Gourmet thai with a twist

Although the famed Vertigo Restaurant & Moon Bar seem to hog most of the limelight at the Banyan Tree Hotel, Bangkok, the actual signature outlet of this five-star brand is their Thai restaurant, Saffron, which deserves a lot more credit and attention than you would perhaps imagine

Bangkok is full of luxury hotels with Thai restaurants, that leave you wanting more bang for the bucks you have to fork out for the meal and drinks. Often quite rightly so, such restaurants have you seeking streetfood alternatives to compensate for the loss of pennies. However, Saffron is more than just a simple dining experience on fancy plates, in a jazzed-out hotel F&B outlet.

Banyan Tree Bangkok does have a large eclectic collection of different restaurants and bars, so you would be forgiven for having overlooked Saffron, in the past, but not for long. Located on Sathorn Road, on the hotel's 51st and 52nd floors, Saffron makes for a cultural and educational experience into innovative Thai cuisine. The restaurant's inspiration is derived from its luxurious namesake, the precious and pungent saffron spice, reddish-gold in colour. Around 75,000 flowers are required to procure just one pound of saffron, and the restaurant prides itself on being culmination of 'a myriad of authentic flavours and ingenious culinary skills'.

The art of authentic gourmet Thai cuisine is certainly evident in the cooking, the service and the experience as a whole, at this high-end venue. Wait-staff are knowledgeable food ambassadors, who explain the intricacies of the dishes you order, and chefs are most willing and able to cater to any special food requests or allergies. This makes for a pleasurable and reassuring dining experience, within the surrounds of an elegant venue.

Saffron boasts an outdoor sky deck, which is home to the Latitude Lounge & Bar, complete with smoking and non-smoking zones, separated by a small banyan tree in the centre. This is accessed by a spiral staircase at the end of the restaurant hallway. Since Saffron is only open for dinner, it is a breezy, ideal way to start off the evening, if you wish to arrive a little early for an aperitif and avoid the traffic. With its own selection of signature cocktails, created solely for Saffron, as well as Thai wines, in addition to the regular drinks menu for the hotel, pick a spot and enjoy the fabulous views over the city and chat for a while, as you work up an appetite. 'Siam Sunrays' is a spicy combination of vodka, Malibu, lime juice, syrup, chilli and kaffir lime leaves or, a slightly less sweet option but similar taste sensation would be the 'Tom Yum', blending white rum, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chilli. Martini fans should give the 'Lemongrassini' a whirl, with Smirnoff, triple sec and lemongrass juice. Whatever your choice, each of the Saffron signature cocktails (350Baht) conjure up a taste of Thailand, as a fitting prelude to dinner.

Heading back inside, upstairs into the spacious, uncrowded dining areas, the setting is incredibly calming, with a contemporary Asian heritage ambience. You are shown to your table by the attentive, yet discreet, server, who will gladly guide you through the menu and answer any questions you may have. Signature dishes are marked with a Saffron logo 'S' and items containing nuts are similarly marked with an 'N'. Highly recommended is the 'Khong Wang Ruam' (770Baht), as an appetiser, which allows you and your dining partner to share and sample a selection of freshly prepared starters. Crisp rice noodles are bound around juicy deep-fried prawns ('Goong Sarong Buer Thod'), grilled tender chicken breast satay comes with a delicious peanut sauce ('Satay Gai'), fried floppy sea bass is served in rice noodle rolls ('Por Pia Pla Foo') and also a prawn and banana flower blossom salad is a further part of this menu item. This is not only delicious, but an ideal introduction to this restaurant's richly flavourful concoctions. If you are particularly hungry, then also give the 'Muek Kratiem Prik Thai' a thought - another appetiser of fried squid, garlic and pepper-squid-ink sauce. Thai food is meant to be shared and the portions here allow for no ugly fighting over the last piece.

Menu items that you believe you are familiar with are presented with a unique and interesting twist, but yet, full of authenticity. From the salad items, be sure to try the 'Larb Tuna' (400Baht): spicy yellow fin tuna tartar served with crispy crackers, and a string bean and cucumber salad. 'Tom Sab' soup (330Baht) and 'Gai Yang' main course (450Baht) at Saffron are another couple of signature dishes, which are highly creative. The former is braised Australian beef shortrib with shallots, while the latter is succulent Thai barbecued curried chicken, alongside a papaya salad. A must would also be the signature 'Gaeng Phed Ped Yang' (720Baht), which is an extravagant red curry of grilled duck breast, sweet basil, interestingly accompanied by a lychee and pineapple compote, as a cooling balance to the heat. A great alternative to the duck and a top pick would also have to be the 'Gaeng Kati Pu Gub Bai Cha Plu' (850Baht), this incredible curry is also a red one, with crab meat, but served with boiled egg and Thai vermicelli. There is also a whole variety of vegetarian dishes and desserts to drool over.

To round off the meal, do not miss out on the delectable array of sweet treats. You could stick to the more traditional, such as 'Kao Niew Mamuang & I-Tim Kati' (330Baht). Fresh sliced mango with sticky rice which, instead of the usual coconut cream sauce, has a good helping of home-made coconut ice cream. For a melding of Thai and western, the 'Sangkaya' (280Baht) is a coconut creme br?le{aac}e, with ginger syrup.

After all that, why not head back down to the bar and enjoy a digestive coffee, or dabble a little further in the cocktail menu. Saffron is open daily from 6pm to 11pm, with an area for live performances and private rooms for special occasions. Should you be looking for something special for your New Year's Eve dinner and somewhere to watch the city's fireworks, Saffron will be dishing up a splendid 5-course set menu and live entertainment, for 5,900Baht, or 7,000Baht paired with wine - this also provides complimentary access to the celebrations at Latitude Lounge & Bar that night. Reservations can be made by calling 02 679 1200.


BANYAN TREE BANGKOK.
21/100 South Sathorn Road.
Tel. 02 679 1200

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Writer: Nikki Busuttil
Position: Writer