Lunch at Quince Bangkok

Recently, I stopped by Quince restaurant in Bangkok for a weekday lunch, a long-overdue chance to revisit a restaurant that features thoughtful food in a pleasant space. Tucked behind a furniture shop on Sukhumvit Road, Quince has gone through at least two chefs in about eighteen months. Originally helmed by Jess Barnes, now at the excellent Opposite Mess Hall, the menu at Quince continues to impress.


This being lunch and dining with only one other person, I didn’t get a chance to try a broad selection. This special, a beetroot risotto with asparagus, parsley, and feta, was nicely composed and properly cooked. I would have preferred the beetroot to have been diced and folded in at the last moment instead of being pureed into the dish, but you have to admit that the scarlet color is striking.

P1280677From the regular menu, the ricotta gnocchi with zucchini, green pea, lemon, mint, and chili was nicely executed, bright flavors with good attention to the vegetables not being overcooked.

The interior of the restaurant continues to be one of my favorite in Bangkok – lots of light without being overly bright, different rooms have different types of energy. It is an especially good place for lunch or brunch, simply because it isn’t as crowded. I look forward to another return visit soon.

Châteaux Faugères Wine Lunch at Quince

This week, Tawn and I were invited to join a small wine-tasting lunch at local restaurant Quince, featuring wines made and distributed by Châteaux Faugères. The four-course menu was tasty, complemented by an overwhelming number (eight or nine – I lost count) of enjoyable wines.

Châteaux Faugères is located near Saint-Émilion in the Bordeaux region of France. I do not know a great deal about French wines and enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the owners talk about the differences between the different varieties. They seem very passionate about their wines and I look forward to searching some of them out in local wine markets.


The meal began with a crab cake served with a beet puree and fried squid. It went very well with a number of whites wines, including a very crisp Bordeaux Blanc. 

By the second course, we were into red wines. The dish was a poached egg served with a Parmesan foam, slice of duck breast, and soybeans. Very tasty dish.

There was a bit of a pause between the second and third courses. By this point, we had more wine glasses going that I could keep track of. The conversation was fascinating as we had the opportunity to network with food and travel writers as well as other interesting people, some of whom we had met before, others of whom were new acquaintances.

The third course was a nicely cooked piece of steak and a slice of potato galette. Very simple but executed well and attractively plated.

Final course, dessert, was a passion fruit panna cotta, served in two halves of the fruit with passion fruit gelato, whipped cream, and candied corn flakes. Very nice conclusion to the meal.

This was our first visit back to Quince since original chef Jess Barnes left. (He is at the newly opened Opposite Mess Hall which we tried last weekend and I will soon write about.) Being a big fan of Jess’ cooking, I was curious how the quality at Quince has held up. From the looks of it, the new chef, Wilfrid Hocquet, seems to be putting his own take on the menu while not departing too far from the style of cooking that Quince has become known for.


Dining in Bangkok: Quince

“Quince” is the name of a new restaurant that recently opened, after a lengthy soft opening, on Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Soi 45. Named after a fruit that is generally astringent and sour, but which yields delicious results with attentive preparation, the restaurant is meant to convey the idea that there is substance beyond the surface, a celebration of food and friendship that is about more than initial impressions. With that in mind, I dined at Quince three times over the last month and found a restaurant that, despite a few initial hiccups, seems to be ready to make a unique mark on the local dining scene.


Located in a three-story renovated home tucked behind home decor shop Casa Pagoda (the owners of which are also involved in the restaurant), Quince features different dining areas with distinct atmospheres: the front room, which faces the bar, has high ceilings and a lively vibe. It fits in well with the “see and be seen” aspect of upper-end Bangkok dining culture. The back room is a more intimate space with a softer ambience and a lower volume. When I dined there, I found it very easy for a table of four to carry on a conversation at a civilized volume. The restaurant also has a trio of private dining rooms that allow various sized groups to enjoy privacy and quiet while they have their meal. 


The chef consultant is Jess Barnes, pictured below slicing blood sausage at a recent Big Bite Bangkok event. I first met Jess in March at the Lard-o-Licious pop-up restaurant at Opposite. Jess, who hails from the Barossa Valley in South Australia, has a professional background strongly rooted in Italian food and butchery. His cooking, though, runs the gamut from classical to modern, and his emphasis is on whole-animal cooking and local/seasonal ingredients.


As such, the menu changes frequently, which makes multiple visits interesting but also seems to be a little challenging for the staff. The menu is divided into small dishes, salads and veggies, and more substantial plates. Prices for the first two groupings seem a bit lower than I would expects while the more substantial plates have more substantial, although still reasonable, prices. There is also an extensive, well built wine list that feature good values – something you can’t often say in Thailand.

Let me share some pictures from the variety of dishes I tried in my three visits, along with some notes about them. All in all, I really enjoyed the food and found it tasty, well-prepared, and often creative. There were a few dishes that didn’t seem to fully come together, but that is common when a restaurant is in its soft opening phase. I would expect that in the coming months, the menu will grow stronger as winning dishes earn a regular place and weaker dishes undergo some tweaking.


Most restaurants in Thailand serve food family style and Quince follows this custom with lots of smaller plates that are perfect for sharing. On the left are roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary. On the right, sautéed mushrooms with tarragon, garlic, and sherry vinegar. Both these dishes were well-executed although both would benefit from a more assertive use of herbs. 


Jess’ background is butchery and his skills particularly shine in dishes like this pig cheek rillette, served with quince jam and pickles. A rillette is a poor-man’s pâté, with meat (usually pork) chopped, salted, and cooked in fat until it achieves a spreadable consistency. This particular rillette tasted slightly underseasoned when eaten on its own, but when paired with the homemade quince jam, it came to life. This is a dish I would buy to keep in my refrigerator for late-night snacking.


The fried squid with romesco sauce and ham powder was a tasty menu item. The squid itself is faultless although doesn’t stand apart from similar dishes at other restaurants. It is the romesco sauce, a Spanish nut and red pepper sauce that appears several times on the menu, that is the star of the dish. Jess’ romesco sauce is fiery and rich, with a combination of flavors that compel you to eat more and more of it.


The roast bone marrow with parsley and capers, served with toast, is a dish I first tried at the Lard-o-Licious event. I really enjoy bone marrow and appreciate it being on the menu. In this preparation, the Italian parsley, with its characteristic bitter earthiness, seems overpowering. Perhaps if it were minced more finely with the capers, it would be an easier condiment for the marrow.


The menu contains a lot of items that are vegetarian (10 out of 26 dishes on one of my three visits), perhaps a testament to a period of his life when Jess was into veganism and first discovered cooking. This dish of roast carrots, poppy seeds, shallots, and honey is not only gorgeous to look at, it is a delight to eat and it says a lot that a chef with a butchery background is able to create so much flavor without the use of meat.


Another example of this skill, and a dish that is one of my favorites on the menu, is a plate of smokey eggplant, labne, sweet onions, romesco, and edamame. There is surprising depth of flavor in this dish, which will trick you if you don’t get a bit of all the ingredients in your first bite. The eggplant itself has a rich smokiness, almost a meaty quality, but is under-salted on its own. But when you include the labne, onions, and romesco, whole dimensions of flavor are unlocked. This is a standout dish.


On two visits, I tried the ricotta gnocchi with parmigiano, vegetables, mint, and chilli. The first time, the vegetable was zucchini, which went really well with the mint. The second time the dish had broccoli instead of zucchini, which was less successful. In both cases, though, the chilli was not noticeable and the dish would have benefitted from it being spicier. The gnocchi, though, were tender and perfectly cooked.


Visiting the “more substantial” portion of the menu, I tried the grilled wild tiger prawns with prawn mayo and leeks. The prawns were fresh, cooked very well, and had a nice char on them.


The fish of the day was different each time I was there. Or, rather, the preparations were different as on two visits the fish was sea bass. On my second visit to the restaurant, I tried the poached sea bass with a chorizo, crab, and seaweed broth. The fish was cooked well but the broth didn’t work for me. Despite the color, I didn’t detect any flavor of chorizo sausage, an ingredient that would have paired nicely with the meatiness of the fish. To top it off, the seaweed overpowered the broth, giving it a fishy flavor that was unpleasant. Of the six diners in our group, only one enjoyed this preparation.


On my third visit to Quince, I tried the poached sea bass again, this time with a caponata, a Sicilian cooked eggplant salad that also had green tomatoes and clam. The vegetables were nice, but I found the fish undercooked and there were several scales on the piece that was served.


The fourth seafood dish I tried, a crab omelette with chives, sweetcorn, and lime, was a tastier option than the sea bass. The preparation and flavors were good. The dish seemed a bit out of place on the menu, though. Crab omelette is a Thai staple and while it wasn’t prepared specifically in a Thai style, it seemed to be the only dish on the menu referencing Thailand. While the dish was tasty, it seemed not to fit the rest of the menu and I don’t know if I would order it again unless I was eating it as a one-dish meal, in which case it would be just about right.


The “more substantial” plates from land-based proteins were more successful than the sea-based ones. One of Quince’s signature dishes (which was sold out on my second visit so I had to try it on my third), was wet roasted chicken served with saffron and almond broth, barley and harissa. This dish is very tasty and the chicken has a lot of flavor. It would be perfect on a cold, rainy night or – since we have no cold nights in Bangkok – just a rainy one. The barley was a nice choice and a good match to the chicken. My only criticism: the harissa listed on the menu, a Tunisian chili sauce, seemed largely absent in flavor. For being in Bangkok and having a primarily Thai clientele, the food at Quince seems very shy when it comes to spice.


The hanger steak, sliced medium rare, and served with rocket with anchovy mayo, was a well-preapred classic. The steak was flavorful and nicely cooked. The peppery rocket was a good choice to accompany the dish and the anchovy mayo was nice, too.


One standout main course was the pork shoulder braised in milk and herbs, served with cauliflower purée. This is another dish (minus the cauliflower) that I first encountered at Lard-o-Licious, one of what I am coming to consider as “Jess Barnes staples.” In this case, the preparation at Quince was better than at Lard-o-Licious and it was a favorite of the diners who joined me on this visit to the restaurant.


The final meat dish, one I tried on my first visit to the restaurant, was a grilled lamb loin chop served simply with romesco sauce. The chops were well-seasoned but seemed inconsistent in size and shape, not looking like they were the same cut of meat. Nonetheless, the lamb paired well with the romesco sauce. I haven’t seen this particular dish on the menu in subsequent visits, although there seems to usually be some cut of lamb available.


The dessert selection on the Quince menu is limited and seems to usually have three items plus a trio of gelati. On my third visit, I tried the lemon tart served with salted caramel, peanut brittle, and dulce de leche sorbet. I found it very refreshing and the peanut brittle was particularly interesting.


This chocolate tart may be the signature dessert as I have seen it on the menu all three times I’ve visited Quince, although each time it is dressed up differently. This was my favorite of the three ways, served with fresh fig and a bitter orange sauce that complimented the chocolate. On the other visits, the tart was served with salted caramel, peanuts, and vanilla ice cream (okay) and then rose sorbet, fig, and orange (somewhat more interesting).


On my second visit, I tried this orange and almond torte served with milk jam, muesli, and pistachio. This dessert provoked mixed reactions: one fellow diner had some sharp words to say about its appearance, finding it messy to the point of revulsion. I returned to the dish for several bites and while I agreed that it looked a mess, the torte was very moist and I like the orange and almond flavors. Maybe a rework of presentation would make it a winner.


Based on three visits, I am pleased with Quince. The atmosphere is pleasant, especially the fact that the different dining spaces provide different types of ambience, so where you sit can be matched to your preference. The service, which has admittedly been hit-and-miss, will likely improve as the staff becomes more familiar and routines are developed. The food is creative and well-executed and, most importantly, there is a clear sense that Jess and his kitchen team are exploring. Food lovers will appreciate the thoughtfully-prepared menus, particularly as the dishes continue to be refined and improved over time.


Lard-o-Licious Bangkok

Lard O Licious

On March 16 and 17, an event space in Bangkok called Opposite hosted a pop-up restaurant called Lard-o-Licious. A friend of mine served as sous chef and invited me to the event. While some of my non-pork eating readers may be turned off, I was really excited to attend this dinner.


Opposite (second floor of the building on the right) is located off Sukhumvit Soi 51, a small alley just a short walk from the Thong Lo BTS station. It is also just one soi over from our condo. The pavement in front is uneven and badly in need of replacement. An international school is down the street and a few restaurants and massage parlors fill out the rest of the neighborhood.


Opposite is thus named because it is located directly across the soi from a bar/restaurant called WTF, owned by Somrak Sila and Christopher Wise, the same people who own Opposite. The space is about 60 square meters (600 square feet) and has a kitchen and bar area. It is perfect for gallery exhibitions, dinners, parties, performances, and other such events.


When I arrived I found my friend Brian Bartusch, on the left, helping chef Jess Barnes prepare dishes. The well-inked Jess hails from Melbourne, Australia and has worked in a wide variety of restaurants both there and in Bangkok including at Grossi Trattoria and Bed Supperclub. He will be the chef of Quince, a new Modern Australian restaurant set to open in May on Sukhumvit Soi 45.

P1200676 P1200675

Sneaking a peak in the kitchen, I saw some watermelon salad with toasted pistachios and some homemade pickled vegetables.


Plates and plates of freshly made bread, with which to slather up all of the good flavors that would follow.


As we arrived, there were plates on the tables with liver and Thai brandy pate with house made mustard fruits on crostini. I really enjoy pate (perhaps thanks to my paternal grandfather who fed me lots of liverwurst when I visited as a child) and this met expectations.


The space was arranged with three long tables running the length of the space, a small temporary bar mixing white sangria as guests arrived, a screen showing a loop of food-related videos, and lamps made from used plastic rice bags. The lamps echoed traditional northern Thai paper lamps and were a colorful touch.

Before dinner started, the organizers of the event said a few words then local illustrator Kathy Macleod showed us a 7-minute animated video providing a brief history of pork. I filmed it and have embedded it above for your viewing pleasure. Unfortunately, I didn’t seek out her permission to share the video but hopefully this counts as fair use. Please see her facebook page for more information about her comics. (Link to video on YouTube for high definition version.)


The first course was composed of four dishes. Shown here are steamed buns (similar to Chinese style bao) filled with pulled pork shoulder, red cabbage slaw, and prawn mayonnaise. These were very fun and the pork was flavorful and tender, albeit a little under-seasoned. I ended up eating only about half the bun for fear I would fill myself too quickly. 

P1200686 P1200702

Also on the table were jars of head cheese – confit pork terrine served with olives and pickled vegetables. The name “head cheese” makes some people squeamish. Really, there is no need. It is basically made with the various scraps of meat from the animal’s head, much in the same way that sausage is made from various scraps of meat from elsewhere in the body. The head cheese was very flavorful and tender.


The next dish was roasted bone marrow with Italian parsley salad and shallot jam. Bone marrow is another one of those dishes that some folks have a problem with. Anthony Bourdain called it the “butter of the gods” and, in my opinion, he isn’t far off. It is rich and fatty and flavorful. While you might think that your cholesterol shoots through the roof just as soon as the platter is set down in front of you, the good news is that bone marrow is rich in monounsaturated fat as well as protein.


The final dish of the first course was a watermelon and mint salad served with rosewater, pistachio, and feta cheese. I was pleasantly surprised to see this dish, considering that I’ve made variations of it twice in the past month and a half.


The pacing was leisurely – the entire meal took over three hours – so we had time to visit with other people at the table and to get up and wander around. One of the interesting things about family style seating is that, of course, you end up meeting people sitting next to you whom you’ve never previously met. The drawback in this situation was that there were a lot of people who already knew each other and Tawn and I were outsiders, but folks were very friendly. I spent a good portion of the evening chatting with the owner of Bed Supperclub, who was seated directly across from me. I will say that in my advancing age, it is increasingly hard for me to carry on conversations in moderately loud environments.


The second course also featured four dishes. The first was smoked pork loin served with cabbage and sticky juices. The menu said it was served with puffed grains but I didn’t see those. There was wild rice served on the side to absorb the yummy juices. This dish was fantastic – very tender and flavorful.


Another interesting dish was the pork cooked in milk, served with white beans and lovage. Lovage is an herbacious perennial plant – a fact I had to look up. Braising the pork in milk worked very well to make it exceedingly tender. The dish was very enjoyable although it was lacking a little bit of salt. Tawn pointed out that, despite not being a Thai dish, a bit of fish sauce and a few Thai chilies would have complemented it perfectly.


A third dish was eggplant, labne and soy bean salad, with romesco sauce. This may have been the highlight of the evening. It had tremendous flavor, hearty but not heavy. Labne is yoghurt which has been strained to remove the whey.


The final dish in the second course was fennel, citrus, spring onions, celery, and holy basil. This was a combination of flavors I really liked but the fennel was tremendously tough which made it unpleasant to eat.


Our meal was accompanied by a trio of wines from a Thai vineyard called Monsoon Valley – a 2011 Colombard, 2010 Shiraz, and a 2010 fortified Muscat. All three were pleasant. Thai wines have been slowly improving and while they still have some way to go, I’ve been having more of them in the past year or two that impress me. There were also two home-brewed beers made by Brian, one a pale ale and the other a toasted coconut malt.


For dessert we had a bittersweet chocolate and blood cake (more of a mousse, really) with hazelnut pastry and tangerine ice cream. The big question at the table was, “Is it real blood!?” I went to ask the chef and, sure enough, it was real pig’s blood. A mixture of equal parts of chocolate and pig’s blood are blended and cooked. I think cream is added, if I recall correctly, along with some gelatin. It is then chilled overnight and foamed to lighten the texture. How did it taste? Fantastic. You would never had known there was blood in there – it just tasted like a very rich chocolate mousse.

All in all, the meal – which was about $65 per person inclusive of everything – was quite a reasonable price for a special occasion dinner. There was plenty of food and wine and the menu was both tasty and creative. I enjoy when food can engage me intellectually as well as in the more traditional ways such as through flavor, smell, and texture. I’m looking forward to the next pop-up restaurant event at Opposite as well as the opening in two months of Quince, Jess Barnes’ new restaurant here in Bangkok.