Friday, March 21, 2008

Ruen Urai, Bangkok, Thailand

The house of gold

Ruen Urai
The Rose Hotel,
118 Soi Na Wat Hualumpong,
Surawongse Road, Bangkok
10500 Thailand
Tel: (66) 02 266 8268-72
Open: Noon to 11pm

Bangkok is a city of interest. On teeming Surawongse Road, in the heart of the city, for example, you encounter a bewildering blend of seedy bars, restaurants, hotels, fortune tellers, Internet cafes, and even a Starbucks outlet. It is also here that you will find Ruen Urai (which means Golden House), a five-month-old cult restaurant du jour.

Recently restored at the cost of 4 million baht (about RM400,000), the 72-seater eatery of the Rose Hotel is set in a century-old building crafted in Central Plain-style. Made from golden teak, it was once the home of one of the herbal medicine practitioners to King Rama V.

Serene: Ruen Urai boasts of 72-seater, made from golden teak. The location was once the home of a medicine practitioner to the King.

Some 40 years ago, the side-streets in the area were once canals where monks would journey on canoes, seeking alms. The waterways soon filled up as the city matured.

As its moniker suggests, the restaurant is imbued with a sense of history and offers authentic and stylish Thai cuisine.

“We’ve built upon the history of the building as a herbal doctor’s residence and created a style of cuisine that’s light and healthful, yet genuinely Thai,” explains Tom Vitayakul, the general manager of the Rose Hotel and the restaurant.

With a menu spanning 70 different varieties of appetisers, mains and desserts, Ruen Arai should please anyone but the most fickle.

I found the Pohr Pia Sod (RM9), bite-sized servings of fresh spring rolls wrapped with prawns and fresh salad, and infused with a delicate hint of mint, to be excellent. The Kratong Tong (RM9), crispy cups filled with minced prawns, garden vegetables and spicy chillies, resemble Nyonya cuisine’s famed pai tee.

For a spice-filled experience, the Mieng Pla Krapong (RM18), pan-fried cubes of red snapper in Thai herbal dressing artfully presented on betel leaves, assail the taste buds and made me a little hot under the collar.

Artistic food: Fresh mango is served with sticky rice and coconut cream. — MARK LEAN

Thankfully, we were seated in the air-conditioned section. Our much loved satay, the pride of our national airline’s business class, have a place there too. Ruen Urai’s Satay Ghoong Rhue Pla Salmon, or salmon satay (RM18) is presented with élan as four sticks of salmon fillets sit majestically atop a bed of finely chopped colourful greens, and accompanied by their signature peanut sauce.

More surprises lay in store that afternoon. Shortly after the salmon was served, an unexpected visitor paid Ruen Urai a visit. Dressed in the usual tourist garb of grey T-shirt and jeans, and without a trace of make-up, jazz superstar Laura Fygi sauntered into the restaurant. Ms Fygi was, predictably, accompanied by her entourage, presumably comprising the members of her band. We soon found out that the Dutch singer, a regular diner at the restaurant, was in town for the recent Bangkok Jazz Festival.

“I had been performing at the Oriental in Bangkok, and have just returned from a two–night stint at the Peninsula in Hong Kong,” she tells us.

No wonder she looked tired.

Ms Fygi’s surprise appearance, however, couldn’t distract from the next dish. The Dtom Yum Ghoong (RM35), or spicy soup with river prawns, had the ability to hold its own even in the presence of a true star.

It’s a privilege to taste traditional dishes in the country of their origin, and this soup did not let us down, being fiery with very fresh prawns.

For a touch of sweetness, consider Ruen Urai’s Khao Neaw Mamuang (RM11), fresh mango served with sticky rice and coconut cream. Adorned with tiny edible golden leaves, the delicacy is quintessentially Thai. As expected, the rice was lightly scented with a subtle whiff of coconut, while the juicy mango slices were just desserts.

In the few months since its opening, the restaurant has been gaining fans ranging from the Bangkok glitterati and society matrons, to clued-in expatriates and, of course, a certain jazz superstar.

This house of gold looks set to prosper.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Patrick Teoh's Steamboat Restaurant

Stumbled upon Patrick Teoh's blog and discover this video promoting a Steamboat Restaurant (Hot Pot).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hairy experience

One Bangsar
63B, Jalan Ara
Bangsar Baru
Kuala Lumpur
Tel: (03) 2282 1111
Openi daily: noon-2.30pm and 6.30pm - 10.30pm

Hokkaido hairy crabs make their appearance at Fukuya Japanese restaurant.

You’re doing a food review just on crabs? What about the other kinds of food at the restaurant?” asks a friend, who thinks food reviewers have one of the best jobs in the world.

Irresistible stuff: Crab leg sushi

Well, that can be true some of the time. At Fukuya, a Japanese eatery in the bustling dining and entertainment enclave known as One Bangsar, I certainly had my fill of crabs. And they weren’t any ordinary crustaceans, by the way.

The kegani or hairy crabs, which are air-flown from Hokkaido, Japan are a seasonal delicacy. Priced at RM38 for 100 grams, they don’t come cheap, either.

Fukuya’s executive chef Takao Ando certainly knows how to prepare his crabs. Originally from Hokkaido but trained in Tokyo, Chef Ando whips up a special hairy crab menu. According to him, the fresh, sweet flavours of steamed or charcoal-grilled Hokkaido crabs are best enjoyed when dipped in vinegar sauce.

I’m not much of a crab lover, and I encountered some trouble prising the meat from the shells. But before I had a chance to get a bit crabby, Chef Ando gave me a quick and simple lesson on how to flick the meat out.

“They’re best enjoyed boiled. The taste is gone when the crabs are over-grilled,” explained the friendly master chef. I asked him why the hairy crabs were popular during winter in Japan, and not summer.

“In winter, the crabs taste better. The meat is sweeter compared to during the summer when the sea temperatures were higher. The crab meat is less sweet then,” he informed me with a logic I simply couldn’t dispute.

This sweetness is amplified in the Crab Hot Pot with vegetables that come in three sizes (small, RM45; medium, RM90; large, RM180). Fortified with flavour, the soup packed a subtle punch when it came to taste. The cabbage and tofu were well cooked. But it’s the stars of the pot, the hairy crabs that came into their own.

Swirling in a light miso stock, the meat was tender, and not stringy. Everything ended up being a rubbery mess on occasions, though, when the seafood is over-cooked.

Thankfully, the crab leg sushi (RM45) was anything but rubbery. In fact, Chef Ando’s undoubted sushi-crafting skills made the dish a thoroughly authentic one. The three sushi items were delicate little morsels that looked too good to eat. Then again, I was hungry. But I did feel a tad guilty for scoffing down a near work-of-art with a speedy pop in the mouth!

The Hokkaido crab special menu features traditional recipes, but Chef Ando has also created a special dish: Japanese-style Chilli Crab (RM90).

“We’ve added chilli crabs for a more localised flavour,” he explained. Tangy and spicy, the dish is made for the local palate. Japanese cuisine purists might shake their heads disapprovingly, but the crabs speak for themselves. In fact, they can probably be considered haute cuisine chilli crabs. The dishes can be ordered a la carte during the month of March.

Appetising crab hot pot with vegetables

Interestingly, Chef Ando is also renowned for his Kaiseiki sets – 10 course degustation menus similar to the classic French style of cuisine presentation. By some accounts, they’re the epitome of Japanese dining. But the famed kaiseiki has to be tasted to be believed.

Design-wise, Fukuya (which means “house of happiness”) is a celebration of the clean, uncluttered minimalist style.

A concrete and grass courtyard leads to a cool and cosy interior. Modern but not achingly hip, Fukuya doesn’t intimidate would-be diners, as some other trend-aware places do. As part of the One Bangsar development, which resembles a mini-resort minus accommodation facilities and a swimming pool, the restaurant is part of an array of eateries with decidedly international flavours. Amble down stone-covered interconnecting pathways, and you are confronted with a United Nations’ representation of restaurants - Vietnamese, Italian and even a Rick’s Café, inspired no doubt by the movie Casablanca. However, do note that parking may prove to be a bit of a problem especially at night.