Bangkok Post reviews
Dinner with a view
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: February 7, 2014 at 9:00 am
A back-alley establishment highly impresses gourmands
At 6pm as my two dining companions and I arrived at a historical alley on the Rattanakosin bank of the Chao Phraya River, what stood majestically before us was the illuminated prang of Wat Arun. Even for us Thais, who've over the past 40 years have been living in Bangkok, it was a breathtaking sight, making a spectacular backdrop for dinner.
It was my first time in the Tha Tien area and with a short walk from Maha Rat Road to our dining destination at the end of an antiquated backstreet dominated by time-honoured wholesalers and grocers I was greatly impressed.
The Sala Rattanakosin Hotel, a member of Sala Resorts Group, was launched in 2013 as a boutique hotel and mainly attracts tourists. Yet, as a "destination", it's a place where hipsters and gourmands locals and out-of-towners flock to for riverside gastronomic bliss amid the old town's iconic attractions.
The hotel's culinary calling is under the direction of well-travelled veteran Chef Tony Wrigley, originally from Manchester, Britain. From a decent-sized menu, of which the proportion of Thai and Western fares is 50-50, diners will find local favourites, homestyle English classics and Mediterranean seafood dishes passionately and creatively prepared with utmost respect to authentic techniques.
The not-to-be-missed ahi tuna tartare with guacamole topping and sweet basil and chilli oil garnish.
It might sound a bit too predictable to most foodies, but I insist that you try the ahi tuna tartare (340 baht). In a usual, cylinder-shape stack presentation, neat cubes of fresh tuna came with a guacamole topping and sweet basil and chilli oil garnish. Dredged slightly in sesame oil, the supple morsels of fresh fish exhibited a naturally sweet taste that intermingled perfectly with the velvety, well-seasoned avocado to give a memorable mouthfeel complemented by a pleasant sharp tang from very fine slices of the bird's eye chillies and drops of lime juice.
Next up, yum puu nim tod mamuang, or described on the menu as tempura soft-shell crab and green mango salad with roasted cashews, Thai herbs, chillies and lime dressing (290 baht) was also delightful. Two impressive points to remark on the English chef's version of this contemporary Thai menu that's been globally popular over the past few years were that the dressing was a balance of sweet, sour, salty and spicy without compromising the Thai-style authenticity and the tempura soft-shell crab wonderfully retained its crispiness without being soggy when mixed with the dressing.
You can never ever miss chef Tony's twice-cooked crispy pork belly (590 baht), which our party of three voted as the most favourite delicacy of the evening. It is a three-day-processed dish, starting from slow-roasting the well-rubbed pork belly until the meat is thoroughly cooked and the skin releases its most fatty content, becoming thin and crispy, while the meat develops a succulent texture. The pork is then left for a day before being cut and readied for the next step, which is pan-roasting to the customer's order.
The pork is served in nice slabs with roasted pumpkin puree, phak bung fai daeng (wok-fried morning glory amazing isn't it?), apple-young ginger marmalade and traditional pork gravy.
The neat platter of khao phad nam phrik pla thu with the works.
To me, every single element of the dish was there for good reason. The Thai-styled stir-fried vegetable that seemed "too imaginative to give true pleasure to the tastebuds" demonstrated a pleasant contrast and perfect complement to the Western fare thanks to its wok-burnt aroma. While the pumpkin, coarsely mashed to retain its chewable texture yielded a mild sweet taste that went nicely with the roasted pork. The apple jam, cleverly enhanced with a perfumed local tang from the zest of ginger and kaffir lime gave the dish a heavenly finish. The combination of the ingredients gave the palate a myriad of wonderful flavours and textures.
We also sampled another of the restaurant's best-sellers, massaman curry with lamb leg (490 baht baht). It's an authentic sweet southern curry presented with lamb leg (bone intact) and served with your choice of rice or roti. A secret recipe of a Thai Muslim lady chef, whom chef Tony used to worked with, the roasted lamb leg is braised in curry for hours until the meat absorbs the salty, sweet massaman piquancy and becomes tender. Also bathed in the characteristically oily and very tasty curry were potatoes and cashew nuts (instead of conventional employ of peanuts), and together they were relished till the last drop with warm jasmine rice.
For those looking for a quick personal dish, khao phad nam phrik pla thu (280 baht) is recommended. Arriving at our table was a neat arrangement of wok-fried jasmine rice with kapi (shrimp paste), deep-fried whole, deboned Thai mackerel and the works (caramelised pork, strips of omelette, fresh green mango and chillies). With a flavour profile of the shrimp-paste-seasoned rice no less than authentic and the quality of the mackerel impeccable, what made the dish better was that when you had it at a fine establishment like this, fine fish bones are not a concern.
Sala Rattanakosin’s al fresco terrace has become the city’s popular new dining spot.
There were seven options of Thai and Western desserts on offer. We passed the likes of mango sticky rice, Osaka cheesecake and homemade ice cream, and went for double chocolate brownie (240 baht) made with Valrhona chocolate, served with vanilla bean ice cream, warm ganache and macadamia nut brittle, which was a perfect finish to a delectable meal.
As a bar, the restaurant has a good selections of New and Old World wines and cocktails, classic and house-concocted. I fell in love with Sala Sunset (220 baht), which imparted a sweet fruity taste and delicate texture from ripe mango and a bitter sweet tang from the alcohol that may leave you tipsy hours later.