Benjarong gets it right
Venue's Baan Dusit Thani setting and superb Thai cuisine ensure much more than garden-variety dining
At noon on Monday, Benjarong Thai restaurant was animated by a lovely crowd of diners from near and far.
The setting and location, a historic manor encased by landscaped gardens in the midst of Bangkok’s financial district, provided a graceful backdrop to the day’s mid-day meals.
The beautiful 7,200m² premises, known as Baan Dusit Thani, occupy a residential compound originally owned by one of Thailand’s wealthiest families. Within are a tennis court, swimming pool and a cluster of buildings, which are now home to four dining outlets under the Dusit International Group.
It was my third time visiting the place, and its charm never wears away.
Yet it was my first dining visit to Benjarong, despite its being open at this location for more than three years now.
From left: Clear soup of pork belly and squid; Khai look kheuy.
The Thai restaurant showcases a tasteful blend of two heritages: the meticulously restored German fachwerk-styled house where it’s now situated and the long-established finesse of the original Benjarong at Dusit Thani hotel.
The menu, which has just been recently revived, features a contemporary take on authentic Thai cuisine inspired by aristocratic recipes from the late 1800s to the 1930s.
More than 40 options of carefully crafted dishes are listed under categories including salad, soup, curry, stir- and deep-fried, chilli relish, steamed and grilled.
Such categorising of dishes is typical of Thai-style meal sharing and provides a well-balanced assortment of tastes, textures and temperatures, each lending either an enhancing or contrasting effect.
My lunch was built mainly on the restaurant’s current bestsellers.
A dish simply called Mangosteen (390 baht) was served as a palate-enlivening starter.
Neatly peeled to exhibit the opaque white pulps, the summer fruit, regarded as Thailand’s queen of fruits, played the main role in this southern Thai-style yum mangkud salad.
The fruit, hand-picked to ensure precise ripeness and size, was served fresh under a powdery blanket of pounded dry prawn and toasted coconut. A sour and spicy dressing of lime juice and fish sauce lent a savoury, pungent and refreshing kick to the dish’s delicate flavour.
The following dishes were served almost simultaneously so they could be enjoyed at the same time, with rice.
It was my first time, as best I remember, having a clear soup of pork belly and squid (300 baht), and I liked it very much.
Thick slices of slow-cooked pork belly and fine strips of fresh white squid meat came in an amber-hued broth, a product of simmering roasted pork bones for 10 hours until the stock becomes collagen-rich and flavourful.
The broth was given a mild peppery touch by green peppercorn, coriander and green onion, while an infusion of roasted dried cuttlefish added an umami taste to the soothing soup.
Up next were our curry choices, two gaeng dishes.
Gaeng khaek of duck leg (650 baht) promises to delight massaman connoisseurs while gaeng phrik of blue swimmer crab (950 baht) is ideal should you wish to have something crabby and fiery with a deep-heat soothe.
From left: Gaeng khaek of duck leg; Som choon.
The gaeng khaek (loosely meaning Indian curry) featured a confit duck leg, which was perfectly cooked to yield juicy and flavoursome meat, in a pool of thick coconut-based sauce seasoned with home-made masala and dried candied fruit. A garnish of deep-fried shallots and garlic and fresh som sa orange zest gave the sweet, massaman-like dish a nice aroma and crusty finish.
A generous helping of lump crabmeat and crunchy chunks of bamboo shoots were presented in the gaeng phrik. This jungle-style curry was given a dense consistency and lingering fieriness by green chillies, white pepper and young peppercorns, and imbued with a slight tangy hint by kumquat juice.
If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing dish, then the restaurant’s rendition of moo krob (420 baht) will match your needs.
Crispy slices of kurobuta pork belly were seasoned with black, white and green peppercorns as well as ma-khwaen (prickly-ash) before being roasted and pan-seared upon serving to showcase a crusty skin and succulent meat.
From a selection of nam phrik, we were recommended a choice described in English as a chilli relish of grilled shrimp and smoked fish with lotus stem and bitter orange (320 baht).
What we had, although enjoyable, looked and tasted like a creamier and chunkier version of nam phrik kapi (a very common household chilli relish) with a refined garnishing of paper-thin slices of lotus stem. The shrimp and smoked fish came pounded and presented as a part of the thick emulsion.
My mouth just watered as I was thinking about the scrumptious khai look kheuy (350 baht) I had at Benjarong that day.
The dish, its name meaning “son-in-law eggs”, is widely loved by Thais of all ages. Featuring deep-fried whole boiled eggs in caramelised fish sauce, it may look identical from one restaurant to another, but when it comes to an individual version’s texture and taste, the chances are always unpredictable.
Benjarong though did a superb job. The eggs — of three variations: quail, duck and chicken — were perfectly cooked to produce a crusty golden exterior and soft centre. The deliciously gooey sauce, meanwhile, was a blend of fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind paste, topped with crispy shallots, roasted chilli and fresh coriander.
Four choices of dessert are currently offered.
Som choon, or assorted seasonal fruit in jasmine scented syrup (290 baht), is my favourite and a traditional summer delicacy intelligently designed to beat the sultry summer heat.
Soft and sweet flesh of fresh marian plum, lychee and santol came bathed in the ice-cold syrup. A gracing of crispy shallots and finely sliced ginger provided a pleasantly interesting contrast to the dessert.
A carefully curated wine menu is also available. Prices start from 390 baht per glass and 1,890 baht per bottle. Service was 5-star impeccable.