Helmed by a Michelin-star chef, city’s latest culinary hot spot serves up traditional Gallic cuisine in a gregarious gastro-bar setting
Published: 5 Apr 2013 at 00.00
In an era when award-winning, world-class chefs from across the globe take turns visiting Bangkok almost on a weekly basis, it may not be difficult for local gastronomes to indulge frequently in Michelin-star cuisine at one of the “haughty” food promotions offered by five-star hotels.
Occupying a see-through, top-floor space, the wine bar-cum-restaurant blends French dexterity with the conviviality of a gastro bar.
Yet, amid a parade of out-of-town culinary wizards, finding star-studded quality, particularly of the French ilk, at an independent restaurant in this tropical metropolis may still seem a wish.
So it was incredulous when we ran into Manuel Martinez, chef-owner of the two-Michelin-star Relais Louis XIII restaurant in Paris (it can take several weeks to get a table there), during our dinner at Scarlett. The ever-busy Martinez helped co-found and is a consulting chef of the three-month-old eatery.
With its first outlet opened in Beijing in 2009, which has been a popular destination among socialites since, Scarlett Wine Bar and Restaurant is a owned and run by a Hong Kong-based hospitality company. The Bangkok edition, which opened in January this year, occupies a “see-through” space on the 37th floor of Pullman Bangkok Hotel G (previously the Sofitel Silom) and, just like its original venue, serves up traditional French fare prepared with seasonal local touches in a gregarious gastro-bar setting.
Beef tongue with foie gras Lucullus style.
The front of the house is attended by French operation manager-cum-maitre d’hotel and wine connoisseur Alexandre Bouvier who makes sure his restaurant offers a perfect balance of Gallic dexterity and conviviality. On the Wednesday evening we visited, the 160-seater was bustling with a corporate crowd (guys with rolled up shirt sleeves and women in casual office attire) enjoying their social gathering over a very relaxing meal, regaled by deep house and lounge music.
To go with the communal wine bar ambiance, the menu, designed by the restaurant’s French executive chef Sylvian Royer, presents an impressive list of tapas (120 baht for one choice, 560 baht for six and 790 baht for nine options) alongside some 40 items of French bistro classics plus a special selection of dishes by chef Martinez, who updates his menu at Scarlett regularly according to the season.
Celebrated for his ability to combine classical perfection with five-star modernity, Martinez who was named a French Master Chef in 1986 and, prior to his stint at the Relais Louis XIII, head chef of Paris’s legendary La Tour D’Argent, believes in using the best seasonal ingredients available in the local market. He said he treasured His Majesty the King’s Royal Project, adding that his dream was to cook French cuisine for the Thai royal family using only produce from Thailand.
Of his latest creations (six savoury dishes and three desserts), which were launched last week and will be available over the next three months, we were first impressed by a terrine-like starter: beef tongue with foie gras Lucullus style (690 baht).
Demonstrating the Michelin-star quality, it featured a nice block of goose liver terrine in neat layers with very thin slices of beef tongue, accompanied by crispy French toast (diners can substitute the thin French toast with buttery and chewy multi-grain toast which I happened to fall in love with).
The chilled terrine proved a scrumptious alliance between the silky foie gras texture and the red meat chewability, as well as the sumptuous sweetness and the pleasantly bitter tang. The dish went wonderfully with a sweet and refreshing white wine from Valckenburg Gewurztraminer (220 baht per glass).
Mango tart with basil lemon sherbet.
Continuing to play up summer deliciously was spider crab salad with jelly of water grass (460 baht). The chilled creamy salad prepared with the naturally sweet meat of hairy crab from Brittany, baby green peas and tiny cubes of celery and potatoes, came underneath a delicate transparent jelly blanket garnished with edible blooms, microgreens and droplets of Sri Racha sauce.
Next up, squid stuffed with chorizo and pequillo sauce (480 baht) presented two grilled cuttlefish with tasty Spanish spicy sausage filling in thick pungent sauce made with sweet bell peppers from Southwest France. The squid tentacles were battered and deep fried to lend a brittle crunch to the supple fare.
Chef Martinez’s blanquette de veau, or old-fashioned veal stew in cream sauce with seasonal veggies (1,150 baht) marvellously represented his aspiration to combine fresh local produce with traditional French comfort food that’s been cherished for centuries.
In a pool of white cream sauce, which was subtly rich in consistency and first-class in taste, two rectangular fillets of veal _ pleasantly chewy and not at all mushy _ were accompanied by a colourful variety of baby root vegetables perfectly cooked to offer a fresh crisp taste and texture. Since the stew didn’t come with a spoon, I guess wiping the delicious cream sauce off the plate with bread wouldn’t be a bad idea. Actually I did, and you should too.
We also sampled a best-selling dish from the regular menu (slightly renewed every four months) and were very pleased. Coming with a tableside cooking demonstration, the beef tartare ‘a la Montmarte’ (780 baht) featured raw Australian beef tenderloin in gourmet hand-cut style seasoned before our eyes with raw egg yolk, mayonnaise, capers, brandy, tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce and spices. The fresh seasoning helped perfectly tame the raw mouthfeel yet it didn’t overpower the beef’s naturally flavourful taste.
Ideal for sharing among three or more diners, the raw steak was served on a wooden cutting board with rosemary french fries and intermingled wonderfully with a tiny portion of mesclun salad with truffle-oil infused balsamic dressing.
The sweet endings of the evening were also of Michelin-star standard. Chef Martinez’s rum baba cake with pineapple, passion fruit and champagne sherbet (250 baht) was nice.
But if you’d rather skip an alcohol-based dessert, go for the tete blanche meringue (250 baht), my favourite, which displayed a scrumptious snowball made with white chocolate, whipped cream and cinnamon biscuit on coffee sauce. Or order mango tart with basil lemon sherbet (280 baht), for a crumbly, not-too-sugary French pastry that comes brilliantly with exotic Thai zest.
As a wine bar, Scarlett carries over 150 wine labels plus 10 options of wine by the glass. There is also a complete list of spirits, as well as a nice repertoire of signature and classic cocktails.
Executive chef Sylvian Royer of Scarlett and Manuel Martinez of two-Michelin-star Relais Louis XIII in Paris, who is Scarlett’s consulting chef.