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 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.
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.
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.
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 green. I 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.
For 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.