Bangkok Post reviews
A step above
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: July 12, 2013 at 8:18 am
Hidden location doesn't stop Bangkok's new star of high-brow gastronomy from shining
The five-week-old restaurant set in an odd-shaped space on the second floor of a small, nondescript shophouse has been enjoying rave recognition and a nonstop full house since day one.
No information is confidential in Bangkok, the very social-media-centric metropolis. As no shame is concealed, no pleasures are appreciated by just a small group of folks.
Gone are days when good new restaurants whip up just whispers of glory. As soon as a great one opens its door, word of mouth travels rapidly through cyberspace and smartphones, and long reservation lists build.
The five-week-old Opposite Mess Hall illustrates such evolution. From the first week it opened until now, this 30-seat restaurant, set on the second floor of a small, nondescript shophouse, has enjoyed rave recognition and a non-stop full house.
In the very competitive restaurant business circle, of which distinctive vision and prime location are the key elements of success, Opposite Mess Hall seems to have been one step ahead.
Though it is located in a prime area of Sukhumvit, its back-alley location is very much hidden. Meanwhile, the restaurant's space is diminutive yet very sensible, appointed behind a signless dark wood door and accessible only via a narrow flight of stairs.
The dining room, which shares the restaurant's wedge-shape space with a long cocktail bar-cum-open kitchen station set along one wall, is dimly illuminated by warm yellow lighting to give a homely and, somewhat, mystical touch to the boisterous, food-driven ambience. Seating is communal style, available at low dining tables and the kitchen counter.
The ingenious and characteristic chef Jess Barnes and his food give the mess hall its visual and culinary trademarks.
The ingenious chef Jess Barnes and his food provide this popular establishment with its visual and culinary trademarks. His high-brow cuisine, using mainly seasonal, carefully sourced produce, is exhibited through a rough, imperfect and straightforward presentation that matches the restaurant's unique setting.
The compact menu features approximately 15 dishes, and specials of the day (eight of them on this particular Friday) are written on the blackboard beneath the kitchen counter.
One of the dishes that arrived on our table was the croquettes and aioli (100 baht for a two-piece order), with a choice of stuffing that changes daily depending upon the chef's desire. On the day that we visited, it was veal blanquette. The croquettes' crispy golden-brown case revealed inside a silky smooth milky-white ragout of veal and cheese with a subtly flavourful, herb-perfumed quality that's very addictive. The croquettes were served simply on a bed of gourmet mayonnaise.
Another dish that we sampled, savoury duck waffle (260 baht), is also a best-seller. Triangular-shaped waffles, which retained their crispy exterior and spongy interior for a long time, were accompanied by crispy duck-leg confit, rich pate and house-made piccalilli relish. The dish featured an ingenious play of flavours, textures and culinary cultures. For me, the flavour profile of this Western-looking delicacy was almost like a marriage between khanom beuang yuan (Vietnamese-style pancake with shrimp and coconut stuffing) and tasty French-style fried duck.
We couldn't afford to miss another much-talked about item: the steamed Chinese bun with confit pork belly, slaw, shrimp mayo and pickled cucumber (160 baht). The dish presented a flat slab of the cottony, supple salapao bun, home-made by the Aussie chef himself, topped with a block of crispy roasted pork belly, pickled cabbage, pickled peppers and sharp-tasting shrimp mayo cream. It proved to be a very delightful.
Although everything I sampled that night was beyond excellence, I would vote for one of the daily specials: lamb spare ribs with sorrel puree and pickled mushroom (350 baht), as my favourite.
Truly impressive in terms of taste and texture, four spareribs, which were rubbed with seasoning and spices, provided a flavourful crusty exterior and very tender meat, plus a few pleasantly chewable bones. Thanks to the sorrel's lime-like tang, the puree lent a light sour taste which went very well with the lamb and proved a brilliant alternative to the mint sauce.
The savoury duck waffle with crispy-skinned leg confit, duck pate and piccalilli relish.
From the daily selection of desserts, we passed the likes of lemon tart with salted caramel and gin granita to settle on the salted chocolate mousse with passionfruit curd and cocoa crumbs (150 baht). This exciting dessert that combined a feathery-light mousse texture with a fresh fruity crunch and brittle bitter cocoa crumbs was very palatable, though less impressive than all the extraordinary savoury dishes.
The restaurant, owned and run by the same creators of the popular WTF bar and gallery, has quite a large and exciting list of cocktails, craft beer and wines. Try Celery Stalk, a blend of tequila, celery and lemon juice (240 baht), and Fig Leaf, a concoction of sweet vermouth, dark rum and fig syrup (300 baht).
The restaurant can be packed even in the first few minutes of its daily operation. More than half of the clientele are returning customers and regulars. Reservations are a must. Taking public transportation is highly recommended.