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Le Crystal

Is this Chiang Mai’s best restaurant?

By Brian Baxter
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 issue.
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 above).
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 wine.
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 minutes more.
.Remove from the heat and serve with deep fried dried chilies.
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.

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