Darling Wine Bar:  By Neil Robinson

A friendly place for fine wines and tasty food

The first time I went to Darling Wine Bar, more than a year ago, I was struck by the friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The name “Darling” might make you think that the welcoming would be done by skimpily clad hostesses, but this is not that sort of bar at all. Instead, the welcome comes from the owners, Gill and Trevor Dobson, and their staff. The second thing I noticed was the absence of obtrusive background music - this bar is about conversation, (and wine, of course).
Gill and Trevor came here from Britain about two years ago. Gill used to work in corporate banking and Trevor worked for Mercedes Benz in the UK. Trevor’s hobby was wine. When they grew tired of the rat race they looked at various possible countries to move to. They told me that Chiang Mai felt right the first time they came here. They purchased Wineways, which is a wine wholesaler, and the bar came with the purchase as a subsidiary, so they decided to keep it on.
Unless wine is stored correctly, it will deteriorate. Wine storage here is in a room with impressively thick insulated walls, kept at a constant 18 degrees C. Before serving, white wine is cooled further, to 9 degrees. Having seen the wine store, now was the time to try some wines, to see if all this care had paid off. There are 50 wines on the list, from around the world, including almost 20 wines by the glass, so I was spoilt for choice and could only sample a few. Note that the prices quoted below include tax, but that a 5% service charge is added for wine served in the bar.
The bar offers one of my favourite reasonably priced wines, Wally’s Hut Chardonnay 2005, at 270 baht a glass. This is a very drinkable wine with a nice straw yellow colour, fruity aromas, a crisp chardonnay flavour, less sweet than some Australian chardonnays, and with medium body and a nice touch of oak. Staying with Australian white wines, I tasted Cookoothama Sauvignon Blanc 2005 (315 baht a glass). This had a clear sauvignon blanc flavour, dry but with a creamy fruit flavour and noticeable acid. I found that this wine really mellowed nicely after being in my glass for a while and warming a bit.
Staying with white, I moved to Italy for Villa Martina Pinot Grigio 2005 (270 baht a glass). This is a classic pinot grigio, light, dry and crisp, with overtones of citrus. Moving to Spain and changing to red wine, I tried the Ramon Bilbao Rioja 2004 at 940 baht a bottle. This wine has an intense colour and a lovely fruity aroma. It is not heavy bodied, but has a satisfyingly full, rather fruity flavour, with a little acid to finish for character.
One advantage of trying a wine at the bar is that, if you like it, you can then buy the same wine by the bottle or case to take home, directly from Wineways. Prices are reasonable, (for Thailand). For example, Wally’s Hut Chardonnay is 590 baht a bottle and the Ramon Bilbao Rioja is 770 baht a bottle, (no service charge is applied to Wineways prices). Not only are the wines served in the bar available from Wineways, but many others - more than 400 in total.
While sampling these wines, I had also been trying a couple of items from the food menu. This is short, but includes a number of dishes that go well with wine. I tried the quiche lorraine (130 baht) and the prosciutto ham and cheese platter (195 baht). Both the quiche and the accompanying onion focaccia were freshly baked to order. The onion focaccia was substantial, nearly like a pizza, and almost a meal in itself. The savory, hot bacon quiche was delicious with the rioja. The prosciutto, sliced very thin, and fortina cheese plate was also served with freshly baked bread. The plate was very prettily presented, as I hope you can see from the photograph. I found it an excellent accompaniment to the white wines I sampled.
Overall, Darling Wine Bar is a very pleasant place, not only to drink fine wines, but also to accompany them with tasty food. The address is 49/21 Huay Kaew Rd., Chiang Mai 50300. Tel: 053 227 427. It is on your right just past the Rincome junction with the Superhighway if you are coming from the city centre. There is parking behind. Please let me know your experience at: [email protected]
I have enjoyed writing these reviews over the last few months and hope they have been useful to you. Next week, our regular restaurant reviewer, Brian Baxter, will be back in Chiang Mai. Welcome back, Brian!


Tom Yum Goong - the dish, not the movie

Tom Yum Goong was a Thai movie released last year, but tom yum goong is a classic Thai dish. It is a simple recipe to make in the traditional manner. The Thai recipe calls for the heads to be left on the prawns, but if cooking for predominantly non-Thai friends, remove the heads (and the shell) before cooking. This recipe also shows you when to intervene in checking the seasoning. The final taste should be spicy-sour and a little salty.

Cooking Method
In a saucepan boil the chicken stock, then add the lemongrass, lime leaves and mushrooms. Add the prawns and cook for around 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the chillies, coriander, lime juice and fish sauce and allow to stand for five minutes. Now check the seasoning, adding more lime juice or fish sauce, or breaking up the green chillies if more spiciness is required. If required, place over the heat for one minute before serving with steamed rice to eat this in Thai style.

Ingredients        Serves 4
Prawns, shelled      12 medium
Chicken stock            600 mls
Mushrooms, halved    150 gms
Kaffir lime leaves                  3
Lemongrass chopped  3 stalks
Chillies, small green             4
Coriander leaf              1/4 cup
Lime juice                 3 tbspns
Fish sauce               1/2 tbspn