Le Crystal - Classic French style dining: By Danny B.

One of Chiang Mai’s premier restaurants

By setting itself up as one of the city’s most elegant and expensive restaurants, Le Crystal must expect to be judged by the highest standards available within Chiang Mai and more widely in Thailand. It claims to offer the ‘Finest French Cuisine’ within a breathtaking setting. The question one must ask – and answer – in this review is does it live up to its ambitions?
If I give you a full answer immediately you might not bother to read on, so here are a few important preliminaries to begin with. Le Crystal is solely a place for eating, with no attached accommodation and probably no ambition to attract those who might enjoy one of its collection of fine wines without eating there. The accent is decidedly French, although naturally there is a welcome element of local ingredients and some ‘fusion’ aspect. The spacious high ceilings and large windows give way to a lush garden terrace facing the Ping River.
The immaculate linens, handsome cutlery, crockery and glassware immediately give a sense of something special. The staff seems to glide gracefully rather than walk and three piece band provides a welcome diversion in the otherwise quiet surroundings.
This is what is known in the business as a ‘serious’ restaurant. It sets standards both in terms of presentation and quality that few other places within Chiang Mai aspire to. And let’s be honest, the prices reflect that ambition. But the two friends from England that went to Le Crystal with me on their last evening in Thailand considered it ‘not expensive by British price levels, which are admittedly among the highest in the world.
By chance we went there on a recent Friday evening when a special set menu with each course accompanied by a different French wine was the order of the day. Quite obviously the price would – or could –be considerably less for the normal menu depending on your drinks bill.
After the amuse bouches’ and a glass of chilled Champagne served as Kir Royale, we were led through half a dozen courses, each accompanied by a pre-selected and –it transpired – appropriate French wine. The first course was a duck liver pate, which my friends thought excellent but for which I substituted a delicious Caesar salad. This was followed by a ravioli with a lobster sauce. The wines here were a Chablis and then a very slightly ‘sweet’ white Bordeaux. A small bowl of pea soup with a perfectly poached quail egg decorated with lumpfish caviar followed and that in turn was followed by a refreshing sorbet into which was poured a splash of Champagne.
There were two choices for the main course. An Australian tenderloin medallion steak, served as wished but in a small portion that might not satisfy a ravenous meat eater. I opted for the superb pan fried snow fish. Here we were treated to two red wines, a Claret and a slightly earthier Bergerac.
For pudding we indulged in a vanilla ice cream with hot Morello cherries and other fruits in a light sauce. With this, a small glass of fine Cognac was offered, before a choice of coffee or tea. I went for a refreshing green tea and we all declared ourselves well and truly indulged. It must be added that each wine is served in moderation and despite the added temptation of French bread and unsalted butter none of us felt we had over eaten thanks to the size and quality of the portions.
This was subtle French food in the main, less rich or heavy on sauces and butter than would have been the case in the pre-nouvelle cuisine days.
This was quality food served with slightly brisk precision and accompanied by a whole series of excellent wines. The execution by the skilled staff was near flawless.
The cost for this sumptuous evening included bottled water, breads, service and tax and transportation – if you wish – from your home or hotel. And here’s the rub. This particular ‘event’ cost no less than 3000 baht a head, putting it out of most people’s reach for all but special occasions. But if you are looking for a special occasion this is it.
Le Crystal French restaurant is open daily for lunch: from 11:30am – 2:00pm and dinner from 6:00pm – 10:30pm. They accept all major credit cards.
The address is 74/2 Paton Rd., T.Paton, on the Ping River 750 meters north of the Superhighway. Tel. 0 5387 2890-1 Fax: 0 5387 2892. www.lecrystal restaurant.com


Irish Stew

There are many variations of this recipe, but all of them come back to potatoes and meat. Stewing beef cut into cubes is my preference, but you can substitute lamb leg. Remember to serve it piping hot (pre-heat the serving dish) just the way the womenfolk did to feed their men after a long day howkin’ tatties in the fields. This was a staple in Ireland and when the potato famine came in 1845, it had catastrophic results for the Irish people.

Cooking Method
Rosemary to taste, 1 clove, a bay leaf, celery stick, salt and ground black pepper.
Chopped parsley, and 50gms pre soaked and boiled barley. Hint – boiled rice is an acceptable alternative to barley.
Lightly cook the diced beef, onions and seasoning in a heavy-bottomed pan in a little oil, until golden brown. Then add the stock and gently simmer until tender, this takes approximately 1-1 hours.
Add the potatoes and carrots, simmer until cooked about thirty minutes (test with a fork), and then adjust the seasoning to taste.
Arrange attractively in a pre-heated earthenware dish and serve garnished with barley and parsley.

Ingredients                    Serves 4
Stewing steak or chuck             1.5 kg.
Potatoes                                  1.5 kg
Carrots                                       1 kg
Onion                                     125 gm
Stock                                      500 ml