My Bo.lan tasting menu printed on heavy stock and an elephant-shaped swizzle stick from a Sofitel bar in Hua Hin were two of the odder things that went missing from my suitcase during baggage handling ($50 USD and my mobile phone with the adorable custom banh mi photo cover were the more ire-inducing, less unusual theft targets).
While photos and taste memories (ugh, I kind of hate that phrase) are valuable, I often rely on the printed word for dish details, especially when describing complex items with numerous ingredients. That's why I've left Bo.lan as my final vacation meal revisit (also, I get extremely pissed whenever I think about my stolen items because I have anger management problems).
This was the one and only truly upscale meal during this two-week-jaunt. If I've learned anything from traveling—I picked this up immediately on my first Asia visit to Thailand in 2003—it's that just because you can afford to indulge in fine dining (there's a thrill to having an exchange rate work in your favor) it doesn’t mean that's a good use of your time and stomach. I've always had more memorable meals in casual surroundings, especially in Thailand where high end tends to be French, Italian or toned-down beautifully garnished Thai amidst teak, reflecting pools and silk pillows.
Bo.lan, the product of a youngish couple, two chefs who worked at David Thompson’s Nahm in London, managed to present traditional cuisine in creative ways without muddying the end result or boring to death. Not easy.
I was skeptical after reading some unfavorable online chatter. Not another all style no substance fancy restaurant with prices to match. But it wasn't at all.
My only minor criticism, was that there was just too much food, a rare complaint. (Maybe I shouldn't have had that MOS Burger late lunch.) The tasting menu went well beyond tastes; the portions were generous for two and didn't come in courses-for-one Western-style, but all at once, was more like an amazing potluck. Dishes to dig into were everywhere: soups, herbs, dips, stir-fries. Not everything got enough attention from us.
I thought this was an amuse, but it was more of a pre-palate cleanser. The green liquid is pandan, juice, Thai whiskey in the background and a chile salt scattered along the front of the plate.
These were the amuses, five in all, quite a bit of amusement. The mixture in the glass was full of baby herbs and quite bitter, the creamy panang-type curry in the shell next to it balanced it out.
Crab dip, coconut-milky not cheesy, with big fat chunks of seafood. The dip-ins included okra, tiny eggplants, water apple (I'd never encountered so much water apple in a two-week period) mystery gnarly herbs and buds, a two slices of a battered, fried sausage. This, and the following main dishes were served with a scoop of jasmine rice and chewy red rice (you can have one or both).
Rabbit is not a meat I think of in Thai cuisine. But here it is paired with winter melon in a red curry. I wish I could chiffonade my lime leaves that fine.
A salty crayfish dish mixed with ground pork.
Eggplant salad with duck eggs and giant prawns. I'm remembering backwards, but I enjoyed this more than the smoked eggplant in a similar vein that I had at Fatty 'Cue recently.
A soup of your choosing (there were three options) comes at the same time as the main courses so it's hard to know what to focus on. My smoked fish soup was lukewarm before I got around to sipping it.
Rock sugar, cinnamon and fresh fruit strips in syrup. Cooling and slippery.
James and I were given different dessert samplers. His contained more cakey items and was dare I say, more masculine? Mine felt lighter and fruitier. Longans, a taro chip in the back, a sweetened coconut milk broth topped with a thicker crunchy chip and a spoonful of pandan jam and coconut shreds. I was having a hard time working through this, though I can always make room for pandan and coconut.
But it wasn't the end. The sweets were just too much. We stuffed some mini meringues and palm sugar caramels into our pockets. They were a nice surprise to find the following morning.
Bo.lan * 42 Soi Pichai Ronnarong Sukhumvit 26, Bangkok, Thailand