St. Germain des Pres…comes to Chiang Mai : By Brian Baxter

Brasserie style restaurant in the city center

Considerable thought, care and –I would guess – expense have gone into the launch of this smart new French restaurant. After just a couple of months, the attention to detail is already showing dividends and I think that this nouveau garcon on the block will soon establish itself as a popular haunt both for resident farangs and for the throngs of tourists to be found in the Moon Muang Road and Thapae Gate area.
It is resolutely French in both food and style, so don’t expect to see many Thais in evidence. Nor, unless, they adapt the menu a little, is it a venue for vegetarians since in typical Gaelic fashion all of the main dishes are for flesh eaters only.
Last week I mentioned four criteria needed for a successful eatery, quality of ingredients, the skill of the chef, the service and that less definable aspect, the comfort or atmosphere or, since we are in French territory, ambience. Certainly the quality of the food at St. Germain could hardly be faulted. They have wisely – for now at least – decided on a limited menu, which will change each month, no doubt dependent on the availability of ingredients and upon the chef’s enthusiasms.
At present, they offer five starters, five main courses and seven puddings plus a cheese plate. The menu is clear and informative and given in French, English and Thai. All starters are 170 baht, main course which come garnished are 255 baht, while desserts are a modest 75 baht and the cheese understandably is more costly at 180. You are invited to combine courses (even the starter and dessert at only 215 baht) and choosing more than one course ushers in a small discount.
There is a short, modestly priced, wine list and beer Singha among other drinks is just 70 baht. French bread and carafe water are served at no additional cost and any tip is at your discretion. Prices include tax so there are no hidden ‘extras,’ no sign of the ubiquitous ‘plus, plus’ which may send the bill into the stratosphere.
The Mail’s photographer plumped for the Duck Liver Terrine as a starter and the appropriately coarse looking pate came with some salad, good quality olives (I took a couple whilst he was outside smoking), gherkins and olive oil for the bread. A rapidly demolished plateful signified either his approval or the desire for another cigarette. Probably both. I and another friend opted for the smoked salmon wrapped around a mousse of avocado. The salmon was excellent, although the fruit had been zapped a little too zealously for my taste – the avocado would have been better left with some very small chunks to give it some texture.
As a main course, two of us went for the salmon steak with a tasty leek and cream sauce. A slightly more generous helping of that to accompany the firm and well cooked fish would have been welcome. There was half of a baked ‘jacket’ potato as further garnish. Just right. The second dish chosen was a duck’s breast, glazed with honey and a red wine sauce, plus a little ramekin of onion jam, with potato on the side. The duck came cooked the rare side of medium, French style. Being in favor of meat incinerated old English style, my friend found it ‘a little rare and not quite hot enough’, although the meat itself was perfect. Chacun a son gout.
Two of us went for a dessert. One opted for the éclair with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce and I for the lemon and lime sorbet. Very refreshing and the flavor was certainly enhanced by the generous splash of vodka poured over it. So no major complaints. Portions were adequate, the food good quality and the service attentive, if a little rapid with the entrée coming hard on the heels of the starter.
With the meal my companions had a total of three beers and yours truly, purely in the course of duty you understand, tried a glass each of the very drinkable house red and white wines. The bill with a tip came to 1800 baht and given the above comments can only be described as very reasonable. Opt for the main course and a pudding and drink only water and you’ll escape for just 295 baht. Move over to the real St Germain area of Paris and that amount (around six Euros) won’t pay for the sorbet.
So how would I rate this fledgling addition to the surging tide of restaurants in Chiang Mai? After all the French take two things more seriously than the rest of us - food and the cinema so I am very much on their side. Certainly the Chef knows his job and is sourcing his ingredients well. The service, once relaxed, is charming and Thai polite. The seating (there are about 60 covers with more outside so even in high season it should not be too difficult to find a table) is comfortable and there is ample parking on the next door site of a former petrol station.
As yet, it lacks an authentic signature, a definite atmosphere. It helped when the pop music gave way to some attractive French chansons and a few other happy customers joined us. The bright lighting, pale grey tablecloths and light chairs give a cool feeling so it is as much a modern style French restaurant as the advertised brasserie, despite the presence of such stalwart classics as soupe de poisson, boeuf bourgignon and mousse au chocolat on the menu.
Within a few weeks I am sure they will have perfected the casual yet stylish dining out experience they are aiming for. Certainly I think they deserve your custom and I am already looking forward to sampling the December menu.
St Germain des Pres Bar-Brasserie
4/1Ratwitti Road, Chiang Mai (just off Moon Muang Road, along from Thapae Gate)
Tel. 053 289 556-7 (at present only open evenings)


Grilled Beef Kebabs

Kebabs are a world favorite. A glance at the menu in most restaurants will usually show kebabs in there somewhere. In English, the word kebab usually refers to ‘shish kebab’. In its current meaning, the phrase is essentially Turkish in origin, and tradition has it that the dish was invented by medieval Turkish soldiers who used their swords to grill meat over open-field fires. The Turks ate well.

Cooking Method
Cut the meat into 2.5 cm cubes, and the green bell pepper into 2.5 cm squares. Combine the lemon juice and the chilli powder and place in a large Ziploc bag. Now place the meat, bell pepper, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes inside, close the zip and invert several times to mix and then place in the refrigerator for two hours.
Remove from refrigerator and thread the ingredients on to four large skewers.
Place under the griller and grill for five minutes, turning regularly and basting with a little oil. Serve on a bed of steamed jasmine rice.

Ingredients                 Serves 4
Rump steak                          500 gm
Green bell pepper                           1
Button mushrooms                125 gm
Cherry tomatoes                            8
Small onions                               12
Lemon juice                       4 tbspns
Chilli powder                          1 tspn
Sunflower oil                      2 tbspns