Five newcomers to the Chiang Mai scene…

Brian Baxter
For what is the last ‘food’ column of 2008 – and, incidentally, my penultimate dining out piece – here is a ‘round-up’ of five venues opened in Chiang Mai during the past year. Next week will feature a further five old favourites. Hopefully all ten will manage to weather the economic gloom that has descended upon the world during the past year or more and which seems to be affecting Thailand in general and Chiang Mai in particular.

Enjoy a tasty treat at Hot Chilli.
The key to the success of the newer places is friendly service, a pleasant ambience and good food, with value according to the ‘category’ of the restaurant. It really is no good expecting ‘cheap’ food in a five star hotel anymore than one would expect to pay a thousand baht for a Thai meal in Nimmanhaeminda Road. The ubiquitous ‘plus plus’ and the insane taxes on wines make that impossible. So, two of the ten mentioned this week and next are fairly pricy, but are still – in my opinion – worth the extra. Others in their category are not and if it were not the ‘season of good will’ I would happily list my ten places to avoid. Another time, perhaps.
It seems there is no end to the number of decent (and some exceptional) Italian restaurants in Chiang Mai. Three out of the five new ones fall into that group. The most ambitious is Favola at Le Meridien, which I reviewed only a few weeks ago and found equally good on a recent visit. As noted then, its quality is dependent on superb ingredients and original cooking, plus the elegance of the presentation. The service is a little over-attentive. Note that they have stopped opening at lunchtimes. You can expect to pay 1200 baht upwards with wine, service and tax, and you will find it at this large hotel, near the night bazaar.
Osteria Wald opened a few months ago and has more modest prices, but also an ambitious menu and a charming interior. One really feels as though one has been transported to Italy, except for the charming Thai staff. They also import many of their ingredients and have a good wine list plus over-expensive cocktails. This restaurant has established itself firmly on the local scene and has never disappointed me on around ten or more visits. 187 Changklan Road. Phone 085 234 102.
Finally, again Italian, but with a Thai chef, the eponymous Billy, to be found in a little eatery at 20/3 Kampaengdin Road. Phone 086653 0962. This tiny hole in the wall restaurant has proved very popular over the past few months and often its 20 plus seats are full, but a few minutes’ wait will ensure pleasant service and an inexpensive meal with most Italian favourites on the menu, pizzas and pastas and a few ambitious dishes.
A larger venue with a not dissimilar ‘dining out’ experience can be found at Krit’s Kitchen Nimmen, off Huay Kaew Road, just opposite Hillside 4. Phone 053 895 199. This too has a chef owner, also Thai. But Krit – well known as a good cook from earlier restaurants – specializes in his native cuisine and runs a very friendly and accessible eatery. Prices are exceptionally modest for the quality and freshness of the food and I eat there regularly, choosing invariably from the specials board, which changes weekly.
Also Thai, but larger and with fancier décor (but very sensible prices) is Hot Chilli, which opened about five months ago and like the others listed has been reviewed in the Chiang Mai Mail with enthusiasm by myself and has – happily – lived up to that earlier recommendation on recent visits. You will find this stylish restaurant down Ratchadamnoen Road, past the AUA buildings and heading away from Thapae Gate. They share a garden with Il Girasole, have a very attractive bar, and an open kitchen above which they proudly proclaim that no MSG is used in their cooking. Other restaurants please take note.
Next week: five well established restaurants which continue to offer ‘the best in Chiang Mai’.


Tom Yum Goong

This is a simple recipe to make in the traditional manner, and incidentally, is probably one of the best known Thai dishes in the world. 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 ml
Mushrooms, halved    150 gm
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