Stomachs began to rumble with rumours late last year that the Dusit Thani had hired Morten Bojstrup Nielsen to update the food at Benjarong, its signature Thai restaurant. Morten was head chef at the molecular-esque Sra Bua; the Dusit Thani has always been a bastion of the establishment. Was the old guard ready for liquid nitrogen?
It opened last month and although the menu has been thoroughly modernised, perhaps sensibly, there are few chemical theatrics – and they’ve kept the Royal Thai- themed interior of the original restaurant. The wide, ornately decorated pillars, traditional floor tiles and carved wood ceiling will comfort the regulars. On the other side of the giant windows, the garden trees and an eight-tiered fountain bathe under spotlights.
Morten, who also worked at Nahm, in London and Copenhagen’s Kiin Kiin, offers a pair of tasting menus. The Aromatic Journey (B1100) and the Benjarong Signature Tasting Menu (B1700) can both can be paired with wines for an extra B800 and B1300, respectively. We took the latter, a five-course delight that opened with sparkling wine and three well-balanced tapas bites – bitter notes in deepfried cuttlefish with turmeric; sweet spicy scallop in a little light coconut milk; and shredded roast pork leg with smoky sweet, mildly spiced chilli jam.
Next came two dishes together. The tom yum goong, prettified with pickling onions and delicate balls of giant prawn, is silkily sour and mildly spiced, but traditionally flavoured; and deconstructed yam pla duk foo, which arrives in an upside-down cone-shaped glass bowl that you tip over tom yum custard with crabmeat. It’s pudding-like, creamy sweet and smooth, with occasional prickles of chilli and textural variants of catfish and fresh herbs. The pronounced passionfruit and guava nose of Astrolabe sauvignon blanc is a well-chosen pairing.
A good pinot noir from the same label then partners yam neua, made with wagyu beef cubes from flat iron steak, a cut near the shoulder that has more bite than more expensive steaks. The slightly spicy, sour and salty sauce, set with agar agar for a jammy consistency, balances well with pieces of sweet melon.
And then a glass of Cave La Suzienne, Cote du Rhone for the final savoury course. The duck breast sous vide, finished with a crispy, caramelised surface, is enhanced by a deeply rich and intense oyster sauce pumped with basil, stir-fried Chinese chives and a crispy wanton filled with duck leg.
End with basil ice cream, which is a riot of flavours from cookie crumbles, preserved pineapple, salty meringue and pineapple foam. It’s a lively, inventive finish to the meal that makes good use of Thai flavours.
Morten says they’re aiming for a relaxed, rather than formal, restaurant, and they’ve largely succeeded, serving food that’s new wave but not too scary in an unstuffy environment. It’s very enjoyable.
Dusit Thani Bangkok, 946 Rama IV Rd | 02-200-9000
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