Chez Marco

Mark Whitman
One of my earliest reviews for the ‘Mail’ was of a small, then newish restaurant eponimously entitled ‘Chez Marco’. I predicted that it was too good to last, since the young chef would soon be enticed away by some ultra smart competitor or five star hotel and that we would – in future – be eating his excellent food at four or five times the price.
Happily, not for the first or last time, I have been proved wrong. Marco has remained as chef-patron at his friendly, bustling ‘bistro’ and must smile contentedly at the thought of running this successful venture, rather than languishing, twiddling his nimble fingers, waiting for a scattering of customers to enter the wastelands of the ‘top’ hotels.
Over the past two or three years I’ve returned there regularly and what else can I say by way of introduction than that this is a place that can be relied on. You may not be bowled over by one particular course, but given the style and price level I believe you will either be very unlucky in your choices or very fussy indeed if you do not leave satisfied.
He has chosen to remain in Loh Kroh Road, (who said it was a perfect world?), slightly expanded the number of seats, built up a comprehensive menu and kept prices reasonable. The enviable result is a steady base of regular diners and – given the location – passing trade.
As its name indicates, the overall mood is French: Marco’s place. Although he is part Japanese, Marco comes from Antibes and his food may best be described as Mediterranean, and flexibly so. There are plenty of dishes which are specifically French or Italian (none more so than the coq au vin, the canard a l’orange or the many pastas) but the menu is not that ‘defined’. It varies, it surprises.
The cook is not over-modest about his skills, but trust his ebullience. He will assure you of his success with a particular dish, but he is not trying to ‘push’ something, like an unctuous maitre d’ who has been told that there is a surfeit of guinea fowl in the kitchen. So take advice, sit back and enjoy a glass of wine – or two - and watch the energetic goings on in the little kitchen.
There used to be a handful of Thai dishes on the menu, and perfectly competent they were. But I guess it was decided that many indigenous restaurant were doing them as well or better, more cheaply. Restaurants should never try to be all things to all people, offering (as one of his neighbours does) a choice of ‘four different menus’. Think of a score of the most reliable eateries in Chiang Mai and you will find they do what they set out to do, and only that. Fusion food, yes if it is intelligently offered, but not multi-country kitchens. We need authenticity, interpreted with personal style.
Which brings me back to Chez Marco with its patio area and quieter (for me, preferable) interior. There are plenty of offerings on the boards in the patio: potential starters or ideal lunch time snacks. There is also – as you enter - a daily three course offering at 275 baht. This will be a starter such as a salad or pate, a meat or fish main dish and a choice of dessert. Remarkable value.
The main menu is clearly divided into plenty of starters, three sections of main courses, including pastas with vegetarian options and mainly traditional puddings. Failing in my duty to you, dear reader, I have seldom got into the third stage, except for a small ice cream or sorbet. The large portions have a habit of getting in the way of further indulgence.
I must also own up to a near inability to properly sample the starter menu, although many friends have extolled the quality of the lobster bisque, the salmon and prawn mousse, Marco’s ‘own’ salad and I can personally vouch for the salade nicoise.
But for me it is almost invariably the tuna carpaccio. It is simply the best I know – in Chiang Mai, possibly in Thailand. Probably as good as anywhere in the world, except Japan. Wafer thin, perfectly fresh, elegantly presented and dressed in either Thai or European style (I think the latter Facon Provencale suits it better), it comes on a huge square plate and looks – well - good enough to eat! A snip at 150 baht. I’ll get round to some of the other choices one day.
The main sections offer classic dishes as mentioned, such things as a good pork chop in a creamy pepper sauce, fish and plenty of pastas. A word of caution here, the last are served in almost embarrassingly generous portions, large enough for two people. So be prepared to be a glutton or send back – as I had too last week – almost as much as you have eaten.
I followed that with a lemon sorbet, but one friend spoke approvingly of the chocolate mousse. Hardly surprising, I guess, since any French chef who cannot offer up a decent mousse au chocolat would be in the wrong job. Others enjoyed the crème caramel, although one friend found it too ‘heavy’ and the caramel almost ‘burned’. It did look a little solid and over-generous in size, not a virtue with such a dish.
On this most recent visit, we chose an Australian Shiraz, recommended as a ‘promotion’ at 700 baht, and after a few minutes at room temperature (oddly it came slightly chilled) it proved an excellent wine. Smooth, quite characterful and ideal with the coq au vin and my spaghetti au pistou. One of the party had kindly brought along a famous (almost ubiquitous) French wine and it certainly appeared plummy and dull in comparison with its Aussie big brother. Sorry, Baron R.
So - in summary: well up to standard. The three ‘newcomers’ to the table all seemed happy and determined to return. It is easy to eat there for under 300 baht, without wine. My tuna and pasta came in at 260 baht and those who opted for the set menu (served with crusty bread) thought it wonderful value, especially enjoying the coq au vin, served with mashed potato.
It is no wonder that on the Friday in question, we only caught glimpses of the chef, since every seat in both areas was taken and other customers were obliged to take a stroll, waiting for a table to become vacant. Not exactly a common experience in current Chiang Mai, but an indication that value and pleasant service find their own reward.
Chez Marco, 157 Loy Kroh Road, Chiang Mai. Open daily. Phone 053-207-032 or 084-364-7294.


Strawberry Lime Sorbet

The best way to add sparkle to your dinners is with sorbets. Introducing a sorbet to your guests between the courses in an evening meal is a very classy touch and one that will have people talking about your dinner party for months afterwards. Even if the mains are only ‘average’ you will have elevated the evening by virtue of the sorbet! This is a very simple one and can be made up to three days ahead of schedule. Strawberries have been plentiful, and clever cooks will have popped the odd kg or two in the freezer for use later. You can also substitute other fruit if strawberries are not in season.

Cooking Method
Blend or process the strawberries with the rind, juice, sugar and egg whites until it is smooth and creamy in texture. Place into suitable container and cover with foil. Freeze at least overnight before spooning into glasses and serving. Tall champagne glasses always look good!

Ingredients            Serves 4-6
Strawberries                  500 gm
Lime rind, grated             1 tspn
Lime juice                       ¼ cup
Icing sugar (sifted)         2/3 cup
Egg whites                           2