I made a short 5 day trip to Bangkok middle of last week, joining Les who was already there. Zen and Florian then joined us Friday night for the weekend before we all returned back together.
About two months ago, even before we booked our flights over, we made reservations for Bo.Lan as well as another restaurant Florian and I were eager to try. You’ll find out which restaurant that is in a few posts’ time. So, Thursday afternoon, after a light breakfast and girl-to-girl chatter, Les and I made off to Thong Lo where Bo.Lan sits a mere 3 minutes walk away from the BTS station.
A done-up alley led us into a beautiful garden with a traditional Thai house sat to the right.
We entered the restaurant/house and were invited to sit in the outer lounge. Menus were promptly presented for drinks, followed by the food menu of which there were two we could choose from – Bo.Lan Balance (the smaller one) was what we chose.
A refreshing iced tea was served…
Along with some snacks – Pumpkin Seed Crisps, Salty Crackers (reminding me of our sticky chilli tapioca chips many in Singapore grew up eating), and Steamed Rice Peanuts.
Thereafter, we were whisked off to the kitchen where we could see the busy hands of the cooks and chefs.
Here, we were given our first bite of the meal consisting of fragrant steamed Jasmine White Rice topped with Coconut Palm Sugar, and a bite of Soursop on the side.
Then, we were off to the Dining Room.
To open, we had Thai Rice Spirit (40% alcohol) aka Yadong Ma Kratueb Kong with a stick of Coconut Flesh and Tamarind, to be finished with a spray of Pandan.
The drink was strong. I mean, really really strong with a heavy taste of alcohol. A sip sufficed for me. Not being much of a drinker, I couldn’t quite understand this at all although I did like the pandan spray.
For the Amuse Bouche, we had from left to right:
Thai Flower Salad with Crispy Baby Shrimp
Crispy Cracker with Minced Chicken
Minced Pork with Fermented Tofu
Quail Egg with Banana Flower Southern Thai Dressing
The minced pork with fermented tofu cutlet reminded me of a meat roll we have in Singapore called Ngor Hiang. It was meaty albeit slightly dry. I did enjoy the quail egg and the flower salad while Les liked the duck. These appetite openers were packed with flavour, balancing sweet, salty, bitter, and sour in the way the Thais are able to do so deftly.
Before the mains commenced, we were served their Single Plate of the Day – Pickled Plum Soup with Fish and Prawns, alongside Black Olive Fried Rice.
We both loved the natural sweetness of the soup which was reminiscent of Teochew sour plum steamed fish only in a brothier form. The fried rice on the side was amazing! The rice had a slight chew, almost like glutinous rice but not. The pickled lime on the side added a refreshing tartness. Even I, who usually cringe at lard, thoroughly enjoyed the crunch and savoury umami the crispy pork fat added to the dish.
With a rather spectacular start to our meal, Les and I were ready for more.
After our starters, it didn’t take long before a large tray loaded with dishes was brought to our table.
We were served 5 dishes each, with some differences because Lesley had gone of a lower spice level. The spread was generous, much too generous really. Before we even started, we knew we would struggle to clean the bowls out. For us, sharing one meal would have been ideal, without having too much wastage.
My five dishes, served with Jasmine Kor Khor 105 or Organic Gaba Rice or both, were made up of:
As punchy as the soup looked, it lacked flavour and was quite disappointing. Lesley had a pork rib clear soup that fared better but nothing we cannot get back home.
Another disappointment was the squid which was cooked perfectly tender, but lacked any flavour whatsoever. The chicken livers were nicely done however. It was strange given that the basil had lots of delicious heat but none transcended onto the squid.
A third miss for me was the Chicken curry served Isan style. The sweet-savoury curry was warming but not spicy. I enjoyed digging up the pumpkin and tiny baby eggplant (?). The chicken unfortunately, was much on the dry side.
Lesley’s chicken curry was a lot sweeter and creamier in texture. She too, suffered the curse of the dry chicken.
Now this crispy catfish, deep-fried to crumbs, was quite addictive. I especially enjoyed the cucumber dressing with sourness from the green mangoes, crunch from the nuts, and refreshing juiciness of the pomelo. The flavours married well together and was a welcome break from the heavier dishes.
Hands down, this relish was Lesley’s and my favourite dish of the meal. It was moreish and eaten with the fresh fruit and raw vegetables on the side, was a very elevated take on Isan cuisine. Again, Lesley’s was toned down with more coconut milk, while mine was spicier. And yet, they tasted like two completely different, but delectable dishes.
Accompaniment of the day was Five Spice Sweet Pork (unpictured) not unlike Pork Belly Char Siew. Lesley loved it. I thought it was nice but leaned a lot to the saccharine side.
So the mains were rather underwhelming for us on the whole. We had our fingers crossed that dessert would end our meal on a high.
First dessert was Red Ruby with Jackfruit and Smoked Coconut Cream, served with a Sweet Potato Wafer.
The wafer was not unlike a cross between our Chinese love letters and Hong Kong’s egg rolls.
While a good rendition of Red Ruby, it was again, not too different from what you can get at most Thai eateries. The only thing that made it more special was the smoked coconut milk that while unique, was not mind blowing enough to make it particularly memorable.
The Mung Bean in Coconut Water with Coconut Cream, Coconut Flesh, Longan, Taro and Sweet Corn was served warm. Again, it was very much like our Singapore Tau Suan (Mung bean soup).
The texture was on the starchier side although it was well-balanced and not too sweet. It was served warm and was comforting to eat.
We were taking back to the lounge where petit-fours were presented to us on a tray. We could choose as many or as few as we wished.
We chose to share a Pandan Kueh, Palm Sugar and Coconut Flower, Dried Banana, and Sago Coconut Pudding. At the bottom of the photo below was a Smoked Peanut and Rice Crispy.
The Rice Crispy treat had a strong smoke to it which I liked, although not everyone will agree. If you only had space for one other petit-fours, I suggest the sago coconut pudding.
All in all, we felt let down by the food at Bo.Lan, the mains in particular. And the mains really ought to be the centrepiece of the entire meal. Our dining companions largely made up of Caucasians and I suppose I can understand how the food might appeal to them in terms of quantity and perhaps in a toned-down Thai cuisine way. I came expected to be punched with spices and textures and flavours, but left feeling that Thai food should best be enjoyed on the streets where food is cooked by locals, for locals.
Perhaps Bo.Lan was having an off day; Perhaps this season’s menu didn’t quite hit the right notes; Perhaps it just didn’t suit our tastes. Yes, the food was good, but we didn’t feel that it was worth our buck.
Service was attentive enough and pleasant on the most part. However, we had to serve ourselves warm water and ask them for refills when the teapot was emptied. When we were ready to call for the bill, their service staff were nowhere to be found and we had to queue at the reception table to pay. Perhaps we were asking for too much. Perhaps we set too high an expectation.
Anyway, at 3280 Baht (about SGD150) a set, then paying on top of that for water and taxes, our lunch came to about 4000 Baht (about SGD200) each. Lesley and I may not be professional food critics but we do enjoy a good meal and are happy to pay top dollar if we feel that it is justified. In this case, we did pay for it but I doubt there will be a return visit. Or at least, it will take a lot for us to go back.
On a positive note, it was really wonderful dining at a Michelin Star restaurant with one of my bestest friends, for the first time! I don’t know why we didn’t do it earlier!