Isaan Interpretations menu gives upcountry classics a gourmet makeover
Housed in a century-old ornate, two-story teak house, Ruen Urai restaurant stands majestically amidst its lush garden surroundings. The main room is tastefully lit and decorated with a stylish, contemporary flair, overlooking the swimming pool of the neighbouring Rose Hotel on one side, and the green space behind the main building on the other—an area which, up until recently, was somewhat underused. But, as of early this year a cozy new glassed-in solarium room, located beside the small outdoor seating area to the rear of the restaurant, offers spaces for four more tables.
However, the real point of interest for returning regulars—of which Ruen Urai has many—is the new bar and lounge area, located in a sepaate building (which is currently being converted into a small boutique hotel and residence) just beside the restaurant. The lounge’s overall style leans towards classic European drawing room elegance, but there are several Thai flourishes as well, including beautiful art pieces on the bookshelves. Another thing of beauty is the signature cocktail list, which offers eight intriguing creations (B290 each).
After a refreshing cocktail it’s time for dinner, and when it comes to truly enjoying Thai food a large group, ordering lots of different dishes, is best. Our group of 12 completely fills the solarium extension, and it’s here that owner Dr. Tom Vitayakul gives us a peek at his newly launched ‘Isaan Interpretations’ menu, starting with two fish dishes. The Northeastern Salad of Grilled and Flaked Salmon (B350) is basically laab moo, but made using salmon instead of pork—a fantastic substitution—while the Steamed Filets of Sea Bass (B380) is served with an aromatic mixture of herbs.
Beef dishes include the Spicy and Sour Beef Soup (B380), a clear broth with tender beef chunks and toasted pounded rice, and the generously portioned Grilled Beef Striploin (B450) served with Isaan spicy sauce. Sided with and order of special black sticky rice (B50) it’s a very satisfying main course.
However, the highlights of this Isaan culinary hit list are two dishes vastly different in nature, but somewhat similar in taste. First is the Crispy Fried Frog’s Legs (B380) with garlic and pepper. Unlike French-style frog’s legs, these meaty morsels are about the size of chicken wings and, dare I say it, the meat on the bone really does taste like chicken (albeit a tiny bit oilier, more akin to dark meat). Second is the Braised Fillets of Chicken with Lemongrass and Herbs (B350), a deceptively simple sounding dish that was actually note perfect in flavour balance—I’d have gladly ordered another portion.
As for menu items not on the limited-time Isaan Interpretations menu, the irresitable Laab Moo Tod (B380), deep-fried dollops of spicy minced pork salad, and the wonderful Som Tam Yod Ma Prao On (B300)—a som tam variation using strips of young coconut instead of papaya, and served with juicy jumbo grilled shrimp—are both excellent choices.
By Bruce Scott
GF, The Rose Hotel, 118 Surawong Rd.
Tel: 02 266 8268
Open daily: noon-11pm