HK: Bangkok's Bo.lan pop-up resto in Hong Kong
See Asia Tatler Dining news:
Those living in HK know you can find 'okay' Thai food but nothing of this quality. Such a great restaurant in Bangkok and fantastic that Vanessa at Amateur Gourmet has organised this pop-up restaurant for a few days in early May.
To view the details you'll need to join Amateur Gourmet (free). Many events already full but I see plenty of places on a couple of days. I think it's really good price for what it is as it's a cost-covering event, not a for-profit event.
Perhaps a mini Chow meet? Days with availability are Thu 3-May and Sun 6-May. Unfortunately the lunchtime cooking classes over the weekend are full but you can always go on the waiting list.
I've already signed up to Wed (full) but also thinking Thu 3-May if any CH people go -- let me know if you sign up and I'll do the same.
re: Curt the Soi Hound
These "Bo.lan in HK" events are not an expansion. AG is a free HK-based meetup group with 300+ members. They organise food-related events, usually many per week, so quite prolific - like a constant stream of chow meets. Everyone loved Bo.lan in Bangkok and Vanessa (volunteer who leads AG) worked hard over a long period to get Bo.lan to visit HK on a cost-covering basis to run dinners and workshops for AG members. They are here on AG's invitation and I think it's great they're taking time out to do this.
As for mixed reviews, I'm not surprised. Bangkok if full of great Thai food at low prices. Bo.lan has taken a unique approach and elevated to a fine dining level, while maintaining traditions, but at fine dining prices. In Bangkok, this is a bold business model to convince people their food is so much better it's worth paying more for. Despite this business challenge, the food is undeniably great. These chefs were David Thompson's crew at Michelin-starred Nahm in London.
As mentioned in my post, in contrast to your situation, Hong Kong is NOT full of great Thai food. This is an opportunity for HK'ers to try elevated Thai food which just isn't here. In addition, the dinners will be held in Corner Kitchen which is essentially a training venue so attendees will have full view of what's going on in the kitchen.
NOTE: This isn't for the benefit of Bo.lan or AG. This is being organised in good faith at the lowest possible cost (~HK$700ph) to allow food fanatics in HK to experience Bo.lan's approach to Thai food. The owners of Bo.lan could have taken a well-deserved vacation but are doing this for us instead.
Just checked and all lunch workshops (10 heads) and dinners (20 heads) are full except:
Thu 3-May has 5 spots left
Sun 6-May has 12 spots left
Having said this, some people inevitably drop out so it's worth going on the waiting list if keen on full events.
re: Curt the Soi Hound
Geez Curt, I've seen your posts over time and you're usually quite thoughtful. Trying to do something cool for HK foodies and you're dumping on it with troll-ish one-liner responses. Mate, come one, give us a break.
I totally get it -- you're living in Bangkok and someone getting excited about an over-hyped local restaurant which opened a few years ago makes you cringe. Not really relevant to the HK'er which this is aimed at. I also understand, and share, your reverence toward the humble cook-with-a-heart (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8348...). That's the food I mostly seek out but high-end chefs are part of the foodie spectrum which I personally don't dismiss. Paying high prices is not just for the clueless or the snob - it's sometimes necessary if you want to fully explore a cuisine.
Anyway, back to Bo.lan - they're not taking the piss, there's a lot of thought behind what they do. Based on your remarks, I've searched and searched and find most professional reviews are very positive. Personal reviews are mixed but I think BK Magazine explains this well:
"This is Thai food for connoisseurs who want to be pleasantly surprised (as opposed to comforted) by what’s on their plate. You’re welcome to bring your visiting friends, but be warned, they probably won’t even get it."
I am with you p0lst3r it is a good initiative and I will try to get here in Hk.
We ate at Bo.lan last year and I thought it good - and we ain't Thai novices. Cheap street can be good, but it is cheap street food. I get pretty pissed off with the inverse snobbery that denigrates good restaurateur food because it is (well) in at a restaurant, and cost a bit more (Thailand is not expensive). Each expression of a cuisine should be judged on its merits.
Well, I did get to visit Bo Lan the last time around and it was not bad, but it was not one of my favourites. I ranked Bo Lan highly on ambiance and service, but for ME not great on food (not bad - but not great). Different people require different balances between the three, and for me.... it is mostly about the food (took company out of the equation since all the places I went to were with my sister).
For a lot of people that cook, enjoy cooking.... going to a restaurant that produces food that you could well cook at home (maybe better - maybe just comparable) -- where you don't learn too much..... for which you are spending a lot of money on.... is not really that special. (a filter by which you can judge this review). When I go out with locals that I know -- the overwhelming preference for them is actually seafood locations - which I guess is more of a treat than food that they would eat everyday (pork and chicken because of cost). If I took them to Bo Lan - my educated guess is that they would have the same reaction - why pay so much for the same food that my mother/aunt/I could cook for us.
If I pay a lot for a meal out I want to be WOW!ed on taste or at least learn something, even if it is just plating or and idea for an appetizer, party snack etc. For me, that did not happen there (and also my sister, we agreed on 2 out of 3 restaurants we chose - but neither listed Bo Lan in the top 3).
If there was one thing that disappointed me with Bo Lan food the most, is that IMHO they toned down the food -- which is something they would not have done for a Thai (unless of course asked for). I don't like it when a restaurant does that, I actually prefer going to a restaurant and not liking the food - and learning that I don't like the food of a certain cuisine -- than them treating me as a child (personal opinion that can also colour my opinion).
Now for HK, Bo Lan's food will probably be a treat for those that are looking for good Thai food. I also think Bo Lan would do well with there restaurant concept in many countries. While I am in Bangkok -- I probably won't make a repeat visit. I was actually WOW!ed by the food at Krua Apsorn though. I was thinking it was going to be good based on reviews by Curt, but the food surpassed my expectations.
One thing I should mention is that they did ask how spicy and my answer was medium on the first dish they asked for it (based on my sister's req), when you get to "adjusting" spiciness of dishes (which Nahm will not do) is that you end up being cautious and applying a different adjust scale -- to which medium becomes a little bit. I am in Thailand, I expect the same scale that they would use for Thais they would use for foreigners - because adjusting scales means that the communications of how spicy will never-ever work. If I go to a street vendor - they don't do that - they may ask how spicy, or can you handle spicy and then if you say yes -- they don't try and "farangize" it. Of course if they do start to do it, I can see them and tell them not to :o
I can't remember if they asked us, but I do remember the food was good and spicy and had a good balance. I always assume if you knock back he heat you also need to completely rebalance the dish - not easy given how long it takes to make a good fresh paste. Krua Apsorn however was a different level of heat (which I enjoyed) but I see them as places in different restaurant niches - a bit like comparing a good steak to a good burger. Very different price points and not really substitutes for each other.
Krua Apsorn is straight forward Thai. Bo.Lan leans more towards fusion. Don't think the steak/burger analogy works.
My problem with Bo.lan is their entire act. The rolled into town with a barrage of raving press releases. Their website is about the most pretentious I have ever seen.
As far as my "troll" goes, I was pointing out that there is, actually, some dissent from the gallery, plenty of deniability.
BTW, I never go by "professional" reviews. There are too many avenues for deceit.
"You’re welcome to bring your visiting friends, but be warned, they probably won’t even get it."
Gotta love it! If you don't like what I like, you're stupid.
It was REALLY knocked down in spiciness on dishes -- even on the "Stir Fried Southern Style Pork" dish that they warned me was VERY VERY spicy (as southern Thai food can be), I told them no problem - I knew - and had no problem with it... then it came and wow, was it ever knocked down..... It is a dish that if you have a problem with spiciness - they should just tell you to order another dish.
It was not just my impression, but also my sisters.... although my sister does not live here although she considers it her home away from home (lives in a nearby country outside of SE Asia) she luckily does get invited over once in a while to a friend's house who is married to a Thai national who is an amazing cook. She actually tried to get her on a short contract to train the ambassadorial resident chef - but unfortunately she has not convinced her (actually husband) yet.
When I go out with locals, I just let them order the food and tell them order it as they would order it if I was not there - which almost always works out better than me trying to select dishes.... I still don't quite understand the concept of balancing multiple dishes, and of course I will get to taste dishes that I might not have likely ordered.
If the restaurant were located in Toronto and I was living there, I would repeat going to the restaurant (but only when too lazy to cook -- if I wanted ok quality thai eggplants it would take me 1:15 to commute to a Laos grocer that had reasonable quality).... but here -- it was not a stand-out for me.
How do I judge restaurants:
Ambiance: Not that important for me. Of course if the restaurant is set on the water, or in the mountains - ambiance is always nicer. To me the most important ambiance is the people you are sharing dinner with, not the decorations.
Service: Heck, I came from Toronto - although apparently we have better service than in Australia - the average restaurant service is not that high..... not important as long as they deliver on the food.
Food: Taste of food is more important than the other two above.
To a lot of westerners "ambiance" is more important - sometimes as important as the food itself.... but not for me.
Was good to read everyone's thoughts on this and figured I wait until after my time with Bo.lan to respond.
All in all it was a great experience - was booked out solid and we almost covered our costs. Received the chef's (Dylan) shopping list few days before he arrived -- the HK markets have never felt so Chinese until I had a Thai shopping list in my hands, and his requirements were so particular. The Thai produce shops in Kowloon City and Wanchai markets were soooo helpful and we were able to source almost everything required. And at least now I know where to get freshly squeezed coconut cream (he needed fresh stuff every day).
BTW, when a chef tells you he needs 'teenage coconuts', don't google it from work. As you can imagine, the general Internet consensus of 'teenage coconuts' is not what the chef was after. :-|
Anyway, both the dinner and the lunchtime cooking workshops had menus that looked very traditional. There was no selection -- it was just a fixed offering. He varied the dishes a little between nights.
I went to the first dinner and, as for spiciness, the fresh oyster appetizer and the beef salad were VERY spicy. I could see the woman opposite to me had turned red and her lips were swelling. The green fish curry, however, was quite mild.
After the cooking workshop I sat with Dylan and asked him about spiciness. I said that people being served a mild Thai dish can feel insulted, as if it's being toned down for them. And when being asked how spicy they'd like their meal, they also wonder how that can be properly adjusted on the fly without compromising the original dish.
This may or may not be contrary to your experience at Bo.lan, but he said there's a level of spiciness that's appropriate for each dish. Some dishes just don't work if not spicy (guess he means beef salad) and others need to be mild. He says he never compromises on that and they always ask about spiciness level to determine which dishes are most suitable for the diner, not to adjust heat of an individual dish.
I also, cautiously, approached the topic of fusion. I asked if people ever consider his food fusion. He said yes, they mistakenly do. He aims to present Thai food like nobody else - his presentation is not traditional. His actual dishes, his cooking methods, his ingredients are definitely within the Thai tradition.
Was reading David Thompson's pink book and he says "...for the Thai there are no firm rules that codify their cuisine; rather a happy accumulation of techniques and methods that are used to arrive at a delicious result". I take it from this that Thai people have quite a wide spectrum of acceptance. For me, there's nothing that kills Thai food more than a Chinese cook (can't help themselves but swing it towards Canto food). I know, a sweeping statement, but often a source of disappointment.
I'll post more pictures later but here is one of the dishes at the cooking workshop. He liked to use simply blanched or raw vegetables (and fruit) to offset fried or spicy food. I like the balance that provided.
Glad to hear it went well, usually these types of events are well prepared for.
I am familiar with ranges of spiciness for some dishes, the southern fried one (which was the spiciest) was definitely toned down (I have that particular dish in Ao Nang/Krabi area) and Bo Lan did definitely tone it down (it was less than 1/4 of the spiciness of what I had from a local Ao Nang Thai restaurant picked out by locals (did not see any foreign tourists at that location). Generally speaking, southern Thai cuisine tends to be heavy, rich, pungent and intense (very hot -- hotter than Issan). In fact the Bo Lan waitress was quite specific that this was a "very very spicy" dish..... which it was not.
Hm, interesting. Then all I can think was that:
1) they screwed up that particular dish on that night; or
2) he sets the level of spiciness on a dish which may differ from the traditional
If (2) is the case and it's done to appease foreigner's palates then it's a shame for those familiar with the original and would be purely a commercial decision to maximise clientele as, at the end of the day, restaurants are businesses. Does it compromise the dish? Again, if so, that's a shame as Dylan was adamant he doesn't do that.
All I can say is the most common reaction from people on my dinner was how hot/spicy it was. I'm no pussy when it comes to chillies and it was hitting my comfort limits. Perhaps he didn't hold back with our crowd.
Anyway, appreciate your comments as it gives a lot to think about. I'll be in Bangkok in August so will do a comparison as you've done, if time permits.