As diners enjoy the spectacular views from the Banyan Tree’s Vertigo rooftop restaurant, down a set of adjacent stairs I meet the hotel’s executive chef Jaikrishnan ‘Jai’ Govindan and his team, who plate over 200 covers a night from their tiny kitchen. Today, Jai will show me the preparation for two of their most popular dishes – tuna ceviche and tandoori spiced 55 degree duck.
“We have a lot of food styles here,” he says. “But one big influence is 14th century Mediterranean cooking with Persian, Spanish and Moorish elements. We exploit local and seasonal product as much as possible to use with quality imported items such as Barbary duck and New Zealand lamb. Line-caught tuna arrives twice a week from the Maldives.”
For the ceviche, Chef Jai mixes cubes of raw tuna loin (“the belly is too fatty”) with lime juice, fish sauce, coriander root, sugar, chilli and garlic. He then adds Spanish onion, Thai basil and avocado, and garnishes with coriander leaf and colourful edible flowers to serve in a giant cocktail glass. Rooted in the Thai spectrum, it is medium spicy, with the fragrant basil and coriander bouncing against the fish sauce and creamy avocado. “It’s important that when we make it it’s eaten immediately, so that it doesn’t die,” Jai explains.
For the duck breast, he fires up two small frying pans. Into one goes butter and minced garlic, and later pieces of artichoke and fresh fig. After seasoning he adds orange segments and chopped parsley. The other pan gets finely grated cauliflower couscous, parsley and cumin. In just two minutes both are done. The sauce, made of orange, star anise, cumin and duck jus, gets a last minute dousing with butter to make it shine.
The duck, which has already been cooked sous vide for an hour, is now pan fried to brown and crisp the skin. “We import French duck because it doesn’t have too much fat between the skin and meat,” says Jai. “For the marinade we have a secret combination of 17 Moorish-Indian herbs and dark spices, including nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. But we use them sparingly because sous vide already enhances the flavours.”
To serve, the sauce is poured into the centre of a wide bowl to act as a bed for the other ingredients. The duck, sliced into two, is an enticing pink inside, providing a nice contrast with the browned skin. A garnish of salad leaves is brightened with a vinegar spray.
This is straight ahead food; simple dishes cooked quickly. “Everything we do is fresh: prepared a la minute,” Jai says. In the restaurant, on the Banyan Tree’s former helipad, it’s a beautiful sunset scene, an unrestricted 360 degree view, including river curls, Lumphini Park and the spans of Rama VIII Bridge. It’s like sitting amid a Turner skyscape, with shafts of light playing behind the clouds seemingly just above your head. No wonder it’s a popular spot for honeymoons and proposals of marriage.