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Bangkok - Nahm, Bo Lan, Sra Bua, or Rosabieng

I'm heading to Bangkok in a few days for 4 nights and was thinking of doing one meal at one of the fancier Thai places. Any opinion on which one of the places I should go that I mentioned (or others?)?

Thanks!

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  1. I ate at Bo.Lan 2 years ago, and was rather unimpressed: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7612...

    1. If you want "fancy', head to Nahm or Bo.Lan. Don't know from Sra Bua. Rosabeing, although quite tasty, wouldn't be considered fancy.

      2 Replies
        1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

          Rosabeing is not fancy but the menu is extensive which gives a wider selection (and tasty) to try food from. Took my nephew there a few weeks ago (fed him mostly street food and Som Tam Nua since he insisted on splitting the cost now that he is an adult) food was good, service.... well worst I have ever had there. Sat in an area serviced by only one waitress that was responsible for one party of 24+ and about 10 other tables (table of 24 for one waitress is already a stretch).... they were not that great at reallocating resources.

          1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

            Curt - very interesting. Another interesting thing out this week which is "Asia's 50 Best Restaurants" the actual restaurants are many of the usual suspects but the "Chef's Favourite" section is more interesting. In Bangkok they have:

            Gaggan Anand: Chariot, Ktua Nai Baan, and Kalapapruek

            Morten Nielsen: Somboon Seafood, Thor, and Kin Dee

            Bo Songvisava: Soul Food Makanakorn, Ruan Pan Yai, and Xia

            David Thompson: Krua Apsorn, Nai Mong Hoi Nang Tort, and Baan Klang Nam.

            Interested in your thoughts - have they selected some great places? I know Krua Apsorn is one of your recommendations (and we liked). But what of the others?

            1. re: PhilD

              Went to Baan Klang Nam once. Not bad, but wasn't really impressed.

              Somboon has had its day. We used to enjoy their curry crab. The rest of the menu was always inconsistent. Unfortunately, the last two visits, the curry crab was pretty bad.

              Haven't tried the others.

              1. re: PhilD

                Kalpapruek is one of the oldest Bangkok restaurants in my memory. Many, many moons ago, before the advent of food blogging (or even Internet, for that matter), Kalpapruek makes supposedly the best cakes in Thailand. These days, it's a family restaurant chain of sorts - I still go back there - more for nostalgia than anything.

                1. re: PhilD

                  I'm guessing Nai Mong is the fried oyster (hoi tort) place on Phlappachai intersection in Chinatown. If yes, it IS indeed good. But also a tiny storefront with erratic opening hours - have arrived at 8 pm to find them packing up for the day.

              2. Hi Doug,

                This post may be too late for you, but

                I would definitely visit Nahm- very authentic, hard to find Thai dishes (but not for the faint of heart though, because a lot of the dishes are the real thing- not watered down for non-Thais).

                On the other hand, tourists tend to want to try Bolan because it's been so hyped, but it really isn't Thai food. I think of it more as generic Southeast Asian trying to cater to the western fine dining crowd (despite how the restaurant markets itself). I've found it very bland (and extremely inauthentic)- so much so that I can't remember any specific dishes I've had there- they were all pretty unrecognizable and sort of all blended together.

                Sra Bua is really more of a crazy molecular experience with a bit of a Southeast Asian flavor- it's also far far far from being Thai- but very interesting nonetheless- just be prepared for some dishes so strange they might not be to your liking.

                If you'd like to read more on these, you can check out some reviews I've written about them:
                http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-re...

                Hope that helps.

                9 Replies
                1. re: globalgastronomist

                  My main complaint about the food at Sra Bua was the lack of flavours in their dishes - instead of strong, assertive flavours characteristic of Thai cooking, theirs appeared to have been toned down to suit an international market.

                  I'd not tried Bolan but would love to the next time I'm in Bangkok. I'd only been to Nahm London and the food was fantastic, and I can only imagine it'll be infinitely better in Bangkok with the local produce and ingredients being more accessible.

                  I'm actually interested in how you define "Southeast Asian" flavours vis-a-vis Thai flavours in the cases of Bolan and Sra Bua?

                  1. re: klyeoh

                    Yes- I agree with you about the lack of flavor at Sra Bua- that was my major issue with Bolan as well. Real Thai food is generally pretty punchy- there's nothing shy about Thai "nam prik" (chili paste dips), "yum" (spicy Thai-style salads), or authentic Thai curries.

                    Because both these places either lack flavor (Bolan was bland), have imbalanced flavor (I found many Sra Bua dishes overwhelmingly sweet), or use a combination of flavors that don't really resemble any known Thai dishes; to me, they aren't really "Thai". Just using ingredients found in Thailand doesn't really make a dish Thai- it's the combination of ingredients, the right balance of flavors, the cooking techniques, etc.

                    These two places to me are not Thai (at least not from tasting the dishes I've had); "Thai-inspired" perhaps, but they do fall under a more general "Southeast Asia" umbrella. For instance, Vietnamese, Burmese, Cambodian, Laotian cooking also share a lot of common ingredients with Thailand such as lemongrass, galangal, chilies, etc. Even though they do not produce Thai dishes, they still produce Southeast Asian food.

                    You can read more on what I'm talking about here:

                    http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-re...

                    just select the links to Nahm, Bolan, Sra Bua, etc.

                    1. re: globalgastronomist

                      I must disagree - I felt Bo Lan was good, well flavoured and IMO more real than Nahm. Our food definitely more punch than the other two. Was it an off night? Did they tone it down for your guests? (we were asked about our liking of spicy food). We would probably head back to Bo LAN rather than Nahm despite having followed David Thompson from the early days in Sydney.

                      1. re: globalgastronomist

                        globalgastronomist - well, Thai cooking can also be quite regional, so you also need to make sure that you don't inadvertently use Central Thai/Bangkok cooking style as a yardstick.

                        Northeastern/Isaan cuisine is more akin to Lao and Cambodian cooking, whilst Chiengmai and Northwest cuisine share more taste similarities with the Burmese and Chinese Yunnan.

                        BTW, Duongporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava (the female half of the Bo.lan wife-husband partnership) just won the Best Female Chef in Asia award at the recent San Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2013 awards held in Singapore.
                        http://www.worlds50best.asia/asias-be...

                        Thailand's Gaggan made it to the top 10:
                        http://www.worlds50best.asia/asias-50...

                        1. re: klyeoh

                          Hi KL-

                          I agree with you completely about regional differences, and I try to be pretty conscious of that type of thing as well.

                          Personally, I think I know Central pretty well because I've lived there; Southern because we had a family cook from there; Thai Boran because my grandmother and great-grandmother would cook it (and I would be the "pu chuay" (helper)); Isaan because I had a friend from the East who would take me to places he liked and simultaneously tell me why the many places Bangkok people frequent for "som tam gai yarng" (Thai bbq chicken and papaya salad) are so "mai aroi" (not tasty) to him.

                          Yes I just heard about the lists. To be honest, I use the San Pellegrino lists as extremely loose guidelines. I don't really trust them "all that much" from my personal experience.

                          For example, I'm not a fan of the Momofuku empire- I've been to all of David Chang's eateries, but to me many of the dishes are nothing special if you are Asian because you've probably had them all the time growing up either at home or in some mom and pop shop for fractions of the price- such as his pork belly buns or noodles- they're good, but nothing incredible if you've grown up eating them your whole life. His "crack pie" to me wasn't all that. And his higher end fare with some pan-Asian touches, well it's good, but is it top-5-in-the-world (at the time I was there) good?

                          Another example- Per Se- Everything's so extremely intricate and labor intensive and beautifully, artfully presented, service wonderful (as it should be), the views and the fireplace (singular to Manhattan), but oddly, the last time we were there several of my seafood dishes were overly salted to the point where I considered sending them back (but there were so many other dishes there was no point in having a second). Things like that shouldn't happen in a place top-5-in-the-world worthy.

                          I'm also always a little suspicious as well about ethnic restaurants that make the list or get Michelin stars- for instance in my opinion Sra Bua is a terrible "Thai restaurant" if you only view it from that angle (actually as I was saying before, I don't even think of it as Thai), but does Kiin Kiin (the original sister restaurant) deserve a Michelin star? I can see why it was given- Sra Bua is probably one of the more exciting molecular places I have been to- the ethnic touch adds a lot. It's very creative (although not always to my tastes), so in my book Kiin Kiin/Sra Bua: bad "Thai restaurant", but deserving of a star for its creativity on the molecular side.

                          Actually I think I would have less of an issue with Bolan if it didn't promote itself as Thai Boran (ancient Thai) because that is highly specialized and frankly I think Nahm is the only place that reproduces it and its regional specialties with some accuracy. Even though David might slightly modernize the presentation of some things, from what I have had, it is pretty true to form (and my mom who grew up eating it agrees).

                          I don't really follow female chefs so I don't really know how the competition was. Perhaps Bolan is better now, I don't know. But I've never met a Thai who left with raving reviews.

                          1. re: globalgastronomist

                            Yes, many a-times, San Pellegrino and also the Michelin folks award restaurants which offered the "whole package" - for example, Hakkasan in London was awarded a Michelin-star back in 2003 for its slick, sophisticated take on Chinese cuisine (with a killer bar to boot) at a time when Chinese restaurants in London were grungy spots with grimy carpets, cheap furniture and dodgy service. Its success spurred London Chinese restaurants to greater heights, and you won't believe how *good* many restaurants in Chinatown today looked, compared to pre-Hakkasan days.

                            Back to Bangkok's dining scene, Bo.lan seemed to have successfully pitched itself as a serious artisanal producer of Thai cuisine using old techniques - probably a marketing ploy, to differentiate themselves from the many other good Thai restaurants in Bangkok. Of course, they copied from David Thompson the notion of applying precise techniques in cooking, and the careful sourcing of ingredients. Whether they'd actually executed their approach to aplomb, of course, is open to argument. There's no denying that they came up with a great concept though, complete with an extensive wine list, obviously pitched at the "farang" expat or business traveller:
                            http://www.bolan.co.th/wordpress/?pag...

                            I do hope to visit it some time this year when I'm in Bangkok. In the meantime, please continue to write about your dining experiences in Bangkok (and elsewhere in Thailand) on Chowhound - I'm very interested to hear your take on the local dining scene. We have too few Thai Chowhounds on *any* board in Chowhound, not just this China/Southeast Asia board.

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              Yes, their marketing, however questionable, is apparently effective. I think a lot of it though, as you referred to, is piggy-backing off of Nahm and it’s reputation, and catering to Western tastes, and people just don’t know the difference. At the end of the day though, however they want to market themselves, it’s about the food you are tasting.

                              The question of is it real or not real Thai, it depends on who you ask and the level of familiarity they have with the food.

                              And the debate in Thailand about can foreigners cook real Thai food, well I think many Thais who have tried David’s food can attest to the fact that yes it is possible and he can; and conversely, just because one is Thai does not mean one can cook Thai food properly or necessarily even have a depth of knowledge about Thai food, especially historical Thai cuisine or regional specialties, as many friends of mine who were born in Thailand can attest to- they didn’t grow up eating “nam prik” or regional dishes at home because they were raised with a Central/Bangkok palate and/or generally more Thai-Chinese type cooking.

                              I came across an interview where the co-owners questioned their own backgrounds, admitting the fact that she and her partner both only ever learned to cook Thai food through a western perspective (unlike David who I believe learned directly from traditional Thai cooks, and to me, it's evident in the taste), and thus she was reluctant to open a Thai restaurant in Thailand. Then in another interview she sounds like trying to be the bearer of Thai history through its cuisine. It sounds disingenuous to me, but obviously good for marketing.

                              Claiming authenticity or even implying it, when really not authentic (and perhaps thinking they can get away with it because their target market probably wouldn't know the difference), just isn’t right in my book. They should just call themselves “Thai-inspired”, stop making references to historical things they don't really seem to know much about, and be done with it.

                    2. re: globalgastronomist

                      Thanks for the response. And yes, it is too late for me but hopefully the advice can help others in the future.

                      I ended up going to Nahm and Water Library Thonglor while I was in Bangkok last month. Nahm was fantastic and definitely the best formal Thai meal I've ever had. Fantastic execution and great/fancy takes on traditional dishes. I thought it was a very good deal for the amount and quality of food; it was a lot of food though and I was stuffed at the end. Service was a little spotty and they seemed to hover over me quite a bit. I prefer having my dishes spaced out rather than coming all at once, but I understand why they did that in keeping with Thai customs.

                      Water Library Thonglor was fantastic. Not really Thai cuisine (more modernist with Asian influences) and it was pretty damn expensive (especially so for Bangkok), but it was very good if you want something different. All of the courses were great and I'd have a hard time picking out any major faults. I had them put together a special cocktail pairing and all of the drinks were great and very creative. I'd go back just for the cocktails anytime. Fantastic and very friendly service too; a great way for me to end my trip to Bangkok.

                      1. re: DougOLis

                        Ah, Good choice! And glad you enjoyed it.

                        I haven’t been to the Water Library...yet (there are just so many options in Bangkok). But thank you for the tip!