A luxurious bargain in Bangkok

29 Apr 2001 by JR

The Oriental is not just a hotel but a landmark in Bangkok, an oasis of air-conditioned peace surrounded by traffic jams. It even serves afternoon tea in quarters once inhabited by the likes of Noel Coward.

A brief ferry-ride across the Chao Phraya, the river that runs through the city's heart, is the Oriental's Thai restaurant, Sala Rim Naam, which must offer the bargain of the city: a lunchtime buffet from 12 to 2 every day supervised by a splendidly didactic female chef, which costs the equivalent of about £9 per adult (£7 per child). This was without a doubt the best meal we had during our week in Thailand, and probably the best anywhere for some weeks. All served in luxurious but genuinely ethnic surroundings with the sort of effortless service you would expect. (You almost feel as though you just have to give them the word and the waiters would go and pile the food on your plate themselves.)

Intricate Thai spring rolls and small, spicy fish cakes with their subtle dipping sauces and spicy soups led on to two new favourites, gai toey, deep-fried honey chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves and pla phad khing, stir-fried fish with young ginger and spring onion. And I was very, very reluctant to say goodbye to my last mouthful of khanom bueang, sweet Siamese pancakes, and tum tim grob, an exhilarating mixture of diced water chestnut in chilled coconut syrup.

The one item that does make eating out in Thailand expensive is wine which carries a hefty ad valorem duty. However, the 2000 bottling of Syrah from the country's top producer, Chateau de Loei in the north-east of the country close to the Laos border, is excellent value at £15 on the hotel's wine list and good enough to hold its own with a number of New World wines.

This would make a fantastic introduction to Thai food for any new visitor to the country - except that they would probably end up being disappointed everywhere else. Evening dining is à la carte and includes some sort of entertainment but we had eaten so much at lunch we couldn't contemplate it.

Sala Rim Naam, The Oriental Hotel, Bangkok ( www.mandarinoriental.com )

Tags:  asia
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