The River Bar

An overwhelming experience

If you are going to do something in the grand manner, you may as well go right over the top! That seems to have been the concept that was adopted by the River Bar management when they built this gargantuan restaurant. And ‘gargantuan’ has to be the word to describe a ‘restaurant’ that can seat 400 diners.

When you first walk in, the effect is really overwhelming! People, lights, more people, waiters, waitresses, hostesses and more people. There are several choices of where to sit, either open air and along the river, or undercover or in the ‘cottage’ area, which has a raised dais and a Filipino band as well as the sushi bar area, cocktail bar and gardens. My advice is to take your time and wander around a little before you make the final decision. As much as the river was tempting, we decided to go into the covered section (the weather did not look to promising that evening) where the band were going to play.

After making our decision, we were escorted to some long tables with bench seating. In true Thai fashion, we were descended upon by our food waitress and drink waiter. The menus were left while our drinks man put a small drinks holder at one end and began pouring the drinks, adding the ice and expertly swizzling!

The menu is a multi-page affair and is in Thai first and then an English translation. There are 10 items on the ‘Special Menu’ ranging in price between B. 90 and B. 220, with River Bar salad at the low end and deep-fried pork leg at the top.

The following pages are entitled soups and curries and encompasses 48 items. The most expensive item is B. 200, a baked sea crab, but the majority of items are less than B. 100 and cover such items as tom kha gai (chicken in coconut soup), stir-fried river prawns with green chilli paste, deep-fried crispy catfish with crispy basil leaves or even jungle curry with frogs for those who dare!

Another section covers 14 salads, all but one under B. 100. Most of these are Thai salads - so are spicy. There are also several vegetarian items dotted throughout the menu sections, including salads and stir-fries such as straw mushrooms in oyster sauce and stir-fried Chinese broccoli.

We tried many items, sharing dishes in the true Thai fashion, and began with a very different som tam which came with mixed fruit, rather than the black crabs and chillies. Next up was a dish with tom yum lemongrass prawn soup served on a mini ‘dow-tarn’ (the clay pot charcoal cookers). This was hot, both temperature-wise and chilli-wise! Another very memorable dish was brought to our table, containing mussels in a clay pot, with clay ‘hats’ over them. These were soft and plump and flavoursome (and not chilli hot either).

The final dish was an international favourite from the specials menu - a pork knuckle presented on a sizzling platter, covered with crackling which came with a jacket potato covered in cheese and chives and coleslaw. The meat was so tender it fell off the bone following pressure by the spoon. No knife needed.

By now being more than replete, and the drink swizzler working himself to a frenzy, we sat back and enjoyed the music. It was a very full (or filling) evening.

The River Bar truly is an experience. Referring to my notes of the evening, I had written “a Thai night of Thai food and Thai entertainment” but that was not meant in a deprecating way at all. It was an opportunity to get together with the local population and enjoy food, drink and music in the Thai way. After all, we are in Thailand, are we not? The River Bar is a wonderful opportunity to show visitors what local culture and customs are all about - and at the same time enjoy some rather good Thai food. It is also inexpensive dining with live entertainment thrown in. Good for large groups. Keep this place in mind.

The River Bar, Charoen Prathet Road, Chiang Mai, telephone 053 820 992-3, fax 053 820 997, www.riverbar chiangmai.com