Wineweek 146: London Vol. 2

This week has been genuinely uninteresting. Perhaps it was the limit reached on the credit card, or the two kilos I gained during the summer, doesn’t matter, we decided to lay low for a while. Its quite nice. No expectation of wearing anything else than soft pants and laying on the sofa. Thus, I am posting some more pics and tips from our trip to London.  Continue reading “Wineweek 146: London Vol. 2”

The Issaya Tradition

We have become, somewhat, creatures of habit: lunch Issaya Siamese Club is what really starts the annual vacation. It has become a tradition that we do not want to miss, even if the menu is already more than familiar to us. The old Thai-villa, turned into a restaurant is a wonderful experience with modern Thai cuisine and a relaxed atmosphere, colorful decor and extremely friendly service. Issaya also features Chef’s garden where guests can see aromatic Thai herbs grown year-round.  I have written about it several times (here and here), and cannot help myself writing about it again. The beautiful dishes contribute to great food-photography.  Continue reading “The Issaya Tradition”

Lunching at the Club

When planning for our trip to Asia, we did not have much fine dining in mind. However, after looking at the prices for tasting menus at some of Bangkoks hot spots, we changed our mind. An eight (8) course lunch at Issaya Siamese Club set us back only 1500 bath (below €50), so it felt impossible to pass by. After a sweaty walk (45 min in the scorching mid-day heat) we arrived at Issaya Siamese Club. A beautiful green garden surrounding a colonial style Thai villa. Looking at the pictures one could almost think the building is in the middle of the field with no signs of the concrete jungle on the other side of the walls. As we were hot from the long brisk walk, we opted to sit inside. The terrace looked nice as well.

We started of by ordering some cocktails (we are on holiday after all) to cool us down. The list was several pages long with thai influenced drinks. Reading the list made me even more thirsty. I went for the Pandan Cooler with good old ginger and some pandan leaf. It looked great and tasted even greater. They even took the time to make a little origami fish for me to swim around in the glass. How cute is that! For the love of God I cannot remember what M had, but it looked as well as tasted great. I could have went through the whole list, but it was perhaps too early in the day for that. For food, we chose the set menu with 8 dishes to share. It wasn’t the traditional one dish at a time menu, but rather a real Asian meal with food arriving when it was ready, some dishes at the same time, but clearly in three steps: appetisers, main and dessert. In addition we were served a lovely three piece “greeting from the kitchen” (amuse bouche) and some (take-away) marshmallows for an extra dessert. A casual 10 course lunch, nothing out of the ordinary (LOL).

So what kind of food did we have? The amuse bouche was a lovely trio: tuna tartar with Thai spices and chili, a lightly fried and battered shrimp with tamarind and aubergine and chicken with rice omelette. For starters we had banana blossom and palm heart salad with crispy shallots and roasted peanuts, slowly cooked ribs and grilled beef with fresh herbs and vegetables in charred birds eye chili vinegarette. After the starters, we got a small raspberry sorbet to freshen us up and to cleanse the pallate. For mains we were served some lovely lamb shank with massaman curry, volcano chicken (they set the chicken on fire) and tiger prawns with house pepper mix and holy basil. As a side we were served a lovely smoky multigrain rice in hot pot. The dishes made a wonderful combination. Ok at this point I was stuffed with dessert still to come. Luckily goodies go into a separate stomach, and the jasmine pannacotta in pandan leaf was also quite light. I was able to stuff it all in.

The service was really what made the final difference when considering how to rank the restaurants we visited in Bangkok. Perhaps we got some extra attention because the restaurant was not very full that day, but regardless of that we felt very welcome from the minute we walked in. The head waiter took some extra time to chat with us about the food also taking an interest in where we were from and what our preferences were. There was nothing pretentious or overwhelming about the wide smile we encountered every time a dish arrived at our table. If something could be improved in the service it is little things, for example clearing the empty plates briskly after we were done. This felt like the only thing in the way of Issaya getting a Michelin star (can’t comment on the consistency of food though, perhaps I have to visit again). All in all, I very much enjoyed our lunch at Issaya. It was the first ‘real’ restaurant we visited in Bangkok so it has set the expectations for the coming restaurants rather high.

Tranquil Lunch at Fera

I thought I would post some more London memories this week before really jumping into the food scene in Thailand. It was such a short time in between our trips, that I really did not have time to share everything I wanted to from the UK. I must admit, we visited quite many familiar places last time (we often go for new things) but Fera was something new and exciting.

The real hype about Simon Rogan’s Fera at Claridges may have passed as we had no real issues snagging a table for lunch despite poor planning (poor planning for us means not booking months in advance). We opted for lunch as we were already had our evenings full and  to be honest the lunch seemed like the best value for money. If you are on holiday who cares if you are stuffing down food at noon or later in the day – It tastes just as good. The lunch deals at starred restaurants are often much more reasonable than the same in the evening. Ok, I do have some doubts about the quality of lunch at many restaurants. After a friend of mine, who works at a wholesaler, explained what kind of stuff they sell to restaurants as “lunch” products, my lunch-life has never really been the same. However, I believe (hope) a Michelin starred restaurant would not risk it.

The design of Fera is fairly nice, it somehow brings out a calm and tranquil feel and design fits well with the focus on seasonal produce. The set lunch deal is great value at £30 for three courses. There is a choice of two starters, two mains and two desserts. We made sure to order different dishes to be able to try all of it. Looking at the wine list, I was a bit disappointed at least with the selection by the glass. The house sparkling was from Davenport Vineyards in East Sussex for £12.5 (after the success of Ridgeview and Nyetimber, English sparklings have had an somewhat unjustified ego-boost showing in their prices) and the house Champagne by the glass was a Laurent Perrier Brut for £15. Boring and expensive (to be London). The more interesting grower Champagnes, Jacques Lassaigne and Voutte et Sorbee, that I would really have liked to taste, were unfortunately out of a reasonable price range (over £20 a glass). A few years ago, I would have perhaps been ok with just cold, dry and sparkling, but these days I would rather just skip it if it doesn’t excite me. However I must say I might be quite excited of a £15 Laurent Perrier right now, as the lack of wine in Thailand is a bit excruciating.

Before the starter we were served some bread and a beautiful amuse bouche (a single, bite-sized “starter” served free). Flowers, herbs and a cheese, mmm, sounds delicious. Flavor wise it was however a bit flat and thus disappointing. The bread with the caramelized butter was however genius.

The starters offered were a lovely smoked bantam yolk with kohlrabi and a great dish with beets. Both were as almost as beautiful as the amuse but these were also great to eat. Well-balanced and felt fresh and if not innovative at least not boring. The focus on seasonal produce was clear. The mains were plaice and hen. Both lovely dishes and not very small either. At this point we started filling up a bit with dessert still to come (luckily there is a separate stomach for desserts). The apple crumble/cake was great while the chocolate dessert was a bit boring as chocolate desserts often are. Sometimes it feels as if something with chocolate is on the menu out of a sense of obligation.

Service was good but slight hick-up on bill, resulting in a wait and the addition of contribution to a charity. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against charity. But I just hate when they add that on the bill without asking (and then add service charge on top of it…). This to me brings down the marks a bit.

All in all, food was great (with some room for improvement). Next time in London I will definitely consider Fera for another visit, perhaps for an even more extensive tasting menu in the evening time.