Authentic flavours of Lanna
Serving northern Thai cuisine, North is a welcome addition to Bangkok's culinary scene
The last time I publicly expressed my gratitude to a Bangkok restaurateur who brought culinary brilliance to the city was in 2011.
In fact, it was the first and only time in my two-decade career as a food writer. The article was about Gaggan, a few years before it became world-famous.
However, the same urge to share my heartfelt appreciation emerged again during my dinner at North last week.
North is a new restaurant on Sukhumvit 33 that opened in December.
The first of its kind in Bangkok, it offers diners authentic flavours of northern Thai cuisine -- long perceived as lacklustre -- in a Western-style fine dining manner.
The restaurant is the brainchild of a new-faced proprietor, who's a keen foodie and descendant of an upper-class family from Lampang province.
Pumpkin curry with freshwater sea bass and vodka-cured fish roe.
She worked with a Le Cordon Bleu graduate head chef and Western cuisine trained sous chef, both natives of Chiang Rai and veterans in the restaurant scene, to come up with innovative gourmet creations based on Lanna culinary heritage to delight the eyes and taste buds.
Dinner, the only meal offered at the moment, is served in a multi-course degustation style.
Dubbed khao lang, or dinner in the northern dialect, the 19 item menu which is spread over nine courses celebrates indigenous fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices -- many of which are unheard of -- of the northern region.
First to offer a hint of what North's kitchen has to offer were complimentary bread and butter.
Although Western in presentation, they were not ordinary in taste. The sourdough bread was made in house with two-year-old yeast from mieng (fermented tea leaves -- a common snack of the North). The butter, one of the most subtle and original I've come across, was ingeniously fragrant with phak phaew coriander.
Khao soi tortellini dumpling with chicken curry mousse.
Amuse bouche was represented by a platter of sai oua (herbal pork sausage), gaeng kradahng (northern-style aspic) and tam khanoon (spicy salad of pounded jackfruit), each crafted to provide the full length of its flavours and textures in one bite.
The sausage came with a dollop of green chilli relish and a bed of pork cracklings crumbles. The aspic, described on the English menu as a wisdom winter jellied pork curry, was seethed with wild mountainous mushrooms. Meanwhile, the jackfruit salad was presented in a form of a deep-fried croquette capped with Chiang Mai cheese mayo.
My dinner companion, a Lampang-born Bangkokian who prior to our meal had not known about North, said during his first bite into the croquette: "It looks nothing like tam khanoon but tastes exactly like it."
Pomelo salad with nam pu caviar was next.
A dessert portraying Lanna honey orange.
The sweet and dry pulps of Phichit province's prized fruit came flavoured with a pungent sweet, sour and spicy special dressing. To lend a luxurious touch to the dish were flame-grilled tiger prawns and caviar-like pearls made from nam pu, a thick, black and salty Lanna-styled crab emulsion.
Wagyu A5 beef tartare represented the restaurant's modern take on sa jin (northern-style salad of rare beef).
The beef, delicately diced into minuscule cubes, clearly exhibited creamy white marbling lines and was seasoned with 13 kinds of northern spices. For customers who don't eat beef, sashimi-grade tuna and hamachi (yellowtail) is offered instead.
Ab ong or, Lanna dialect for flame-grilled brain pudding in banana leaf wrap, is another local favourite.
Despite the intimidating description, the restaurant's rendition of the delicacy, expertly prepared with pork brain, looked and tasted similar to a very fine and creamy liver pate. The lightly spicy pate was served with sourdough toast and a complementing garnishment of pineapple chutney, the latter of which made the dish even more captivating.
Traditional Lanna khan toke platter.
Khao soi, one of the most famous dishes of the North, was modernised into a tortellini pasta dumpling with chicken curry mousse accompanied by a puff pastry stick and beetroot jam. The photogenic dish, enhanced with frothy coconut espuma, captured all the essential flavours of the northern noodle curry.
We were treated to a delicious palate cleanser of purplish-pink sorbet made from northern makiang plum and Wiang Phing rose essence before the pre-main course arrived.
For that, we had to choose between two options -- pumpkin curry with freshwater sea bass and fish roe or grilled Thai Angus beef with nam ngiao sauce.
My fish option featured a pan-seared fillet of sea bass, a harvest from Nan River, served in haute cuisine style with curried pumpkin puree, lemon basil oil and a vodka-cured roe of a giant catfish. It was a nice balance of different aromas.
Assorted amuse bouche of sai oua sausage, northern-style aspic, and tam khanoon croquette.
For the main course, we were brought back to traditional Lanna customs via a classic khan toke meal. It was quite a letdown in terms of gastronomic thrill to tell you the truth.
On the wooden pedestal tray was a familiar-looking display of nam phrik ma-kwaen, or chilli dip seethed with aromatic prickly ash peppercorns; jin som mok khai, or fermented pork baked in egg; slow-cooked hang-le beef curry; and larb khua, or northern-style salad of wok-tossed Kurobuta pork and herbs.
Accompanying these entrees were an unlimited serving of Chiang Rai jasmine rice and a variety of sticky rice.
Rounding off our dinner was a dessert portraying Lanna honey orange through delicious layers of white chocolate, mascarpone cream and fresh orange juice.
Regardless of the slight draw-back, I still found the dinner, priced at 2,488 baht per person, a very good deal considering the generosity of the servings, the quality of the food and most importantly the gastronomic joy.
And I have not yet mentioned the finale of the meal -- a petit four of Chiang Mai mocha truffle, green tea choux cream, rice crackers with strawberry and glutinous rice ball with perilla seeds, complemented by house-concocted floral tea.
Service, under the supervision of a Lampang-born restaurant manager whose remarkable career profile includes a number of 5-star hotel restaurants, blends northern Thai gentleness with well-trained expertise.
To ensure social distancing amid Covid-19, the 70-seat restaurant only allows 20 guests per night. Hence, advance reservations are recommended.
Pomelo salad with grilled prawn and nam pu caviar.
- 8 Sukhumvit 33
- Call 061-426-2642
- Open for dinner, Tuesday to Sunday
- Park on the premises
- Most credit cards accepted