A little piece of Paris in Bangkok

No one knows better than the French how to live stylishly and nowhere east of Paca makes the point better than L'Appart

Ah yes, I remember it well. I fell under the spell of Parisian apartments when I joined a friend on a cross-channel visit to a distant cousin of his and found myself inside one around the corner from Pigalle, surrounded by young arty types. This was how life should be, I strongly felt. But I'd never had the opportunity to repeat the experience until I recently visited L'Appart, Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit's top-floor restaurant bar conceived in the same spirit.

Well, a bit more upscale, actually. It's a clever idea because it's a bit voyeuristic, like being welcomed into the inner sanctum of Parisian chic.

Its inspiration are a couple of fictional characters; the wealthy owner of the apartment and his hedonistic nephew who both use it for decadent parties. The actual design is in the definitive style of Baron Haussmann, the civic planner most responsible for the rebuilding of Paris in the 1860s. PIA Interior Co's interpretation creates a refined atmosphere with beautiful bespoke furniture, including a renowned Le Cornue stove.

Set on the 32nd floor of the hotel, at the front is a long, sensual bar with an adjoining outdoor terrace that enjoys a magnificent view of Bangkok. Further round, there's a library' where you can eat and/or pull down one of many multi-lingual books. This segues into elegant dining areas where Renoir prints intermingle with photos of the legendary crooner Serge Gainsbourg ('Je t'aime' with Jane Birkin was one of his hits) and other choice art items. Then there's the main dining room with a chateau feel to it, from its echoing wooden floor to its half-wall cladding and French windows.

Finally you come to the open kitchen with regal black and white floor tiling. Pride of place is taken by a shiny multi-faceted cooking range. To one side is a private dining room.

Your choice of seating will be determined by whether you are going to drink first and eat later or simply eat or drink. The idea is to feel at home, so you can wander around to start, appreciating some of the art on display before flopping down wherever you fancy. Someone in a saucy French waitress getup will be along to show you the menu before you can say 'moi non plus'.

As storied as it is, there is nothing stuffy about L'Appart. The roof top bar brings together sophisticated soirees with contemporary club culture. Tapas accompany expertly mixed, dramatically hued cocktails. Gainsbourg makes up only a tiny portion of the soundtrack (though he's still worth listening too) and DJs spin the latest lounge tracks from 9pm.

There's nothing cliched about the cuisine either. In Jeremy Tourret, the restaurant has a culinary maestro who likes to create, as well as having a consummate command of the classics. He joins the enterprise with extensive experience in 2 and 3 Michelin-star restaurants.

The main menu presents soups, starters and main courses, cheeses and desserts. Signature items are maintained but a changing menu offers a palette of fresh seasonal produce bought from the market.

I tried Mediterranean bouillabaisse rock fish soup (450), a large upturned sun hat of a soup dish with the head part filled with a saffron coloured, chunky broth in the middle of which was a tennis-ball size frisson of lemon confit. The brim of the plate was dusted with lemon zest and set with puff Japanese pearl with rouille, a sauce with the consistency of mayonnaise but made with olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and chilli. These were spiked with green shoots to look like daisies.

Indeed the cuisine is not to be upstaged by the ambience. Chef emphasises the importance of the visuals because that, he says, is how the experience of eating begins.

We skipped the starters but the list is impressive. The likes of Ocean trout tartar, dill whipped cream, French beans and artichokes (540) and Goat cheese ravioli, honey, coconut and lemongrass foam (400) sounded especially enticing.

However, we wanted to try a new dish of Jeremy's that is causing a mild sensation in local culinary circles: Brown sea crab, scrambled eggs espuma, spring onion, Poo Pad Pong curry style. The dish is prepared from the bottom up in a round glass bowl set atop a granite plinth, rock salt, a crab shell and a leaf. In the bottom goes black squid ink risotto, then the curried crab (no shell) and then the espuma of scrambled eggs. Finally, a garnish of Chiang Mai mauve and yellow pansies and green shoots and a dusting of orange paprika. I must admit I had my reservations but these were dispelled on the first mouthful. Light, creamy, mildly curry-flavoured and substantial, its great popularity needed no further explanation.

As for something 'from the field', I elected for Panfried lamb filet, citrus essence, baby vegetables 'cocotte' and rosemary juice (1,950). This was a magnificent maw of meat rolled in basil, so resembling moss on a log, and then seared medium rare. Beside this was a beautifully arranged poesy of winter vegetables - carrot, zucchini, asparagus and green beans set with pansy flowers and balls of lemon foam so that it looked like a laurel fit for Titania. The rich jus was the result of hours of distillation of the lamb juices with lemon and rosemary. Altogether a clean and fresh way to enjoy lamb.

The restaurant also offers an excellent selection of cheeses, ranging from Pont Le{aac}vesque to Camembert with several rarer items in between. The French custom of taking cheese after entrees and before dessert is encouraged by the cute trolley from which they are served accompanied by dried fruits and nuts. A selection platter is offered at 480.

For dessert, though not in season, we chose Mango crumble, crispy raz el hanout, jelly and spicy mousse. I had envisaged apple crumble made with mango but that was not this. This was a deconstructed crumble, with the crunch in the form of balls whose intriguing spicing proved a divine combination with the various mango versions, especially the sherbet. Again a beautiful plate that tasted even better.

Opening Hours:

Daily

Dinner:!7:00 pm. to 10.30 pm.

Bar:!!5:00 pm. to 01:00 am.

Tapas:!5:00 pm. to midnight

Dress Code : Chic casual

L'Appart Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit
Tel: 02 126 9999 ext. 3354 e-mail: h5213-fb3@sofitel.com

About the author

columnist
Writer: Noel Maclean
Position: Holiday Time writer