An oh-so hi-so Xmas feast

Sofitel So's celebrity chef has created a one-off meal of fine culinary surprises for gourmets with discerning palates who want to celebrate Christmas Eve in style

Nicolas A. Vienne has a special Christmas gift for you - and a five-course one at that. Sofitel So Bangkok hotel's culinary designer (no, he isn't just a mere chef) has created a one-off culinary extravaganza at the world-famous Sofitel chain's recently opened high-end Bangkok flagship.

The gastronomic feast _appropriately named So-Oh-X Mas Eve Dinner_will be on offer for foodies with discerning palates (and with relatively deep pockets) for one night only, on Monday, December 24.

The holiday feast will last from 7:30pm to 11pm and set you back5,999 baht per person for a 5-course dinner (food only) or 8,399 baht per person with wine pairing (including champagne).

"This special dinner is based on holiday meals back home, on what our mothers would make," the young French chef tells Holiday Times.

Vienne, who is currently in the middle of an 18-month stint at Sofitel So, has won several awards during his decade-long career that has seen him work at exclusive restaurants from France to China, from French Polynesia to the United States.

"There's a touch of everything in this meal - bitter and sweet, a stronger gamey taste in one dish, a mildly piquant taste in another," the gastronomist explains.

A hint of venison in finely roasted pigeon _ imported from the south of France and served with cepe (or Porcini) mushroom, chestnuts and sauteed green grapes _ vies for the attention of your taste buds with the lingering aftertaste of fine bitter chocolate.

But first things first: You start off with a superb foie gras (duck liver pate{aac}) dish with truffle sponge and mushroom meringue, which would please the palate of even the most fastidious French gourmet.

As you nibble and savour the appetizer, sipping sparkling mineral water or a fine white wine, you seem slowly to submerge, as if in a warm bath, into the welcoming penumbra of the rooftop diner, Park Society, with its minimalistic de{aac}cor and cosy, intimate alcoves.Artful illumination by diffuse lighting lends the home-away-from-home atmosphere of your holiday dinner another touch of the magical and mysterious.

From up above here at Sofitel So Bangkok's 29th floor, where indoor and alfresco dining spaces merge seamlessly, even leafy Lumpini Park opposite the hotel takes on the quality of an enchanted forest in the deepening shadows of evening, shimmering dimly with pools of amber street lights.

Up next on the menu is a warm lobster salad with saffron potato, fennel creme and trout pearls. It is followed by steamed bass and scallops, served with white asparagus and morels, caviar and champagne foam. The various flavors in each dish comingle, intermingle, clash, fuse and combust in delicious combinations in bite after happy bite.

Every minute detail of the various meals has been carefully calibrated for maximum enjoyment. Nothing has been left to chance.

"I think about cooking all the time," Vienne notes. He adds with a laugh: "I even take notes in bed whenever I have a new idea."

The French chef and his team of helpers spent weeks tweaking the dishes.

"We taste everything all together and make adjustments, if necessary," Vienne says. "It took us two weeks to create this full-course meal."

During a trial run of the special Christmas Eve dinner for a select group of journalists, the service at the restaurant is impeccable. The young Thai waiters and waitresses, immaculately attired in their specially designed old-style costumes, are attentive without being intrusive as they tend to costumers with traditional Thai courtesies.

Now and then, Vienne pops out of the adjoining open kitchen, where you can witness the restaurant's chefs putting the finishing touches to each new dish. The head chef wants to make sure his customers remain well pleased throughout the meal. Once he is satisfied they are, Vienne hurries back to his kitchen to carry on readying another round of his gastronomic bonanza.

Such attentiveness is all part of Sofitel So Bangkok's wining and dining milieu, whose concepts have been carefully designed by a leading British consultancy "to offer not only cutting-edge culinary experiences but also a celebration of the art of living," in the words of management.

The final dish of the evening, the festive pigeon, is a real treat.

The dessert, gingerbread pudding with caramel ice cream and fresh berries, too, proves to be a fount of savory surprises. No, clearly this is not the time to worry about bulging waistlines as you tuck into it.

"Christmas is about surprises and we want to surprise our customers," Vienne notes. "Each meal should be like unwrapping a new gift."

That it certainly is.

PARK SOCIETY. Sofitel So Bangkok.
2 North Sathorn Road. Tel: 02 624 0000.

About the author

Writer: Daniel T. Cross