The Blue Elephant Channels a Bygone era in Food and Design
Historical architecture in Bangkok is back in trend, as turn-of-the-century houses are now more than ever being carefully renovated to their former glory. They have become bars, art galleries, hotels, and, befitting the bacchanalia of old, restaurants. Café de Lao, Harmonique, Issaya Siamese Club, Nahmsaah Bottling Trust, the House on Sathorn—these once stately mansions are now atmospheric eating places, where fine dining channels the spirit of a bygone era.
One of the pioneers in the movement is the Blue Elephant, one of Thailand’s most iconic restaurants. Launched in Brussels in 1980, the Blue Elephant is the brainchild of Chef Nooror Somany Steppe and her husband, Karl Steppe. The couple have carried the Blue Elephant concept across the oceans, representing Thai cuisine at its best in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East—Dubai, Malta, Jakarta, London, Brussels, and more. Chef Nooror cooks a variety of Thai dishes inspired by Royal Thai recipes, but also weaves more humble regional flavours into her repertoire, including traditional Muslim dishes, reflecting her father’s heritage.
“This is part of our DNA,” says Sandra Steppe, daughter of Chef Nooror. “Gastronomy is just an element of Thailand’s incredibly rich cultural heritage. Architecture and lifestyle is another component of Siam and this is something that we want to share with our guests.” Speaking of DNA, Sandra’s father was originally an art dealer running an antique shop in Brussels, and so it’s easy to see how classic art and even architecture have influenced the family business.
It’s strange to think that the Blue Elephant in Bangkok was not the company’s first outlet to open. In fact, it came after the Brussels, London, Copenhagen, and Paris branches. But it might have been a question of opportunity. The Blue Elephant is located in one of Bangkok’s most exquisite heritage mansions. Built in 1903, the neo-Renaissance building has a distinctive Italian flavour—the trend in Bangkok at that time—with some Dutch influence, particularly in its front gable. It was originally the Bangkok office of the Bombay Burmah Trading Company, which was highly active in teakwood and tea concessions in northern Thailand. Later, when the building was acquired by the Thai-Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1930, some discreet Chinese elements were integrated into the façade.
But inside, it is all old Thailand, with wooden floors, rich antique artworks, and heavy brocade in shiny dark colours. The opulence in style and design is only matched by the exquisite food.
The Blue Elephant’s love for heritage does not stop in Bangkok, however. The restaurant’s Phuket Town branch is located in one of the most stunning heritage structures on the Island, set inside the Phra Pitak Chinpracha Mansion, a lovingly restored 105-year-old building that echoes an Italian palazzo. And Nooror’s son, Kim, actively promotes Phuket Peranakan heritage in the old town.
Blue Elephant Bangkok
233 South Sathorn Rd | 0 2673 9353-4 | bluelephant.com/Bangkok | Daily 11.30am-2.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm