EATING OUT & RECIPES BY NOI
Is this Chiang Mai’s best restaurant?
The short answer to that impossible question is – I
don’t know, especially since I have not tried them all. But
if I may personalise and qualify the question and ask
whether it is the most pleasurable fine dining experience
that I know in the City then the answer is yes. I’ll add
that it offers French cuisine and is not cheap (though less
expensive than many other places of similar ambition) so if
that does not suit your palate or purse then tune in next
At the risk of repeating myself let’s explain the term ‘most
pleasurable dining’ which here applies to a stylish
restaurant offering more than simply ‘nosh’ and covers four
main areas of importance; the quality of the food and the
cooking – including the presentation, the overall service
from the point of parking up to the point of paying and
departure, the ambiance (comfort, atmosphere, spaciousness)
and, importantly, value for money (NOT the price but whether
you feel that the charge was fair given quality of the
Le Crystal scores high on all points and what makes it seem
exceptional is the evenness of those ‘scores’ – it is not
let down by poor service, for example, or ludicrous over
charging (though be warned you can, if your fancy goes to
over taxed Dom Perignon and fine Claret with the best food
on offer, you may spend what I think of as a small fortune).
Over the past years I’ve enjoyed a variety of meals there
and go each month (the last Saturday) to their World Buffet,
which at 1200 baht offers the best value in Chiang Mai. (You
can opt for the free flow wine version at 1800 baht but the
wines are understandably something of a let -down and I’d
much sooner spend the difference on a bottle to take with me
– there is no corkage charge – and complement the meal).
These are busy evenings - what one might describe as smart
casual, and very enjoyable to spend with a small group
friends. They start early and end at 10p.m so arriving at
around 7.30 – 8 pm is ideal.
The food is lavishly arranged in four sections. Firstly,
masses of starters, including salads, oysters, smoked
salmon, caviar (Danish of course), beef carpaccio, sushi and
so on. You can then move to the large outdoor section to
choose your main course(s) which are cooked freshly and
brought to the table. There’s a modest but pleasant cheese
board with accompaniments and finally a selection of
puddings- ice creams, pastries, caramels etc. There’s an
excellent trio playing discreetly and well and the whole
atmosphere is relaxed thanks to the impeccable service and
leisurely manner of the evening.
This is a monthly event and early in May Le Crystal offered
what I hope will be a yearly one. This was the occasion of
their 8th Anniversary celebrated with the promise of eight
courses, five wines at 2013 baht. We were thoroughly spoiled
since in the event the courses expanded to eleven including
the tea or coffee and petit fours and the between course
sorbet (I had to pass on three and nearly a fourth since I
don’t eat lobster but when I declined that dish another was
brought without my requesting anything: service with a
smile) and certainly more than five wines, with a couple of
the whites proving outstanding.
This was a memorable event, heightened by the avuncular
presence of the owner and his handsome son who has now
entered the business. It will be interesting to see whether
this becomes an annual treat. They excelled themselves in
terms of service and quality so that the normally excellent
set dinners seemed almost ordinary. Almost.
I’ve enjoyed these on a few occasions and to be honest have
never been tempted to the a la carte selection, which is
inevitably more costly. There are two choices, the cheaper
being 1800 baht with the option of a glass of decent
Champagne (the real thing) a glass of white and then a glass
of red wine at an extra 500 baht. The only disappointment on
the last occasion with my Thai partner was the quality of
red. I’m surprised that they cannot source better house
The food however was excellent throughout, with four well
contrasted courses (with a choice of meat or fish for the
main). There is also the usual refreshing sorbet and the
moreish chocolates with the coffee or tea. This excellent
food can be enjoyed in the large main dining room or on the
terrace facing the river.
Le Crystal has become something of a Chiang Mai institution,
but certainly I never feel that they take themselves for
granted. It is no doubt possible to find superior cooking at
a few places and comparable service (though rather more
formal) and if you wish for a simpler expedition you’ll opt
for somewhere like Café Mini. However, if you have visitors
or a special occasion or a business colleague to impress,
then Le Crystal will do very nicely. You’ll find them open
each evening at 74/2 Paton Road. 053 872 891.
RECIPES BY NOI: Yum Bai Mamuang
Mango Leaf Salad
Bai Mamuang or mango leaf has a bitter and acerbic taste.
The mango sap can be found in the stem, fruit and leaf. The
sap can bring very bad pain and skin rashes and can be very
dangerous if rubbed in the eyes. Car lovers shouldn’t park
under mango tree or drive too close to mango leaves because
if the resin stick on the car it is very difficult to clean.
Well, after all the warnings about the mango sap, some of us
must wonder how we can cook the mango leaves if it has a bad
taste and dangerous sap. It is very challenging to cook, it
is true so be sure and follow the procedures carefully
otherwise you may end up with an itchy mouth!
First choose very young mango leaves and boil them for a
bare minimum of 45 minutes in clean water. Then soak the
leaves in cold water, take them out, chop them finely and
squeeze out the water.
Fry sliced shallots and chili powder on low heat, add pork,
stir fry until the pork is well cooked then add the mango
leaves. Add salt or fish sauce then stir fry for a few
.Remove from the heat and serve with deep fried dried
I remember from childhood that mango leaves can be fun. Rip
the leaf in half, from side to side and cut the stem Stick
the stem in the middle of the leaf and Tadaa! A Mango Vane.
Playing with nature is always good for kids.