In Scenes from Asia last week, I showed the scene just before a giant outdoor banquet that had been arranged for Mandarin Oriental's top chefs (including Heston Blumenthal, Daniel Boulud and latecomer Pierre Gagnaire) and their food and beverage managers from around the world, at their spectacular hotel on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand – a painstaking reconstruction of a traditional Lanna village plus grand monuments.
A thunderstorm was threatened and indeed, as we ate our first two courses, we were refreshed by a very definite light sprinkle of rain. But the amazing thing was that, although lightning completely circled the ancient Lanna courtyard, the real downpour came only after the entire meal had been served – five courses in two hours – accompanied by the dancers shown below. You can hear me complaining about the disappearance of a troupe of lightly oiled Thai male dancers.
The Thai government is no friend to wine, levying a 400% tax on it (does anyone know anywhere else with a higher tax rate on wine?), but despite that we conferees were served some very respectable bottles and, at the barbecue on the final night, which was somewhat drenched when the rainy season really imposed itself for the first time, we were treated to Ch d'Esclans, Esclans 2009 rosé from double magnums that seemed just the job for the occasion.
A local food lover, the CEO of Rimping superior supermarkets, introduced us to a great local restaurant about which Nick will write. Despite the 400% tax and the fact there were only four of us, Phairoj brought along no fewer than three bottles of wine: a 2007 Nelson Riesling, another pale Provençal pink and a 2008 Châteauneuf! I also tasted a perfectly respectable Thai fizz and have added reviews of them all to our tasting notes database. Just put 'Chiang Mai' in the search box.
Nick and I then had two nights in Cambodia, looking at the extraordinary temples of Angkor – and eating and drinking of course. Reports to follow.