My epitaphs to the chef
There’s a nice cartoon in a June issue of
the New Yorker, which shows a teenager seated at home,
wearing a baseball cap. His father approaches him saying,
‘Bad news, Sam, we’re going haute and you have to take off
La Terrasse on Loi Kroh.
Like it or not eating out can be a
serious, even a demanding, business and I guess that why the
Editor of the Mail suggested a while ago that we change the
title of this column from Dining to Eating Out. It was
partly because less people can afford to ‘dine’ out
regularly in the present economic climate and also it allows
contributors flexibility, suggesting breakfast or lunch
venues or even wine or coffee bars which offer food. We need
not concentrate on the haute elements only.
A propos of that I was saddened to see
details of the current competition for best restaurant in
Thailand which offered choices in Chiang Mai for which
people could vote. Readers of a glossy but far from stupid
magazine were given just three options – all of them
expensive, French and, admittedly, top class venues.
Definitely no Thai food or caps and when dressing up don’t
forget the wallet and credit cards.
Such places seldom appeal to me if only
because I find their menus unappealing, let alone the prices
and the plus plus element. One of the three listed boasts a
set menu, which features ‘pan fried foie gras, lobster
bisque and veal tenderloin. Pity the more creatures that
satisfy such appetites and the tortures they undergo during
This explains why I never go to
restaurants for review alone or only once, since one needs
opinions of dishes not selected. We eat not just with our
eyes and taste buds but with our minds and senses. A recent
article – also in the redoubtable New Yorker – about the
food chain in the U.S.A. made for the most horrifying
reading in many a month. It made me happy never to have
eaten the produce offered in the famous chains specializing
in hamburgers, chicken and other ‘delicacies’.
It was circumstances such as that which
took me to a recommended venue a few days ago. I went with a
farang and a Thai who had enjoyed the Chinese food before
and my Thai companion. I am not a fan of the various Chinese
cuisines but went with some expectations, if not great ones.
I have to say that my three fellow eaters enjoyed this Hong
Kong based food and I found it inedible, oily and
unattractive in every sense.
I made do with some rice, part of two
dishes and a welcome Singha beer. A soup that was widely
praised had a slimy texture and more than a hint of MSG and
in no way could compare with the fresh tasting and deeply
textured young coconut soup with prawns that I had enjoyed
the night before at Krit’s Nimman Kitchen. Not just a matter
of ‘taste’ but also of the style of the place, which was
completely devoid of any atmosphere or charm in the service
or even comfort with its harsh wooden floor and bleak walls.
Eating out has also to be about ambiance, service and value
not just shoving produce into one’s mouth.
Still I went along in hope and at least I
tried the eatery as I have done with unappealing venues,
offering Mexican ‘food’ and others I dislike. From them I
have come away reminded of another cartoon which had a diner
seated at a table and saying ‘My epitaphs to the chef’.
And finally there are other reasons apart
from the food or style of a venue that put me off. Last week
the Mail featured a review of an Italian restaurant which I
had reviewed a long while ago and also praised. Not the best
‘Italian’ in town but good food, a pleasant décor and
atmosphere and reasonable value. When there I mentioned to
the owner that it was a pity the menu was not also in Thai,
since it was also frequented by their host country.
The reply was that they ‘did not feel it
I beg to differ on grounds of good
manners and practicality and have not been back since. When
I and a friend went recently to La Terrasse, a newish French
‘bistro’ off Loi Kroh Road (also reviewed by a colleague in
this column a few weeks ago) we commented that the menu was
only in French and English. That would be, the chef – patron
explained, only a matter of time and within a week or two a
proper translation would be offered. He even apologized that
they might not be able to print a Thai version of the daily
offerings or ‘specials’ but would be on hand to give help in
such cases. This was a proprietor doing a proper job, not
complacently accept the status quo. My epithets, not
epitaphs, to the chef in such a case.