The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, which traces its history to 1876 as the first hotel in the Kingdom of Siam, remains one of the finest hotels in Asia. Its legendary service and refined elegance leaves you half-expecting to find such famous visitors of years past as Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward sitting in the lobby or the colonial-style Authors’ Lounge.
Sitting atop the 10-story Garden Wing, which was home to Thailand’s first elevator (1958), is the most famous French restaurant in town: Le Normandie. It was there that we gathered for lunch Sunday afternoon to celebrate the marriage of one of Tawn’s university friends, Ko. She and her husband Per were married in a civil ceremony in Sweden a few weeks back. He will move here later this year and their Thai wedding celebration, certain to be much more lavish, will be held in December.
Photo courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Group
Joining Ko, Tawn, and me was their other university friend, Bim. Both Bim and Ko are foodies, so this seemed as good a place as any to indulge and celebrate. Le Normandie, which is elegantly appointed in buttery yellow silks, mirrors, and fine chandeliers, has a view and a price tag to suit. What isn’t widely known is that each summer, which is low season here in Thailand, Le Normandie offers a summer prix fixe menu – this summer only 1100 baht ($35) for three courses.
In addition to the beautiful wall treatments and lighting fixtures, both sides of the room have floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular views of the city on one side and the Chao Phraya River on the other. The dining room is decorated with beautiful arrangements of fresh flowers, too.
Something that you are paying for at Le Normandie is the service, which is every bit as prompt and attentive as you would expect in a fine restaurant in Paris. The roast is carved tableside, plates are placed at the table simultaneously by the waiters, the proper utensils are discreetly placed on the table between courses, etc. Living in a city where most of the fine dining restaurants struggle to get the diners’ main courses to the table within ten minutes of each other, having the plates gently placed on the table at the same moment is a thrill!
Fresh breads of all sorts were brought before and throughout the meal, a variety of brioche, whole grain bread, sourdough, baguette, etc. that were freshly baked that morning and served warm. The butter was molded with a italicized “N” on top, served in a proper glass dish with silver lid.
After ordering, the chef sent an amuse bouche to tease our appetite. Sorry that the focus on the right isn’t sharp. The shot glass is a tomato jelly with avocado soup and a passion fruit foam. On the left is a slice of squash mousse with broccoli salad topped with a roll of chicken mousse wrapped in thinly sliced duck breast. Yummy!
Tawn and I both ordered this beautiful dish: buisson d’asperges vertes, crème aux graines de pavot, œuf de poule prise en gelée, tartare de légumes safranés , which is a “buisson” or pile of green asparagus with poached egg, poppy seed cream, and saffron scented vegetable tartar.
Translating that further, that base was formed of asparagus spears set upright in an aspic, or gelatin, base. The poached egg, served cool but with a runny yolk, was inside the “crown” of asparagus and held into place with a little more aspic. The vegetables around the base were mostly tomatoes and pepper and had a nice saffron aroma. Once the plate was served, the waiter came over with a sauce dish of warm poppy seed cream and spooned it into the center of the crown.
When I cut into it, the cream and egg yolk came running out in what was both an amazing, and an amazingly beautiful, mess. The dish was really nicely prepared and what was especially pleasing about it was the amount of effort and technique that had gone into it. It was a good example of the elevation of food to art.
Ko ordered esquinade d’araignée, courgette et salicoque e la vapeur, émulsion au chorizo, which was a spider sea crab meat with poached prawn and zucchini, served with chorizo sausage sauce. I didn’t try it but she said it was very nice. Beautiful plating, too.
Bim ordered the vibrant green cuisses de grenouilles en fricassée, raviole Provençale, parmesan et sherry Tio-Pepe – a frog leg fricassee with Provençale ravioli, parmesan and Tio-Pepe sherry sauce. She really enjoyed this dish.
Between courses, here are the beautiful and intelligent Bim (left) and Ko (right). While there were many other friends who couldn’t make it, I can’t imagine anyone who would have been better to enjoy this meal with.
The main courses were just as artful and tasty as the entrées. Bim and Ko both had the filet de Saint-Pierre confit, croustillant de lard Ibérique a l’abricot et jus a la vanille, which was a John Dory fillet with apricot wrapped in Iberico ham and a vanilla-berry essence.
Tawn had the cabillaud à la Boulangère, vin de Jura, cappuccino des sous-bois et sauce au café , which was cod fish Boulangere style with Jura wine, forest mushroom cappuccino and a coffee sauce. The fish was beautifully prepared, moist and flaky. The sauce was interesting as it had just the faintest hint of coffee to it.
I didn’t stray far from convention, enjoying a flavorful pièce de bœuf rôti, gratin de tomates cerise, échalote en chemise et sauce au poivre, or roasted beef with cherry tomato gratin, shallot and pepper corn sauce. It was very tasty.
After the main course, the dessert cart was rolled over, featuring a half-dozen types of cakes and four stewed fruit compotes including fig and rhubarb. We could choose two selections and the waiter prepared each plate, saucing and decorating it differently. It took about five minutes per plate but the results, as you can see below, were beautiful.
A cappuccino cake that was calling to me from the dessert cart, although I settled on this one instead:
My marscapone cheese cake with vanilla sauce and rhubarb compote.
A raspberry mousse cake and a chocolate cake – Tawn’s selections.
While tea and coffee were served, two trays of beautiful and tasty macarons were served: chocolate-raspberry, caramel, chocolate-orange, and green tea.
While we didn’t partake of them, there was a cart loaded with fine after dinner drinks. I’m not a brandy drinker, but there is something about an after-dinner drink that seems very refined.
After an enjoyable, nearly three hour dining experience above the banks of the Chao Phraya River. What an elegant and pleasant way to celebrate a friend’s wedding. If only her new husband had been there to enjoy it, too!
Hey I was just at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in DC! Didn’t go in it though.
What a delicious and ‘hi-so’ luncheon! $35 seems reasonable?
$35! Wow… I would love to take J there. I think he would really enjoy this place. I love these hotels with their rich history. Your photography is very good (in case you didn’t know that).
oooh MY! I am left SPEECH….LESS! LOVE THIS!
absolutely incredible! thanx 4 sharing… love all da food photos!p.s. love the pix of you 2… so happy and picture perfect
Wow all that for $35…
WOW! I am so hypnotized by the dessert shots! And all that for just $35- what a steal!
Just read the post again (haha)…. DROOOOL!!!! What a great deal…. food pix look amazing must be yummmm!
now I am hungry!! – The whole presentation adds to the food itself. Then add good friends. Excellent!!
This spectacular vista of the foods and the ambience was the best yet Chris. I could get so used to that. Your choice of dessert with the artfully decorated cookie (?) looked so elegant… as did everything else.
That is some beautiful food – I hope it was as tasty as it looked! The flower designs in the sauce with Tawn’s desert is a true work of art… I’d have felt guilty disturbing it. But then again chocolate leaves very little room for guilt – especially if it is good chocolate…
The flower decorations in the chocolate sauce (desserts) are amazing.I miss Thailand so much – thank you for bringing a little of it to me via your blogs. ~ hugs V
Nom… beautiful shots!
This looks like such a lovely meal!
Absolutely stunning photos!
yum, what a delicious-looking meal! now i’m hungry… time for lunch!
Gorgeous photos! My tastebuds are so envious!
oooh la la la la….those food pictures, oh my, oh wowit is so unfair that i can only see it, but cannot taste itwhy oh why
The presentation is really great
With this service and delectable looking food, $35 seems very reasonable. I hope all the dishes tasted as good as they look.
Wow wow wow! Such beautiful food, especially the desserts! Can we go when I come to visit?? 😛
the bread, frog legs, fish with coffee sauce and macaroons look yummy. you know, considering it’s french cuisine and in a very lavish hotel’s restaurant, $35 for 3-course meal is very reasonable. it could’ve been double the price.
@ElusiveWords – @everyday_yogi – @Passionflwr86 – @osmundaregalis – Thank you; I was very fortunate that we had good lighting, which made it much easier to take nice shots.@brooklyn2028 – Certainly; you’ll just have to make sure you are here during the Summer so we can take advantage of the Summer set price menu. Should I be marking my calendar for anytime in particular? =D@rudyhou – @jandsschultz – @Dezinerdreams – @yang1815 – @CurryPuffy – For what it was, $35 was a very reasonable price. Now, had we not bought a bottle of wine to go with it, we would have gotten off for a steal. Adding the wine significantly increased the price! But it was a really, really tasty Sauvignon Blanc.@Wangium – @Fatcat723 – @ZSA_MD – @TheCheshireGrins – @kunhuo42 – The presentation and ambience showed such great attention to detail. Sometimes I forget how much those elements contribute to the dining experience.@maniacsicko – Wouldn’t it be nice if they come up with some sort of 4-d internet so we can taste and smell what we’re seeing on the screen?@Sinful_Sundae – Oh, thank you, that’s very nice of you to say. The picture turned out nicely and is very flattering.@Roadlesstaken – I didn’t know they had a hotel in DC.@murisopsis – Would you believe that the waiter crafted each of those plates individually? Nobody at the table had the same designs in the sauce. Time-consuming and attentive and really wonderful.@venice – You’re welcome. Did you and your family get a chance to come back here? I recall your planned trip was interrupted by the political nonsense.@z_stands_for – I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Like the other commenters… 1) DROOL. 2) $35? I’m sold! 3) Thanks to your pictures + blog entries, Thailand is fast becoming a place I might want to visit soon. heh. Thanks for posting the wonderful pictures.
@christao408 – We came over as a family (hubby, my 3 daughters and myself) in Jan/Feb 2009. We were hoping to visit again in Sept this year but have decided to give it a miss until everything settles down. We will definitely come for a few weeks next year. I think that will make it my 8th trip over.
oh my, your food photos are mouth watering! & the food arrangements are truly wonderful: I’m staring at the great masterpiece of the chef!
That was an incredible lot of pictures – I was really into it. Somehow I skipped over the bit where you said the price, so I assumed this place would have costed at least $100, but $35?! That’s crazy!
@moolgishin – The Thai Tourism Authority will be glad to hear that their blog-based marketing campaign is working! Ha ha – if only they thought of doing something like that. Glad you enjoyed the entry.@venice – Things should be quieter next year. We just had Bangkok elections yesterday and they were peaceful, with the Democrats picking up 45 of the 60 council seats and the Red Shirts picking up 14. Of course, Bangkok has always been a Democrat stronghold, so the results aren’t indicative of what will happen in a national election. But at least the polling was peaceful.
@stepaside_loser – For what it was, the price was a steal. There are many advantages to being in Thailand during the tourist low season, not the least of which are these special deals that aren’t offered when the hotels are busy.@lynjae888 – They really were masterpieces, weren’t they? I almost went into the kitchen to hug the chef and thank him!