Our latest Thailand adventure needed to include dinner at Bo.lan. Lex, Em and I had attempted to dine at Bo.lan in 2009. Although we hadn’t made a booking, it was pouring with rain and our taxi driver had no idea where he was going, we decided to make our way to Bo.lan anyway. Little did we know how popular the restaurant is… they were fully booked. The waitstaff spoke with the kitchen to see if there was any way they could squeeze us in but it just wasn’t possible. Four years later we were not going to miss out. This time around Lex made a booking for herself, Hayden, Emma and I the night after our reservation at nahm.
Crispy puffed rice.
No sooner had we sat down than we each had a cold and refreshing lemongrass water served in an ornate steel cup and a bowl of crispy puffed rice to share. It was puffy, and yes crispy, a little chewy and really enjoyable.
It didn’t take long for us to decide upon the Bo.lan Balance menu. We were then asked at what level we would like the spice to be. Naturally I would have opted for well above average but that would be a tad selfish. We came to an agreement that the normal level of spice would suffice.
Bo.lan Balance – THB1880 per person
- Ya dong grachai dum served with sour fruits
- Bo.lan amuse bouche
- Single plate of the day
- Salad of grilled Ayutthaya river prawns with spicy hot chili jam dressing and lemongrass
- Chili relish of dried prawns served with abundant local greens, salted fish and pork stuffed in cabbage
- Stir fried pork tender with Andaman shrimp paste and fresh chili
- Spicy Korat style curry with Khampaeng-Saen “KU” beef
- Red curry and minced pork cooked in bamboo
- Bo.lan soup of your choice
- Bo.lan pre-dessert
- Bo.lan dessert du jour
- Petit fours to accompany your cup of Bo.lan blend
- Bo.lan blend; Chiang Mai tea with spices, mint, ginger & honey
Ya dong grachai dum served with sour fruits.
To get our lips ready for some essential Thai cuisine the Bo.lan Balance menu began with something out of left field. Whiskey, pandan water and sour fruits accompanied with sea salt and ground chili. Each part instantly felt integral and impeccably suited to its roll. The Ya dong grachai ‘homebrew’ whiskey of herbs and spices was a confronting yet warming way to begin a meal with hints of sherry and star anise, while the pandan water, clean and soothing, was in direct contrast.
With both the whiskey and pandan water the sour fruits were there ready to shine. First up was the kamias – which I’d never heard of before – a fruit with a texture not dissimilar to grape and with an unusual sour tartness. Following this was a fresh velvet tamarind that caught my attention more than anticipated as it was so vibrant and light compared to any normal tamarind I have ever had. Last was the green mango – firm and probably the least exciting of the three. Not just for decoration the chili and sea salt really helped each of the fruits display a whole other side, making all of them so much more intriguing and enjoyable.
Bo.lan amuse bouche.
Five morsels to pique our interests – ling bean salad, tapioca peanut, papaya peanut, crispy rice with chicken, and lotus root pork.
When we agreed a normal level of spice was sufficient I felt I would miss out on a good slap in the face that only ‘scuds’ can offer. My concerns were short-lived when I took my very first bite of the bean salad. Wow, this was awesome! Scuds aplenty my face lit up and my taste buds screamed. This was epic. A firecracker in the mouth but not so much that you would miss the saltiness of the fish sauce or the sweetness of the beans. On the other hand my fellow diners were not so enamoured with the level of spice in the bean dish and were in fact struggling quite a lot. Never fear a tailor made cocktail was to the rescue, designed to sooth.
Textural and very enjoyable the tapioca ‘ball’ had a lovely amount of palm sugar that helped it and the peanuts bring back the taste buds from the fiery depths of the bean salad. I loved how chewy it all was and then how you would get highlights of roasted garlic. Papaya peanut had a sweet and creamy edge but a nice earthy tone keeping it balanced, the crispy rice was fun and very different to the three before it, and the pork with lotus root was a great earthy finish to allow the palate time to regroup.
Any of the five could have been a starter in their own right but it seems Bo.lan like to spoil their diners.
Single plate of the day.
Our single plate of the day was tamarind rice with Spanish mackerel and spicy mint sauce. We just loved the rice; light and delicate with wholesome flavours that were very endearing, it was amazing. To counter the rice was the mackerel, quite firm and rich from natural oils and the spicy mint sauce did wonders here to offer up a dish that had so many levels.
Salad of grilled Ayutthaya river prawns with spicy hot chili jam dressing and lemongrass.
Ayutthaya river prawns are quite known for their size but it was still a pleasant surprise to see them served up in all their glory. Big and bold they looked impressive as did the salad. I rather enjoyed the prawns but would have preferred more of the tail as all we had were heads – yes, full of flavour but lacking in the volume department. There was so much going on in the salad, it was quite special, but above that was how the salad and the prawns were so well suited in the dish.
Chili relish of dried prawns served with abundant local greens, salted fish and pork stuffed in cabbage.
Although the chili relish sat centre stage it was the stuffed cabbage that really had us take notice. Neither too salty or too fishy the pork was well matched to the fish and made for something I just couldn’t pinpoint. The relish was pale and very different to other Malay dried prawn relishes I have tried; quite a wet relish that the others were a little unsure of and definitely an acquired taste. One of the cool aspects of this were the abundant local greens, so many wonderful things we had never seen before.
Stir fried pork tender with Andaman shrimp paste and fresh chili.
Maybe it was the touch of ‘wok breath’ or the combination of pork and shrimp paste but I just loved every aspect of this stir fry. Vibrancy of the fresh chili and red shallots, the pungency of the shrimp paste and an overall feeling of balance made this dish one of the stand-outs of the evening.
Spicy Korat style curry with Khampaeng-Saen “KU” beef.
Our only curry for the evening was the ‘Korat style’ of curry using KU beef from the Khampaeng-Saen co-operative, who’s goal is to produce sustainable beef in Thailand. Finally having a curry made me happy. I have always appreciated the effort that goes into making a curry paste (probably as I make them quite often) and it is always good to find the depth of each curry and the paste behind it.
The Korat style is quite a different paste as it is made with fresh red chili instead of dried red chili giving it a less smoky tone. There is also no shrimp paste in the paste and there is a mix of minced and sliced beef to really add a textural feel to the dish.
Red curry and minced pork cooked in bamboo.
Such a simple thought, a red curry pork sausage. Obviously there was a lot more to it than just that but oh man this was the best pork sausage I have ever tasted. Fragrant deep red chili and the pungency of kaffir lime leaves made for a strong base and the pork was just able to carry all of the Thai flavours and show that it was also a major player in this dish. Probably my favourite of the evening due to its unassuming nature and all out flavour hit.
Bo.lan soup of your choice.
I really love the tradition of a soup popping its head in at a time when you feel like a little break from the more serious edge that some dishes carry. It is almost like an intermission of sorts. Ever so soothing it really hit the spot.
Looking around the street and at the markets you can always find a vendor making Thai ice blocks. Water, syrup, colouring and a few shakes of the ice & rock salt filled tub and ta-dah, a frozen treat on a stick. That is more or less what our pre-dessert was – the very traditional and very cool Thai ice block. Served with some incredibly fresh and quite sweet mango, this was the ultimate way to experience a Thai street food treat.
Bo.lan dessert du jour.
Just as I had enjoyed at nahm the night before the dessert du jour was a classic Thai dessert. Pandan jelly, sweet corn, puffed rice, black sticky rice, shaved ice and coconut milk. I do enjoy the combination as foreign as it seems, but Lex was able to confirm once and for all she just does not like it, not even a little bit.
Petit fours to accompany your cup of Bo.lan blend.
Petit fours and Thai cuisine may not sound like they belong but when served as Bo.lan do it is hard not to take notice. There are so many things to choose from; crispy rice wafer, tapioca toasted peanut, egg custard with jack fruit, chocolate Thai style, Thai biscuit, mangosteen, deep fried banana, agar agar and maybe even more.
Jellies of agar agar and also some of tapioca were quite fun and not too sweet, the crispy rice wafer was very cool being half pappadum half prawn cracker. Everyone loved the mangosteen to bits, it was definitely the highlight.
Bo.lan blend; Chiang Mai tea with spices, mint, ginger & honey.
And finally to end our meal was a soft and soothing tea, although I only really had a small sample as I was no longer capable of ingesting any more food or drink.
While Lex found our meal at Bo.lan a little unbalanced I really enjoyed getting something so very different to anything I had experienced with Thai food before. Yes there was the moment when the first dish blew everyone’s head off due to the heat, and it took a while to recover, but this is what Thai food is all about. Cocktails were all really good, really refreshing and the staff suggestion of the lychee drink for Hayden and Emma was spot on, the perfect way to cool the mouth after some epic scuds.
Neither Lex or I thought that Bo.lan was better than nahm, and we don’t even feel they should ever be compared either. Although Bo and Dylan have both worked with David Thompson at nahm in the past, the two restaurants as they stand take two very different approaches to the one magical cuisine. While we both preferred nahm it was more down to the decisive flow of the dishes rather than the execution.
When you strip it down it is simple really – if you want impeccable fine dining Thai food where balance and harmony is preferred then it has to be nahm, but if you want to really get down and dirty in the roller coaster that is Thai food then Bo.lan is your ticket. And for the record the next time we visit Bangkok we will be revisiting both of them without hesitation.
42 Soi Pichai Ronnarong
Songkram Sukhumvit 26
Klongteoy Bangkok 10110
+66 (2) 260 2962