Kantary Hills Restaurant :  By Brian Baxter

Dining room in a smart new hotel and apartment block

Warning to readers: this is a complicated review to write since it involves two visits to the Kantary Hills within a matter of days and takes into account the opinions of four additional people on the first evening and seven,(no duplications), on the second. The overwhelming consensus is that the special ‘Italian Buffet, (of which more later), was a complete success and that the conventional menu offers good value and quality farang food, provided one sticks to the set menu. Still with me? Good, since it gets a little complicated now.
Back to the buffet. This was a crowded one-off event which proved a great success and enjoyed a quick repeat on 25 July. Offering excellent value at 420 baht this was something that could easily feature as a regular part of the restaurant’s ‘promotions’ – especially if the Italian chef can mastermind the proceedings. The buffet was very generous, exceptionally fresh – the poached salmon was a highlight – and decidedly up- market along the lines offered at D2 or the Amari Rincome on occasions and not those tired lunchtime efforts which abound in second rate hotels.
Luckily the Kantary ‘Grill’ is compact enough to make the trek to the food stations easy and, with just 40 or so covers inside, it is not that crowded. True, the buffet lacked a couple of spicy items that might have endeared it to Thais, but then the overall theme was meant to be Italian, even if it was mainly the ‘starters’ which reflected this with Parma ham and melon and so on. The Italian Chardonnay/ Pinot Noir made a good accompaniment and the three friends who chose an Italian red echoed our sentiments. Unsurprisingly, this elevated the bill into another area – but then, decent food without wine is, well, rather less ‘decent’—as though one is parading on a beach without proper beach-wear. Simply not done.
I returned to K.H. to sample the ‘real’ menu a few days later because it seemed pointless to review it via a event which may not be repeated. This time I was with one farang and two Thais. At a nearby table were three farang and one Thai, also friends, who were lavish in their praise of the set menu – especially the beef, which was featured as a main course choice. Although wary of the opinions of two of them who smoke so heavily that it must make tasting anything a problem, ( intercourse smokers into the bargain), I know that they eat out regularly enough to make comparisons worthwhile. The situation was a little confused though since the menu offers the 4 Course at either 400 baht with local beef or at 650 with imported. They found it difficult to say which was the better.
Those who know about such things assure me that Thai beef is invariably poorer in quality to start with than good ‘foreign’ beef and, more to the point, that it is slaughtered and then enters the food chain far too quickly. Beef should – like venison or wild birds such as pheasant – be hung for a couple of weeks, perhaps more. This accounts for the dislike of that meat by the majority of Thais who find the smell repugnant and complain that beef upsets their digestion. The ‘imported’ steaks which were served at the Kantary were, quite probably, from either Australia or the Argentine, (it was not stated), which - if you simply must eat dead cow – is a reasonable choice. Not in the class of the true luxury of Kobe beef from Japan, nor prime Angus from Scotland but good by most international standards.
Back to my table where the farang who opted for the imported filet mignon was pleasantly surprised by the quantity, (two fillets), and quality. It certainly appeared to cut easily and despite looking a tad over cooked it was soon demolished along with the jacket potato and vegetables and a reduced wine sauce. He also enjoyed a salad, followed by asparagus soup and found room for the pudding, which from the spoonful I tasted seemed bland and creamy in the true tradition of those ‘cake- style’ sweets in which the Thais specialize.
My Thai friends and I searched the remaining menu and, sadly, they fared least well, including a salad, some baked clams, a sea food spaghetti and a fried chicken dish. I did rather better with a penne with a rich tomato sauce – with some chili added. My ice cream was also fine, but the fruit salad which came with the ice chosen by one Thai had been far too long in the fridge and was far from ‘fresh’. Odd in a country where gorgeous fruits are so readily available.
Now for the strange part. Once the orders were made we discovered another menu. Marked vegetarian, it was not offered originally. On it were a fairly wide selection of Japanese, European and Thai dishes – several of which could have been adapted to include fish or meat. Why not incorporate these into the main menu or at least offer these choices alongside the conventional set menu and other farang food? There were plenty of Asians at the Kantary. Or is Thai food somehow considered less ‘acceptable’? One hopes not.
In general, then, a favourable impression with room for small but important changes. A definite plus is that the basic prices, certainly for food, are reasonable given the ambience, which hovers between Moxxie’s at D2 and The Chedi without the style of the former and the pretentiousness of the latter. As one would expect the staff were attentive and pleasant and the seats were comfortable. Although slightly small the tables are well enough spaced and besides the main eating area and bar, there is a verandah with a further 20 plus seats and a private room for between 12 and 18 guests in comfort.
The surrounding building looks decidedly elegant and has been ‘home’ to at least one member of the Royal Family which must indicate a very high standard. On the first evening we went there the actress and political activist Mia Farrow – over here for conferences and seminars - was dining in the private room with colleagues. In short it is aspiring to be a new ‘in place’ for the City. If so it should soon learn that placing on an already crowded table a large box of condiments with such ‘delicacies’ as HP sauce, tomato ketchup and pre-prepared mustard may be acceptable in an American diner but is not quite the thing for somewhere that also claims to be ‘ Chiang Mai’s most sophisticated bar and restaurant’. One day, perhaps. Not quite yet.
Nimman Bar and Grill at Kantary Hills Hotel. Open daily. Phone 0-5322 -2111


Steamed sea bass

While you can get steamed sea bass at almost every seafood restaurant, this recipe is actually Chinese. Being flavored lightly with salt, ginger, scallions, wine and sesame oil it has a little more taste.

Cooking Method
Wash the fish in cold water and wipe dry. Make three parallel diagonal slashes on each side of the fish, slicing through to the bone. Rub the fish all over with one teaspoon of sea salt.
In a mortar, pound the ginger to a paste with a pinch of sea salt. Rub some ginger paste into the slashes in the fish.
Mix the remainder of the ginger paste with the soy sauce, wine and half a teaspoon of the sesame oil. Rub all over the fish and let marinate for 10 to 20 minutes.
Now place fish in steamer and cook 15 to 18 minutes until it is opaque throughout and flakes easily when pulled with a fork.
When the fish is almost done, heat the vegetable oil and the remaining half teaspoon of sesame oil in a small skillet until very hot. Remove the fish from the steamer and pour the hot oil over the fish to glaze it and serve the fish immediately from the plate.

Ingredients             Serves 4
Sea bass, cleaned and scaled 1 kg
Ginger freshly minced       2 tbspns
Soy sauce                       2 tbspns
Dry white wine                 2 tbspns
Sesame oil                         1 tspn
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Vegetable oil                    1 tbspn