Thursday 29 November 2012

Bo.Lan, Bangkok

Also meaning ‘ancient’ Thai, Bo.Lan is a clever portmanteau of chef / proprietors and partners Duangporn “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan Jones.

The chefs met and worked together at David Thompson’s, then Michelin starred Nahm in London and share his passion for showcasing Thai food at its best using the best ingredients in the most wonderful of settings. 

What they say: ‘Bo.lan was founded on the belief that the best Thai restaurant should be found in Thailand. Food is heavily attached to the Land and its people therefore Bo.lan believes in following the cooking rituals practiced in Thailand for countless years. By utilising the abundance of natural resources and incorporating the geographical diversity Thailand offers, Bo.lan actively strives to serve Thai food at its very best taking full advantage of the fresh and seasonal produce available.’

Décor / ambience: Mainly because I felt it would be too dark to get decent pictures inside, we opted to eat outside (the lighting more beneficial to romance than food blogging!).

Set in a charming wooden building with a lush tropical garden and veranda, complete with lily filled water features, we found Bo.lan to be one of the most romantic dining destinations of our trip.

What we ate:
Welcome drink – a refreshing cup of Chilled Lemongrass & Pandanus. This drink seemed to capture the scent and essence of so much of our South East Asian travels - most welcoming indeed!

We selected the Bo.Lan Balance set menu, which featured an amuse-bouche and starter; main courses of salad, curry, relish, and stir-fried dishes with rice followed by tea and a large selection of Thai petits fours.

Amuse Bouche – a spicy, crispy  bowl of puffed rice with palm sugar, lemongrass and chilli. Wonderful!

We were served Ya dong grachai dum with sour fruits and pandanus juice ‘shooter’.

Ya Dong is basically a type of ‘homebrewed’ herbal Thai ‘whisky’ (Ya translates as medicine and dong means to pickle or ferment in liquid). It has no set ingredients but herbs, bark, roots and alike are common additions (a less common one is reputedly lizard’s penis).

As far as I’m aware there was no lizard winkle in Bo.Lan’s version, the main flavourant being the bitter ‘grachai dum’ or ‘black finger root’ (also known as black ginger). Re. flavour, all I can say is that it doesn’t surprise me that Diageo have not tried to buy the bottling rights.

A trio of mini starters included, a Taro Dumpling; a Chicken Curry on a coconut pancake and a pickled salad on a spoon with Prawn & Anchovy.

In typical Thai family style, the main dishes arrived together for sharing.

Salad of grilled Bo.lan cured pork and “Ranong” squid with orange chilli dressing – a beautiful dish featuring sweet, spicy orange sauce with hints of chilli and wonderful textures of tender squid, crisp coriander, sticky pork and crunchy peanuts.

Khii lek (casiova) leaf & flower curry with slow cooked “KU” beef in Mon style, accompanied by a pickled mustard green salad. Whereas Nahm served imported ‘Wagyu beef’ (see here), Bo.lan use locally reared ‘KU’ beef – maybe not ‘quite as tasty’ but much more eco friendly!

The Mon are believed to be some of the earliest inhabitants of mainland South-East Asia. History shows that they were exposed to Theravada Buddhism more than 1000 years before the arrival in the area of the Thai and Burmese. Mon cuisine in characterised by a sour taste (often from Tamarind), combined with a spicy and a salty flavour. Saltiness comes from shrimp paste as opposed to fish sauce, which is used more widely in other regional Thai foods.

Salted Spanish mackerel simmered in coconut cream with prawn accompanied with stuffed local flower chicken dumpling. Thai dishes cooked in this way with coconut milk or cream are referred to as ‘Lon’. Again characterised by a balance of sweet, sour and salty flavours, it was great to dip the accompanying crisp fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables in the rich creamy sauce.

Stir-fried squid and clams with spicy red curry chillies and palm heart – this red curry packed a real punch. The clams were big and juicy and stood up to the rich flavours. I particularly loved the bitter bursts from the cherry eggplants berries and the crisp sweet crunch of the hearts of palm.

To end the meal we were served, a pot of Bo.lan Blend and Petit fours.

Bo.lan Blend – I’m not usually a fan of tea infusions but this Chiang Mai Tea with infused with spices, mint, ginger & honey proved a fitting ending to the meal, especially supping it in the tropical surroundings.

Petit fours – theatrically served amid an explosion of colours, shapes and textures, the petit fours presented flavour upon flavour of sweet Thai treats - fruits, candies, jellies, rice crackers, tapioca, caramels, coconut creams, white chocolate nutty clusters. My favourites were the pandanus flavoured jelly and the cone of tapioca peals and coconut.

Service: we found the service to be swift, friendly and efficient. A nice touch, bearing in mind the tropical climes, was providing guests that chose to sit outside with mosquito repellent.

Next time we are in Bangkok, we’d definitely be keen to return. 

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