Bangkok Post reviews
In good taste
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: December 14, 2012 at 8:56 am
Johann Bistro's Chef Oak brings flavours from around the globe into intricate meals with a local touch
The bistro boasts comtemporary clean design with sleek tables, upholstered seating and a spacious glassfacade, all-chrome kitchen.
What is your perception of a young man who grew up as the only son of one of the country's most respected chefs, and had never considered working in a kitchen until he got tired of his well-paying engineering work and decided to pursue a culinary career like his father? What if the man then goes to Europe for an apprenticeship at some of the world's most eminent restaurants before opening his own culinary outlet in the middle of Thong Lor?
Too easy? That's what I thought. But regardless of how perfunctory the story may seem, the truth is that Johann Bistro, run by Christian Johann Kostner, widely called "Chef Oak", is one of the finest and most unpretentious eateries I have come across.
The son of the five-star culinary maestro Norbert Kostner, Oak, who's always in or around his kitchen, may not be the greatest publicist for what his does. Although armed with nine years of training at a number of Michelin-starred restaurants, the 32-year-old isn't keen on suggesting any particular dishes from the menu. He seems more comfortable letting his food speak for itself.
Chef Christian Johann Kostner
The 50-seat bistro, which I have visited three times since it opened a couple months ago, has a clean design with nothing much more than sleek tables, upholstered seating and a spacious glass-facade kitchen. A large space at a front corner of the restaurant is dedicated to selling imported gourmet products. From a state-of-the-art meat display fridge, customers can grab prime-grade beef, lamb, poultry, foie gras, Parma ham, sausages and seafood (they are in vacuum-sealed bags). Other ingredients such as pasta, olive oil, vinegar, dried mushrooms and truffle products also sell well.
The bistro's menu comes simply on a piece of paper, offering approximately 20 dishes, plus some seasonal specials.
My dinner started off delightfully with Johann's Caesar salad (250 baht) that, as homely as it sounded, was a classic combination of romaine lettuce, tasty homemade Caesar dressing, bacon, croutons, special vinaigrette and brittle cheese crust.
The following dish, foie gras with poached apple and French toast (690 baht), may look run-of-the-mill, but was a pleasure to the palate. Served with subtle red-wine duck sauce, the two neat pieces of pan-seared Rougie duck liver displayed a slightly crispy skin that tightly encased the plump and silky centre. The accompanying apple wedges had been smouldered with cinnamon, star anise and lemon zest to reveal a lingering fruit 'n' spice flavour that gave a perfect balance.
For pasta, truly worth sampling is the chef's signature seafood risotto with squid ink drops (350 baht). Instead of being entirely smudged over the dish, the ink, flavoured with galangal, lemongrass and lime juice, was dotted over the risotto as a brilliant flavour enrichment. Tossing in the cooked-to-order risotto (it's never a crime here to prefer your Italian rice soft and not al dente) were fish, prawn, squid, broccoli and carrot, and though in tiny morsels, all of them exhibited a five-star quality.
The seafood risotto with galangal and lemongrassscented squid ink drops.
From the category of main dishes, we sampled white seabass with market mushrooms and white-wine sauce (500 baht). The fish, carefully selected from a local source, was fried to produce a crispy golden skin, while the lightly seasoned meat was still moist and flavoursome. The firm fish was complemented deliciously by the crunchy golden needle mushrooms, Chinese bok choy and creamy white-wine sauce.
Another highly recommended fish dish is red mullet with ratatouille, pesto and red-wine sauce (400 baht). It was presented as two fillets of local mullet with its red skin and scales intact.
Conventionally, mullet should be descaled before being cooked, but to add a fascinating texture to the delicate meat, Oak decided to keep the scales and fry them until crispy and golden brown. The fish was enhanced by a thick red-wine sauce and a scrape of the pungent stew made with tomatoes, garlic, onions and bell peppers.
The bistro has an impressive selection of char-grilled Australian beef steak. My order of wagyu tenderloin (1,500 baht) demonstrated a 200g steak with a marbling score of four, with creamy mashed potato, asparagus, cherry tomatoes and red wine sauce. The medium-rare beef, cut in four hefty slices, was super lean, yet succulent and full of flavour.
One of the seasonal specials: the Australian blue mussels cooked in white wine, garlic and onions.
From that days' special menu, the Australian blue mussels (420 baht) were top-notch. Served in a traditional enamel pot, the mussels, which were larger than French bouchot mussels, but smaller than New Zealand's green-lipped version, proved just as addictive as the French shellfish.
The seafood, partially bathed in a salty, spicy and lightly creamy broth, was graced with a sharp touch from white wine, garlic and onions.
Of the four-item dessert list, we found two choices highly praiseworthy. The basil panna cotta with strawberry compote (180 baht) was a creative and appetising marriage between cream and herbs, while the chocolate fondant with coffee ice cream (220 baht) offered a pleasing bittersweet finale to the meal.
Johann's cuisine is an art that's meticulously executed in the kitchen, appreciated profoundly by the tastebuds, and never to be judged only on visual factors. To complement his humble but "haute" cookery, service is cordial, yet highly efficient.
The char-grilled Australian wagyu tenderloin with creamy mashed potato and vegetables.