Affordable French fare, in a charming old world setting, is livening
up the Sukhumvit Soi 11 dining scene
For Clément Hernandez, the definition of French food is product and technique. “The techniques are to enhance the flavours, and give a second life to the product,” he explains, as he recalls picking produce as a child with his grandfather in the fields of his home town of Cahors, in France. He also learned tricks watching his father—a chef and culinary teacher—in the kitchen. “Indirectly, these two men have shaped whoever I am right now,” admits the 28-year-old Executive Chef of Brasserie Cordonnier, the recently opened French bistro on Sukhumvit Soi 11.
The three-storied townhouse features a restaurant on the ground floor, and a speakeasy-style bar—the Sole Rouge—up on the third. The restaurant is fitted with large mirrors, Parisienne-themed murals, and graphic tiles, offering bastions of old-world charm in the middle of this touristy downtown stretch. Sweeping through the menu we see a mix of classic French offerings and Chef Clément’s signature dishes, all at prices that are shockingly modest (rare for proper French fare in this city).
“When we created the menu, we wanted to offer authentic food for affordable prices, something this city needs,” says Clément.
Of course with Clément—a Michelin-trained chef who learned from such culinary legends as Michel Roux, Franck Putelat, Patrick Bertron and Jean Michel Lorain, to name a few—this meant there would be no compromise on the quality, which is why everything is made in-house, with the exception of the bread. With that we dive right into an order of oysters, which we pair with a CP Mule, Italian Mixologist Davide Sambo’s version of a classic Moscow Mule, but made with cognac instead of Vodka.
“So many of the dishes here I simplify, in comparison to what I have done at Michelin star restaurants,” he points out. “I take the original recipe, remove components, and serve it my way, sans artifices.” And despite all this tweaking, he is confident he gets the flavour profile correct because his foundation is always classic French.
Speaking to the young chef, its easy to see his immense sense of pride for his heritage and unwavering focus for his work. “I hope to be a link in the chain for spreading French cuisine to the coming generation.” He continues, “My role is to educate my team, and transmit classic French techniques that I have learned from my previous chefs to young Thai chefs.”
“Of course, with that said,” he adds, “I am just 28 years-old, so I can’t really come up with 40 original items for this menu. Some of the dishes here are served the classic way, such as escargot with garlic and herbs, Burgundian egg meurette, French onion soup, and so on.”
We move on to the chilled Ratatouille, featuring a mix of Mediterranean vegetables, a trio of tomatoes, sunflower seed
s and fresh mint. The chef explains that each vegetable is sautéed one by one, and then combined. “This allows every vegetable to be cooked all the way through. Otherwise it all gets mushy, which is not the right way. My mother does it that way, but it’s not right. Just don’t tell her I said so,” he laughs.
Next we indulge in a Foie Gras Terrine, a generous communal appetizer which we enjoy with brioche and grape chutney. When paired with the sweet chutney the creamy, ganache-like texture of the foie gras—meticulously prepared to be devoid of the liver-like after taste—is simply divine.
Not trying tartare at a French eatery is a culinary sin, so we next take pleasure in the Australian Wagyu Beef and Oyster tartare with shallot cream. One bite in and Clément reveals an early career trauma. “It took me months to get it right when I was first learning this dish,” he says. “So putting this on the menu is so much of an accomplishment for me.” In this tartare the oyster is used as a seasoning for the beef, without making the dish too fishy, and allowing the beef to shine on its own.
Of the mains, we tried a simple yet delectable Sautéed Cod, with crushed potatoes, shallots, capers served in a brown butter sauce. This was followed by Confit Pork Belly, with baby potatoes and apples in an onion purée. This dish showcases the chef’s capabilities in merging French and British cooking—from his time spent in both countries.
“The way I cook the pork belly is in the classic French way, by removing the skin so it’s not too fatty,” Clément remarks. “Pairing pork and apple is a style that is very British, because the apple cuts the saltiness of the meat. The bridge for the two components is the jus, and no one takes the jus more seriously than the French.”
As we take a bite of the heavenly Iced Nougat, served in a tart red berry sauce, Clément points out, “I think there is a big misunderstanding on what French food is. To me, it’s not just fine dining at a five-star hotel, but includes street-style food in a casual ambience. I don’t think there is one French restaurant that ticks all of the boxes—the ambience, food, atmosphere, authenticity, etc. At Brasserie Cordonnier it’s my aim to put all these components together, and bring a slice of France to the middle of Bangkok.”
Interview by Reena Karim