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EATING OUT & RECIPES BY NOI
 

Café Mini

Super food in an intimate setting

By Brian Baxter
A while ago a friend introduced me to Café Mini, which had not long opened. I was so impressed by this stylish but friendly little restaurant that I e-mailed anyone I thought might enjoy good food in pleasant surroundings. A few months have passed and happily this Nimmanhaemin Road eatery is well established and busy with Thai and farang customers. After well over a dozen further visits it remains my favourite dining experience in the City.
Café Mini is located half way down Soi 9, directly opposite the Monkey Club. It would be more aptly named Café Intime, since it’s a friendly bistro style restaurant with about a dozen covers downstairs, plus a couple of low tables and a small bar. There is additional seating upstairs.
The food might be described as a mixture of French, Mediterranean and English, with a distinctly modern feel to it. The accent is on quality not quantity, so if you have what is wrongly called a healthy appetite with a penchant for carbs and fast food, look elsewhere. A few dishes, including pastas are available in two portion sizes – one that I would consider normal and the other generous.
The menu is unambiguous in all other respects with a good range of starters comprising soups, salads and other delights such as spinach au gratin and a delicious antipasto. They range in price from around 70 baht to twice that figure. Main courses include slow cooked pork spare ribs, sea bass, duck, lamb, chicken and beef dishes and an excellent eggplant with cheese as one of the vegetarian offerings. They offer up specials most days (lamb shank is the most popular) such as Japanese steak and market fish. Puddings are very limited with just three variations on ice cream and cake. Room for improvement there.
The main attraction is the quality of the ingredients and the highly competent cooking. The service is friendly and efficient – perfectly suited to the unpretentious ambiance. The young owner and the not much older chef are real charmers and maintain high standards front and back stage. Smoking only on the front terrace, no music, comfortable chairs and a memorable dry martini!
A real plus is the availability of very good house wine (though I preferred the Sauvignon Blanc to the newly introduced Chardonnay) by the glass and a large display of top notch wines by the bottle, starting at around 900 baht. There is a well -stocked bar and a delightful range of soft options, with not a ‘coke’ in sight.
Café Mini is the perfect place for a mid-priced meal. There are plenty of fancier restaurants, priced accordingly, and there are certainly many less expensive ones but for my taste this offers a sensible compromise, with the possibility of enjoying a meal at under 500 baht. With wine and – say – the steak it will obviously be more. Choose one of the best wines and make sure you visit the ATM beforehand. This is one of the best additions to Chiang Mai dining in the past decade, with an enviable balance of all the qualities that make for a successful restaurant: food, cooking, service, ambiance and value. They are open for dinner six nights a week (closed Tuesdays) and service is from 5.30 p.m. until late. Find them on Soi 9, just off the busy main road, you can reserve a table on 084 488 6114.


 

RECIPES BY NOI: Kua Ham

The pleasing scent of herb leaves is very important for our Kua Ham because the meat normally used for this dish is game such as boar, deer, and rabbit which have a strong smell.
However, you can use pork or chicken too. Besides that, we need a lot of chilies because it’s one of the spiciest northern dishes.
Most of the time Kua Ham will be cooked by men when they have a party. During the cold season like this, it gives a warm feeling to fight the cold.
Kua in northern Thai means stir fried and Ham means very well cooked till almost burn.
Sitr fry chili paste in oil (dried chilies, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, salt and shrimp paste pounded together with mortar and pestle). Add 600 grams of meat (chicken or pork can be substituted for wild boar!) and stir fry until cooked, add Kaffir Lime leaf, basil leaf, cumin leaf (Bai Janjo) and young croton leaf (Bai Son). Cook until all water is evaporated from the pan. Carefully add whiskey (usually Lao Kao) to the pan and it should make a small flame in the pan. Then add fish sauce to taste. Most of the herbs can be found in the local markets around Chiang Mai.


 
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EATING OUT

RECIPES BY NOI