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
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.
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
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.
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