Stalwart of Bangkok’s food scene achieves culinary (and curry) gold
Few restaurants in Bangkok have gained the reverence of Blue Elephant, the much-lauded classic Thai restaurant located on the South Sathorn Road. Indeed, few have even lasted as long. The first branch opened in Brussels in 1980, followed by London in 1986, then further global expansion in Copenhagen, Paris, Dubai, Malta and Jakarta. The Bangkok restaurant opened in 2002, a relatively late newcomer to the Blue Elephant portfolio, with Phuket following in 2010.
As well as successful restaurants, both Thai branches run cookery schools, championing regional fare from the four eras of Thai history. It’s with an almost obsessive attentiveness that Chef Nooror Somany-Steppe studies these ages—researching and reworking handed-down recipes, and honouring the extensive and diverse culinary traditions of Thailand, notably those of her native Chachoengsao province.
Housed in a Crayola yellow colonial house, the Bangkok restaurant occupies the Old Thai Chine Building opposite the Surasak BTS Skytrain station. At night, low-lights accentuate the Sino-Portuguese style windows, while a mercury blue neon-light highlights the restaurant’s elephant epithet above the entrance. Inside is the sort of decorative dining-room motif that embraces and celebrates Thai culture with ornate gold and wooden decorations and bamboo, summer-house furniture (although there’d be no harm in a little splash of modernity and some 21st-century trimmings).
More importantly, on to the menu and a varied carte du jour as large as any broadsheet, with page after page of Thai culinary staples, alongside several regional reinventions. Basically, a bit of everything.
Sago Bresse Chicken (B320) consists of steamed pandan sago and butterfly pea flowers, stuffed with sweet turnip, peanuts and caramelized chicken from the Royal Projects Farm in Chiang Mai, all wrapped into meaty, gelatinous balls. This is followed by a recipe from Chantaburi province: Jeang Ron (B340), a grilled clown featherback fish served in a red curry paste with Kaffir lime leaves and cool cucumber salad, to which I add a Raw Green Mango Salad (B380), made from grated Nam Doi Mai—green mangos—to cool the palate.
For mains I double up on curries with Lamb Massaman Curry (B680) and Tumee Curry with Sea Bass (B580). Both are ceremoniously placed in front of me, the Massaman bubbling in a terracotta pot above a live flame so that I’m forced to lean across and pick out the chunks of succulent lamb cooked with sweet purple potatoes. The sea bass, with fenugreek, coconut cream and okra, is equally as pleasing, with Coconut Jasmine Rice (B180) served in a hollowed coconut shell.
It’s worth noting the presentation. If you’re coming to Bangkok to indulge in food, then you must distinguish between fine dining and the sprawl of street food stalls pitched up on every road and street corner. What has happened in the years since Chef Nooror started cooking, is that the Thai’s culinary culture has grown, exporting itself around the world, moving into the fine dining arena. Blue Elephant is a reflection of this, receiving a Michelin Plate in December 2017, and presenting ancient recipes served as modern plates within a classical, albeit nostalgic, setting. By David J. Constable
233 South Sathorn Rd.
Tel: 02 673 9353
Open daily: 11:30am-2:30pm, 6pm-10:30pm