“Perhaps more than anything else, it is the French chef’s willingness to question and build on the past, to innovate, to revise, that has kept French cuisine pre-eminent among western cuisines…” So says the Oxford Companion to Food under its entry for France.
In Bangkok, it’s two French-trained Thai chefs who are developing French food along a uniquely exciting trajectory. Chefs Sukvadee Tantayakorn and Sirirat Khositaphai have hit on a wonderful combination with their four-months young restaurant Mes Amis, where they serve up contemporary fine French food in stylish yet understated surroundings.
On the Thursday night we dropped by, the 60s-built house tucked away in a narrow Thong Lor soi– its renovation took four months – was humming with diners and the gentle clink of silver cutlery on white ceramic plates. We took a seat by the glass window overlooking a tiny garden area and were immediately convinced we’d made a superb find: Think sleek lines, blonde wood, taupe canvas chairs and soft downlighting, interspersed with oversized lampshades. While there’s something very contemporary Thai about the interior design, the simple short- stemmed single roses adorning each table acknowledge that subtle Gallic influences are at work here too.
After a dry martini that drew a five-star rating and a sweet house cocktail called the Mes Amis, Chef Pooky offered to take us under her wing for the evening, serving a selection of dishes from the restaurant’s new menu, due to be launched within a week or two of our visit.
First came a basket of quite perfect herbed breads, served warm and tucked under a crisp white napkin. Accompanied by individual servings of butter and piquant chicken liver pate, we were off to an impressive start. Jaunty French music – the sort that lets you imagine you just might be in France, without at all being embarassing – allowed each table an intimacy that other restaurants of this small size frequently find difficult to achieve.
Pooky sent us the tuna tartare (Bt320++), a blend of confident chunks of very fresh tuna topped with a delicate roe, and served alongside very thin triangles of crisp yet buttery toast. Next came pan-fried foie gras, topped with apple knobs and a red wine sauce (Bt820). The foie gras melted in the mouth immediately, its richness cut well with the gentle tang of the apple.
While the wine list has its emphasis on the French, it was encouraging to see there are plenty of new world wines cellared to keep oenophiles of all persuasion happy. At Pooky’s suggestion, our waiter popped the cork of a Robert Mondavi Caliterra 1998 Reserva cabernet sauvignon, just before our mains arrived.
And it was an excellent choice to accompany her veal escalope, topped with foie gras and bordelaise sauce (Bt 650++). The veal’s tenderness was countered by its crisp outer shell, then again by the delicacy of the foie gras, while the flavours performed their own little tug of war with great results. More innovative still was the charcoal-grilled lamb chops, served with home-made squid ink angel hair pasta and port jus (as yet unpriced). The Australian pink lamb was full-flavoured and juicy, but the pasta in particular was a real attention-grabber, thanks to its great bite and evocative garlic scent.
On a return visit I’ll be trying the frog legs in a brandy flambe (Bt280), perhaps with an organic mixed salad (Bt190) ,followed by a duck in red wine and prune sauce. On another I might head instead for the lobster bisque (Bt 190), before a pan-fried dover sole with lemon butter sauce (Bt450)… For there will be many return visits here.
Dessert confirmed this. A crème brulee (Bt150) with no dazzle – simply velvet and vanilla – was a classic conclusion that needed no elaboration. The lemon pie (Bt120++), on the other hand, was adorned with a criss-cross of fine meringue, a reminder perhaps, of its dowdier cousin the lemon meringue pie. But the mouth-puckering tartness of the lemon filling ensured that this pie was in a league of its own.
For smokers, the open-air terrace upstairs offers an equally pleasant dining location. Those wanting to linger over coffee and a chat can move up here for a change of scenery too. The split second level also contains a small gallery space, so daytime diners can get their fix of art on the walls along with art on their plates.
This is French food with a solid pedigree – no smoke and mirrors, no trivial diversions on the menu here – adapted for discerning Bangkokians. And with French culinary history famed for singing the praises of change, you can’t ask for more than that.
102/3 Sukhumvit 53 (Thong Lor 5)
Tel: 02 260 6445, 02 260 6446
Open daily, 11.30am to 2.30pm
Sunday to Thursday, 6pm to 11pm
Friday to Saturday, 6pm to 1am
Afternoon high tea 2.30pm to 5.30pm