Duongporn “Bo” Songvisava was awarded Asia’s Best Female Chef at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013. At the same event, Bo Lan was ranked #36 on the listing. Bo Lan is run by “Bo” and her husband Dylan Jones. Interestingly the name of the restaurant – Bo Lan, in Thai has the same pronunciation as the meaning of ancient.
The restaurant was not easily accessible via BTS as it requires significant walking distance. Even by car, after turning in from Rama IV road, it took about 5 mins journey to reach the discreet dining place hidden amongst the small alleys.
Although Bo Lan serves Thai cuisine (same as Nahm), the restaurant decoration and ambience was vastly different. Bo Lan’s decor was rustic, ceiling was covered with many round and flat bamboo baskets, used typically for separating grains. The staff wore uniforms that looked like linen kimono top paired with fisherman’s pants. While seated in the dining hall, we noted the extensive use of dark wood furnitures, it made us felt as if we were transported to an rural village and dining in a villager’s home (albeit a classy one and in the comfort of air-con).
We were presented with a refreshing cup of chilled lemongrass and ginger as welcome drink accompanied with snacks – crispy puffed rice. We settled for the Bo.lan Balance tasting menu and ordered 2 cocktails – Bo.lan Nahm mao and Bo.lan Splash. Both the cocktails were infused with an assortment of tropical ingredients like ginger, lemongrass, lime etc.
Our tasting menu started with Ya dong grachai dum which included an alcholic drink (Thai whiskey), Pandanus juice (Pandanus is a tropical plant affectionately known to us as Pandan) with sour fruits served with salt and spice powder on the side. Effectively all our senses: Bitter, Sweet, Sour, Salt and Spice were awakened after finishing this plate.
Amuse bouche comprises of 5 bite-sized items: rice cracker, dumpling, lychee with caramelised onions, green mango with beef (i think), pineapple with chilli shrimp paste. Honestly I wasn’t very sure whether I got them right…was kinda bushed after long day and having dinner at 9+pm…
Although we were only at our 2nd course, what impressed me about Bo Lan had been the thoughts put into each of the items presented; the effort and delicacy required to prepare and plate the items individually. I also appreciate that each of the bite-sized items had their own distinct character and flavour.
The Single Plate of the Day was Rice Noodle with Prawn Dumpling. This was one of the dishes that I enjoyed most for the dinner. The simple-looking white rice noodle with the prawn dumpling topped with shrimp floss and chopped coriander (laksa leave) had an amazingly refreshing taste.
For the Relish of salty duck egg simmered in coconut cream and minced prawn served with grilled squid, I enjoyed the chewiness of grilled squid but the relish wasn’t notable to me as I think it was kinda bland.
After the minor hiccup with the relish dish, Bo Lan more than made up for it by nailing the next dish – “Mon” Style Khi lek curry with daily ocean fish served together with chopped pickled mustard vegetable relish. The fish meat was firm and fresh, the curry was mildly spicy and light. I love the dish’s savory yet well-balanced taste, amazingly it still tasted very “Thai” even though it was not our typical impression of Thai curry which tends to be thick, rich, creamy and big on flavours.
We were presented with a choice of jasmine rice or brown rice to go with the other main dishes.
While we were still savouring the seafood dishes, the other dishes came in a flurry. The staff served us a trio of dishes, followed by soup of our choice:
- Salad of “KU” Beef with organic mangosteen and chili mint dressing -Beef wasn’t exactly tender, salad tasted ok.
- Stir-fried pork tender with Santol – Pork wasn’t exactly tender, taste was mildly flavoured.
- Daily accompaniment Turmeric fried of daily ocean fish – Nicely fried to golden brown while retaining the moisture from the fish meat.
- [Single portion] Clear soup of chicken and prawns with large tapioca pearl and young coconut meat – Mildly flavoured soup which is suitable for pple who don’t take spice.
- [Single portion] Hot and sour soup of pork ribs and pineapple – A spicy Tom yum styled soup, not too spicy to sting the tongue but still punchy enough to feel its simmering effect once it reached our stomachs.
Pre-dessert was something that reminded me of my childhood – ice popsicles. The ice popsicles served here were in tropical fruit flavours: Plum and Passionfruit (I think). Although these are rarely seen in Singapore now, they are still sold in Chaktuchak Market, whereby the vendors still used the thai popsicle maker to turn flavoured soda into ice popsicles. Managed to find a picture of the thai popsicle maker from the internet and the website even has detailed instructions on how to use this.
Bo.lan dessert was Caramelised peanut served with young coconut (again hopefully I captured it correctly), which was also light and refreshing.
After finishing the dessert, I was a happy and satisifed customer with an extremely filled belly, thinking of returning to the soft and comfortable bed in the hotel.
However we got a surprised when we saw the huge tray of beautifully arranged petit fours comprising of an assortment of Thai sweet treats. I felt as if I am an explorer foraging through the forest for hidden treasures. The Thai sweet treats were mostly made of ingredients such as caramel, pandan leaves and coconut. Distinctively Asian.
Finally we were served the Bo.lan blend: Chiang Mai tea with spicies, mint, ginger & honey to complete the meal which took slightly more than 2 hours to finish.
Compared to the strong and rich character of the dishes at Nahm, the dishes at Bo Lan were lighter and more subtle. One thing in common at both restaurants, the dishes presented showcased complexity in flavours and tastes.
Ambience and service-wise, I felt that Nahm was closer to fine-dining quality; whereas Bo Lan had a more casual ambience.
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