It’s about polishing a traditional concept a little, bringing it line with people’s changing tastes while also subtly improving on it.
It’s easy to deduce that the Novotel’s newly-renovated Lok Wah Hin is essentially a Chinese restaurant. Lazy susans spin on tables, under which elegant tall-backed chairs snugly sit, wispy Chinese paintings adorn the walls and the decor of soft blacks, greens and golds leave no room for doubt.
But this is modern Chinese. The crisp, clean lines of both the restaurant’s design and its ostentatious flower arrangements evoke a little of Japan, while we’re told the chef has oriented the menu slightly towards the west, meaning it includes dishes that are technically "fusion" rather than strictly Chinese. Indeed there are references to Japanese, Singaporean and Hong Kong meals on the menu, but they are quite clearly nods to culinary influences rather than confusion over this restaurant’s focus. This is modern Chinese dining – the emphasis is on Schezuan and Cantonese – with some adventurous, intriguing twists.
We commence our meal with braised crab claws with XO sauce (Bt300++ each). They’re piquant to the point of spiciness and sweet, too, in typical aromatic Schezuan style. The crab flesh is tender and juicy, it’s flavour only just allowed to shine through the sauce. I’d like another really, but there’s a whole meal to get through…
The first of a succession of steaming plates is delivered to our table, braised sea cucumber with black mushrooms in a brown sauce. Having never tried its main ingredient, I’m immediately enthused. The cucumber’s texture is not something I’ve been conditioned to appreciate in the west, but after a few mouthfuls I do thoroughly enjoy it – a coinosseur might throw their hands up in horror at the comparison, but its texture is reasonably similar to jellyfish. This particular dish is not on the main menu, but it does appear on several of the set menus, which start at Bt6,200 per ten people (or fewer if an advanced booking is made).
The sauteed prawns with chicken, which arrive in a cleverly made, crisscrossed basket made of taro, are also only available on set menus. The dish itself lives up to its presentation, with tender chicken, prawns and succulent sea scallops making for an excellent combination.
We also tuck into steamed T-man fish rolls with shredded giner and spring onion (Bt300/450/750++). The flesh is moist and sweet, and complemented well by the slightly acidic, salty sauce.
My favourite dish, however, is the sauteed broccoli topped with crabmeat (Bt180/270/450++). The deep green broccoli is smothered in a creamy sauce laden with chunks of the tender meat that perfectly complement the underlying vegetable.
Other tempting items on the lengthy menu include stewed soya sauce pigeon and vegetables (Bt350++per piece), sauteed beef fillet with black pepper sauce (180/270/450++) and braised fish maw and sea conch in brown sauce (Bt600/900/1,500). But we fill the tiny hole still left in our appetites with a bowl of hearty Singapore-style fried rice noodles (Bt1180/270/450++), a positive twist on the typical final banquet dish of fried rice. The flat, wide cut noodles have a pleasurably clean cut; they’d be ideal for a quick meal on their own.
I’m reluctant to venture towards dessert, but our host insists, encouraging me to try the double-boiled Chinese ginseng with hasma, or snow frog jelly (Bt250++ per individual serving). The ginseng soup is delicate and pleasantly light after our heavy meal, while the fluffy jelly is fragrant and slightly redolent of nutty wood.
The wine list is short but competent, with an emphasis on those from new world countries, and several choices available by the glass (Bt195 to 250++). Prices range mostly from Bt1,200 to 2,500++.
Lok Wah Hin is probably more suited to larger parties than intimate dinners for couples, with six private rooms for 12 people each surrounding the main dining area. These rooms can be joined to make room for even bigger groups, but when we were there, the bulk of the diners were family-sized groups.
As we make a start to leave, the family seated next to us looks suitably impressed with the arrival of their whole Peking duck. It’s glistening in all its caramel-coloured splendour, and we can tell they can’t wait for it to be sliced and traditionally served up.
Some things might have changed for the better at Lok Wah Hin, but the best things have certainly stayed the same.
Novotel, Siam Square Soi 6
Tel: 02 2255 6888