Favola at Le Meridien  

Harvey John
In reviewer’s parlance, the term a ‘serious restaurant’ refers, of course, not so much to the tone of the place but to its ambition: where the skill of the cooking matches the sourcing and quality of the ingredients. The Favola at the five star Le Meridien justifies the term. But thanks to the personality of the ebullient executive chef, Gustavo Maurelli, and the team who surround him, that is where the term serious ends. It’s a classy venue, not that cheap (how could it be?), but the tone is relaxed and not precious.
In short, Maurelli takes his job seriously, indeed passionately, but years of international work and travel (Buenos Aires, Italy, Toronto and Dubai included), are reflected in a cosmopolitan approach that says ‘welcome to the world’.

The pollo alla cacciatore comes well presented in a cast iron pot.
He is determined to ‘raise standards’ in Chiang Mai and this smart new 110 seat venue is clearly intended as bench mark for others. Open only a month or so, it is already attracting attention and it will be fascinating to see within the present economic climate whether such an ambitious venture will succeed. Given the enthusiasm on display, I’d say the chances are very good indeed.
The second floor restaurant with its adjoining bar features a large open-to-view kitchen, gleaming with state of the art gadgets and chrome implements, spotless work surfaces and masses of copper pans. There’s also a large wood-burning oven for pizzas, and in the centre of the large eating area is a wine store with glass walls, set next to a private dining room for up to 16. The chef delights in showing all this off to customers, although I suspect that with four delegations at the hotel for the Asean conference later this month, he may not have as much spare time as was the case on a recent Monday evening.
Favola is described as an Italian restaurant, but the sourcing of the dishes on offer indicates further influences - certainly it is a million miles from most conventional trats and osteria. Sadly, space will not allow justice to be done to the complexity of the dishes, since here is a chef in the manner of the U.K’s Heston Blumenthal, who constantly reworks dishes, invents new ones, juggles flavours and blends the most unlikely ingredients and textures. Our Chiang Mai chef ‘dreams’ of recipes and puts them to the test following morning.
Getting the best possible ingredients is key: if they are not available locally, then the next stop might be Bangkok. Even so, the sea bream comes from France, the guinea fowl from Europe too, the grass fed lamb from New Zealand and the steaks from Australia. No less than eight varied salts are utilized and the range of aged balsamic vinegars and superior quality olive oils (all from Italy) - along with the delicious breads - almost made a meal all in themselves.
Foolishly, my cameraman companion had eaten lunch so he forwent a starter. I made up for that with an elegant plate of scallop and sweet prawn ‘custards’, served with baby calamari and vine tomato salsa. It was a delight to the eye and the palate. This was one of the five antipasti at 290 baht and another, especially recommended, was the carpaccio at 480 baht. There were three salads available from 120 baht, three soups and three risottos, including one with prawns and capsicum (280), which I marked off for a future visit.
There are also ten pastas (210- 645), the same number of pizzas (190- 280), and a dozen secondi. These high quality dishes are, inevitably, more expensive but, as can be seen from the above, much of the menu is moderately priced given the setting and immaculate service and freshness of the food (pizza dough is made every day and abandoned if not used, the same goes for sauces).
My companion went for the hearty pollo alla cacciatore (340), which was presented in a cast iron pot, accompanied by a smaller pot of vegetables. I think he mumbled ‘delicious’, but the delighted expression on his face made all comment superfluous. Other secondi included the sea bream (830), two wagyu steaks and a rabbit stew. The concentration is on meat rather than fish.
I opted for a pasta dish, a fettucine, with an elaborate sauce based around vanilla, with lobster and finally decorated with edible flowers. There are a few more conventional pasta, along with the hand thrown pizzas, all of which sounded delicious and more complex in their make up than would normally be the case. To prove his point, our chef insisted that we try his latest ‘creation’ – a pizza which combined marinated cherries along with goat’s cheese and a variety of other ingredients that made it a perfect savoury-sweet. Defeated by it, we found willing neighbours to help us out. Generous chaps!
Our reluctance to eat more was based on the knowledge that a tiramisu was to follow – the chef’s signature pudding, and as far removed from the conventional version as one might imagine. And if my ears did not deceive me, he was promising a month of tiramisu, with ‘additions’ mentioned including lobsters and truffles. But then perhaps I was dreaming too.
We each drank the house wine and I tried both the white – a South African Sauvignon Blanc – and the red, a Merlot from the same country, both at 210 baht per glass. The wine list is an impressive affair with bottles ranging from around 1,400 baht up to a heady 8,000 plus for a Pomerol. There are 30 cocktails on offer (190- 220), and a vast range of soft and alcoholic drinks, including eau de vie, Cognacs and grappa, plus six variations on the classic martini – with one dedicated to 007. I settled for an espresso!
So, all in all an impressive place. If I had to criticize I’d say that the room seemed a little large and over-full with seating, and the background music and sound system could stand a little improvement. But the overall impression is cool – in both conventional senses of the word. Delightfully cool and decidedly serious. A pretty heady combination.
You will find it open from 11 in the morning until 11 at night. The recently opened Le Meridien is at 108 Chang Klan Road, Chiang Mai, next to the night bazaar.


Chinese prawn with bean sprouts

We have just had the annual vegetarian festival, which lasts nine days. Whilst this is not strictly a vegetarian dish, it is an original Chinese dish from Peking, but over the years has been progressively refined, to make it more of a western item these days. However, it is very flavorsome - just don’t overdo the tomato ketchup!

Cooking Method
Wash the bean sprouts under cold water, then line a colander with paper towel and shake until dried.
Remove head and tail and shell of prawns, wash, dry on a paper towel and chop roughly into small pieces.
In the wok heat the oil and add the crushed garlic and stir-fry until golden brown, then scoop out the garlic and discard. Add the finely sliced chilli, then the bean sprouts and stir-fry quickly for 30 seconds.
Now add the salt, vinegar, sugar, tomato ketchup, ginger root, chopped prawn and chicken stock. Bring quickly to the boil and leave for one minute.
Serve in a warmed dish with steamed jasmine rice.

Ingredients                            Serves 4

Bean sprouts                              125 gm
Prawns, de-shelled, chopped       125 gm
Sunflower oil                               4 tbspns
Garlic, crushed                           1 clove
Red chilli seeded, sliced              1 small
Salt                                            1 tspn
White vinegar                              2 tbspns
Icing sugar                                 tbspn
Tomato ketchup                         1 tbspn
Ginger root, grated fresh             tspn
Chicken stock                           4 tbspns