t uncommon for us to suddenly slow to a crawl because there were deer standing right on or next to the road gazing at us, doe-eyed. Not with trepidation, however, but with more, oxymoronically, of a sort of disinterested curiosity – and the humans in the car starred right back. After all, we don’t see many deer from where we come from.

At the highest points of the pass, the scene was still blanketed in white snow. Winter in Spring time, is what I’d called it. We’d pulled to the road shoulder and had a mini snowball fight, after which I hopped farther into the winter wonderland and busied myself with recreating Olaf.Winter Snow in Shiretoko National Park UNESCO Hokkaido Japan

The pass was also the first place where I encountered a fox (featured picture). We spotted it walking on the edge of road and slowed to a gradual halt. I was seated in the front seat next to the driver, and so I saw it approach in the side mirror. With green eyes, it eyed our MPV, came closer, sat, and waited. Everyone was fascinated – a bunch of humans staring right back at a little red fox. We gathered it was hoping for some food (which our car was full of), but decided against it. I stuck my head out of the window to get a better look, and it turned to look straight at me before proceeding to walk along the length of the vehicle, its ears tilted forwards, alert, until it was right under my window. After a while, we drove on. I looked back, and the fox, disappointed, turned and walked off, with its thick bushy red tail swaying into the distance.

Jatujak (Chatuchak) Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand (Gallery)

Jatujak Weekend Market is one of the world’s largest weekend markets, with 27 sections and more than 15,000 stalls. You can find anything and everything from household items, to fragrances, jewellery, food, clothes, and handicrafts (the one shown below is AMAZING). This was my first visit to Jatujak, and honestly, I found it to be overcrowded and touristy. Many shops sell similar things, so it’s challenging to discern between them and even if you wanted to go back, you might just get lost in the maze of shops! Nonetheless, it remains a must-see when in Bangkok, so here’s a little taste (:

Coconut Ice-cream at Jaktujak Chatuchak weekend market

Zabrina Alexis C at Chatuchak Bangkok Thailand

Red Ruby desserts at Chatuchak weekend marketFood at Jaktujak Bangkok Thailand

Jaktujak weekend market handicrafts

Or Tor Kor Market, Bangkok, Thailand (Gallery)

Or Tor Kor Market is known for being one of the best markets in the world selling the region’s freshest ingredients. I was there, took some photos, and so here’s a quick peek around the market (:

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