March 1, 2016

Return to Thailand day 2: bo-ring Bo.lan

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After our drinks and nibbles at the Vogue Lounge, HaoKouFu and I got on the BTS and made our way to Bo.lan for dinner.  This place has been on the radar screens of international foodies for a few years, and were included in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for the first three years of the list's existence.  It was therefore no surprise that we both wanted to check it out, even though every Thai person we ran into told us that "Bo.lan is not Thai food"...

Upon arrival, we were presented with this welcome drink of pandan and lemongrass tea.  Ice-cold and very refreshing.  I would have been happy to take this all night...

After flipping through the menu, we decided to take the Bo.lan Balance menu.  However, since I don't care for tom yum kung, I asked to change my soup to the one listed on the Bo.lan Brief menu.

Ya dong grachai dum served with local sour fruits (ยาดองกระชายดำ ก ับผลไม รสเปรี้ยว) - ya dong is a local herbal liquor, and this version uses grachai dum (sometimes known as black ginger).  A quick search on the net shows that this stuff is meant to enhance male libido and counteract erectile dysfunction... so it's all the more curious that it shows up on a fine dining menu and is served to all guests.

As as as tastes go, this stuff smells like Chinese medicine, with a hint of salty plum and a little smoke.  It comes with sour fruits that one takes with a sip of the drink.  The mango is sprinkled with chili powder and salt.  The tamarind looked like it's been put through a dehydrator.  After a sip of the ya dong, one is meant to take a hit of the pandan spray into the mouth... although curiously it only has a mild sweetness and almost no fragrance.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering if I got hard during my dinner... the answer is NO.

Bo.lan amuse bouche - a series of five bites:

Crispy Thai wafer with local flower - the flower was very bitter, but the wafer below contained prawn mousse and tasted sweet.

Prawn with minced pork - with some sort of greens, topped with deep-fried shallots and ginger flower.

Pork salad with pomelo - interestingly came with finely diced pork skin.

Coconut cupcake with green chicken curry - deep-fried tart, and I thought there was eggplant inside.

Thai rice noodle with cucumber - the rice noodle was rolled around cucumber, crab, green guava, coriander, ginger flower, and topped with chili and deep-fried shallots.

Single plate of the day - this came with three elements, which are meant to be taken together in sequence.

Grilled rice with shrimp paste relish - this was a little sweet, which was unexpected.

Assorted salad - a little salty and spicy, with preserved radish similar to the 菜脯 found in southern Chinese cuisine.

Egg mouse with banana blossom - this was very spicy.

Here is where things took a wrong turn, at least for the two of us.  The restaurant chooses to serve 5 "main dishes" - along with the soup - AT THE SAME TIME.  Unless you're in the habit of inhaling large quantities of food in 5 minutes, how the hell are we supposed to get through all of our food before it all gets cold?!  Nevermind that we also happen to be sitting underneath an air conditioning vent!

Salad of grilled pork jowl and native tamarind stuffed with salted duck egg relish with assorted Thai herb - the acidic and spicy flavors here are very familiar, again with coriander and deep-fried shallots.  Not surprisingly, the grilled pork jowl was tender and tasty.  The raw form of tamarind is completely unfamiliar to me and I didn't recognize it, and they did take out the seeds and stuff a little bit of salted egg yolk inside - although I really had to cut a couple open just to confirm the presence of yolk.

Stir-fried squid stuffed with minced chicken and pawn with three flavor sauce - staff said it was minced pork... and I guess there was no "minced pawn", either...  This was very tasty with the pork stuffing, with a sweet and sour sauce that wasn't very spicy.  My favorite of the bunch.

Galangal relish with grilled crayfish and assorted local greens - these were actually river prawns, and this was the least interesting dish of the bunch.  Sure, there were organic vegetables like mushrooms, wax apple, purple winged bean, and what seemed like jicama.

The galangal relish was pretty much the best part of this dish.

North-eastern style soup with fish and greens - this was a lot spicier than I had expected, and I almost choked as the soup hit the back of my throat... so I gave up after a couple of sips.  Tasted of salted plum, like those Thai-style fish  on a steamboat.  The dill was pretty prominent.

"Korat" style curry of "Ku" beef with betel leaves - the beef was overcooked and very tough, but the chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves and betel leaves added nice flavors.

Batter-fried stuffed cabbage with minced pork and salted fish - this was also pretty tasty, as long as I avoided the bird's eye chili...

I took both the Kor Khor 105 jasmine rice from Yasothorn as well as the organic gaba rice, harvested in 2014.

Roast coconut - I started the evening with a young coconut, which is readily available in this country, but I was more curious to try this.   I'm guessing that they did actually put this over a fire, because the flavors are a little more intense here... both with the slight caramelization of sugars, as well as more savory notes from the coconut flesh.

Pre-Dessert - we are meant to pour the contents of the cup - orange wedge and slices of sea coconut - over the ice in the bowl.  There was a jasmine flower and what seemed to be chiffonade of young ginger on the ice.

Dessert - sapodilla (ละมุด) simmered in coconut milk, with glutinous rice balls.  I've always loved sapodilla for its intense sweetness, so of course I was happy to have this.  On the side was an egg waffle with shredded coconut, dried banana, and salted egg yolk.

Petits fours - sticky rice paper, soy bean pudding, coconut toffee, coconut layer cake (like lapis sagu), agar agar... etc.

Crunchy rice with peanuts - smoked with jasmine candle, so that was pretty interesting.

Coconut cupcake - with shredded coconut.

Steamed tapioca - with salted coconut on top.

Bo.lan blend tea - made with cardamom, mint, lemongrass, cinnamon, and ginger.

So... thoughts on this dinner?  While most of the food was reasonably tasty, there were almost no "WOWs"...  Nothing really stood out, and I can't name any dishes which led me to think "I MUST COME BACK FOR THIS!"

Now I'm not surprised that they've fallen off the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list for 2016.  But hey, I'm just another farang so what the hell do I know about Thai food, anyway?


Anonymous said...

This is where we are all different.....and that`s a good thing or the world would be a very boring place.
Personally I really enjoyed BoLan , ive been 4 times and I really do think that it is no gimmicks and very authentic well researched and cooked Thai food....with some amazing flavours.
Ok so there`s a few areas in which BoLan could be improved upon , service being one of them. But on the whole , its well priced ( especially at lunch ) and a lovely atmosphere.
I look forward very much to a return meal've put me in the mood to go back now.
Try it for lunch next time.
Alan ( cumbriafoodie )

Peech said...

Hi Alan,

I'm glad you enjoyed Bo.lan much more than we did. As I said, the food was tasty, but I didn't find it spectacular. Perhaps because I don't have enough insight to the background of Thai cuisine since I didn't grow up with it, although the flavors are generally familiar to me as I have been eating it for more than half my life - including a few months that I spent in Bangkok in my late teens.

We were perhaps unfairly looking for fireworks from this place, and we found none. Hence the disappointment.


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