The House : By Brian Baxter

Not so much a restaurant - more a way of life

Recently, I was invited to The House as part of a business gathering with other contributors by the proprietor of this newspaper. Since I was not paying and did not choose the wine, which was a truly memorable Australian red, and also was too busy to note other diners’ choices I decided that to review this fine dining establishment I would have to return quite soon. It is, as the saying goes, a dirty job- but someone has to do it.

Luckily the chance came a week or so ago when two friends visiting Chiang Mai for the first time (where, poor dears, have they been all these years!?) asked me to recommend a ‘special’ place for their last evening before heading down to Phuket. I had to tell them that, in Phuket, they would not find the equal to The House at anything like the same value. The charming atmosphere, the solicitous service and the quality of the food, are unique to Chiang Mai, especially since the farang restaurants in the south cater specifically for German taste! After the meal they agreed that The House and The Green Mill were the two contrasted but distinct culinary highlights of their stay, both here and in Bangkok.
The House, as you may well know, is part of a trio of buildings, comprising the adjoining Tapas Bar and the next door Ginger Café with its charming gazebos and slightly twee interior. The imposing central building must present one of the most elegant facades in Chiang Mai and the interior certainly equals it! One is welcomed into a cozy-formal dining room with tables laid with the crispest white linen, napkins and all that goes with it, including subdued lighting, candles and special - rather camp - little torches with which to read the menu.
The walls have carefully chosen prints and an especially attractive mirror painting, the tables are well spaced and the other furniture and ornaments - Lanna style, I assume - are equally tasteful, but never arch. It is - as must be the intention - like walking into a large room in a private house, except that here one is swept up into a professional and smooth running dining room where the relaxed ambience belies those important qualities. From the excellent guitarist, to the unobtrusive filling of water glasses and the deft removal of plates and cutlery, this is a perfect place to sit back and enjoy a leisurely evening of chat and company. Or a discreet evening a deux.
Before talking about the all important food and drink, I should mention that a few changes are planned to the established menu, although many favorites will remain including the ‘crusted tuna’ (460 baht), which I chose on an earlier visit and considered the best tuna I have ever tasted, even including that at Moxxies.
For dinner last Monday we were three, and our drinks, apart from water, comprised one beer Singha, two gins and tonic and two glasses of excellent Chilean Sauvignon Blanc(250 baht), served in generous measures that put to shame those proffered at several other ‘up-market’ establishments. For my starter I chose the lightly seared tuna, followed by pan fried sea bass and finally rhubarb with a delicate vanilla ice cream. I list those choices very bleakly, but each was beautifully presented and the fish was served on a bed of spinach, accompanied by a good sauce and black olives. The sweet fruit and ice cream was accompanied by proper whipped cream, into which finely chopped nuts were blended. My companions went for a Caesar salad and a mini tower of goat’s cheese and salad with cherry tomatoes, followed by the crusted tuna and a stuffed chicken breast. With those, a plate of somewhat redundant stir fried vegetables (50 baht) was selected. I say redundant since both main courses came substantially garnished with polenta and spinach and the portions were nothing if not generous. Ice cream was chosen as a simple dessert. The total bill, including mineral water, delicious breads, the aforementioned alcohol, tax and 10% service came to 3,500 baht (including an extra and well deserved tip).
I am well aware that a charge of 1,100 baht a head (with the option to more than treble that with ease) does not represent your everyday dining, At least not for the majority of us. But for that special occasion, seeing off discerning visitors, the fancied treat or a romantic dinner, it is difficult to imagine a more attractive setting in Chiang Mai. True there are fancier French alternatives, five star hotels with gourmet restaurants, smart modern eateries and an abundance of Thai food in a whole range of settings, but few can match the combination of service, stylish setting, comfort and above all the cooking and quality of the ingredients, which is to be found at The House. And finding The House itself is easy, since it is located at 199 Moon Muang Road a few hundred meters from Thapae Gate. It offers ample parking and the telephone number is 053 419 001.


Elephant and onion stew

This recipe is one I bring out every couple of years or so, and it still makes me smile. It was given to me by David Levine, a chef who had been in Thailand for some time, so was au fait with the ingredients. The principal constituent is freely available in Thailand, and in fact, you would probably be in line for a City Administration grant if you took a couple from the streets any night. The rabbits are harder to find, but I believe you can get them on special order at supermarkets. It is not a quick stir-fry in the wok on the street behind the kitchen, but apparently is worth the effort.

Cooking Method
Cut elephant into bite sized pieces - preferably put aside around four months for this part. Cook over a kerosene fire for three months, or until tender. Now add onions, salt, pepper and flour and cook until done, generally around two days. If more people arrive than expected then add the rabbits at this final stage (do this only if necessary, as most people don’t like hares in their soup).

Ingredients   Serves 3000
Elephant                      1 large
Pepper                           ˝ pail
Salt                              2 pails
Onions                     4 bushels
Water                      93 gallons
Flour                            6 pails
Rabbits (optional)                2