Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava recently relocated Bo.lan, the restaurant she runs with partner Dylan Jones, to an old wooden house amid tropical trees 150 metres into Soi 53. The pair met while working in London at David Thompson’s Nahm, which was then the world’s only Michelin starred Thai restaurant, and Bo subsequently went on to win the Best Female Chef title at the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia Awards 2013.
Since its original opening in 2009, Bo.lan has become a beacon, equally for traditional Thai food and for promoting sustainable practices. They work as closely as possible with local farmers and are committed to recycling everything, including water, organic waste and packaging. “We want to achieve a zero carbon footprint by 2018,” Bo says, as she leads me to the ample kitchen – “It’s much bigger than the old one,” she grins. The chef is going to show me how to make grilled chicken salad.
The ingredients are laid out in bowls, and the chicken,which has been marinated briefly in coconut cream and fish sauce, is on the grill. Into a hefty stone mortar Bo drops sea salt and tiny cloves of Thai garlic, and beats with a pestle. She adds big red chillis. “These are jin da daeng,” she says, “the preferred chillis of Isaan.” Then coconut palm sugar goes in, followed by fish sauce and lime juice, which turns the paste into liquid. Bo dips in a chefly finger and tastes. “That’s the dressing,” she says. “It’s really simple.”
Moving on to the salad she adds small handfuls of sliced lemongrass, shallots, mint and coriander to a bowl, along with green papaya, a little kaffir lime leaf and segments of star fruit. Next goes som saa – “A cross between mandarin and lime”.
The chef lifts the wok lid that covers the chicken on the grill, releasing a large cloud of smoke. “We add grated coconut to the charcoal to do two things – to reduce the flames and to give a little smokiness,” she reveals.
Bo separates the chicken into two pieces and leaves it to rest for a few minutes. Then she takes out the bones, cuts it into small cubes and drops them into the salad. “Now we add a lot of dressing,” she says, pouring over two large spoonfuls. Then she tosses on pieces of longan and garnishes with dried fried shallots.
Sitting in the restaurant, in keeping with the overall Bo.lan philosophy, aluminium workings of ritual objects in found and recycled materials hang from the ceiling, and the rooms have artworks of old wooden houses and domestic settings that Bo describes as “suburban living”.
The salad tastes fresh, spicy and slightly sweet, and the pronounced smokiness from the tender, juicy chicken gives the dish a darker edge, conjuring images of eating in a garden, the meat just picked from an open fire. Bo.lan is traditional even to the attendant visions.
Sukhumvit Soi 53 | 0 2260 2961 | bolan.co.th | Thu-Sun noon-2:30pm; Tue-Sun 6pm-10.30pm