Bangkok Post reviews
Aflutter at the tables
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: December 9, 2011 at 9:57 am
A la minute show service makes for fresh food, vibrant vibes and adventurous appetites
There's nothing like the sights and smells of food being prepared to get the gastric juices flowing. It reassures that no one is trying to hide anything, enhances the human dimension beyond the meanderings of wait staff and sparks the diner's desire to try things. Then again, it's also labour-intensive, leaves little room for error, and can be confused with food courts.
However, there is no risk on that last score where Tables, the Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok's mezzanine gallery Western fine dining concept, is concerned. The decor is designer; like something Karl Lagerfeld, David Lynch and JK Rowling might dream up together, though it was in fact designed by none other than Tony Chi whose concept was to harkens back to the grand old days of gastronomy when people kissed their fingers with a flourish to express appreciation.
Think a sensual kaleidoscope of copper and pink with polished moon beam and turn-of-the-century faut incandescent lights and mirrors the size of "Napoleon Crossing the Alps" reflecting to infinity. Meanwhile, half-size models of French waiters float just below the ceiling as if poised to serve fly past Quidditch players. The outlook is also a tad exalted, with the L-shaped restaurant bordered on the inside by an elegant banister beyond which the hotel's high-ceilinged lobby sits like some stately home's conservatory.
Being but one level up from The Dining Room (the hotel's outlets have traditionally been given the most obvious yet enigmatic names), the upscale buffet and all-day dining restaurant, differentiation between that and Tables had to be clear and present. As much is achieved both by the Parisian salon decor on the one hand and the exalted cuisine on the other.
Though it's hard to define the culinary style without falling into traps, what you get is Western-style classic and contemporary gourmet cuisine expertly guided by twenty-something Swiss and, more importantly, Swiss-trained, Chef de Cuisine Michel Eschmann. (Heck, even the affable restaurant manager, Jo Look, is Swiss trained here!).
Chef Michel Eschmann, Chef de Cuisine at Tables
Though I haven't seen the actual menu, I did attend the recent launch of Tables' much-ballyhooed new Sunday Brunch which basically presents selected, mostly signature, a la carte items. These are duly dispersed across strategically placed tables (what else?) behind which an assortment of impeccably trained sous chefs perform some of the preparation and all of the final assembly, so truly delivering everything "a la minute".
Ninety-percent of everything will rotate from Sunday-to-Sunday, as the number of regular guests to avoid boring is already considerable, so take the followings (sic) as possibilities not certitudes.
Along the balcony that connects from the entrance to a pre- and post-pradial lounge area are four appetizer stations, each with two offerings, beginning with Fine de Claire oysters on ice and Scottish smoked salmon, the former shucked and the latter sliced on the spot with full contingents of condiments. The important thing about the salmon is that it is not house-smoked, as is usual in Bangkok, because the F&B team agreed that only the real deal would do for Tables. And indeed there is something particularly exquisite about the Loch Fine product offered.
Next along are four top quality seafood-based appetizers in small bowls which, though not prepared on the spot, are replenished rapid-fire. These included Poached salmon over lentil brunoise, Tiger prawn cocktail with cognac, Poached black mussels, and Seafood salad with prawn, scallop and mussel, each clearly a taster from a dish that one would certainly appreciate on a larger plate (of course you can go back for as much as you like).
Part of the ethos of Tables is to revisit and re-jig dishes that once held iconic status but eventually succumbed to some confounded new fad or other. As they say, fashions always come around again, so why not rediscover Steak tartar, made from finely chopped raw beef, in this case 240-day grain fed Australian tenderloin, mixed with onions, capers, ground pepper, Worcestershire sauce, a dash of cognac and served on brioche or traditional toasted rye bread. This shares billing with a glorious cold cuts selection, including Parma ham, farmer ham, salami and coppa, all sliced on the spot by a classic red Berkel.
Next is a table of meat and vegetarian appetizers, including fabulous Duck liver terrine with figs stewed in port wine, jolly good Boiled beef salad with pickles, Caesar salad with separate dressing which is added at the last, and a deceptively ordinary looking Pasta salad with sun dried tomato, olive oil, basil that benefited from the homemade pasta cooked to al dente perfection and the very high quality olive oil. Again, one imagined more of the same making a perfectly excellent luncheon on its own.
The bread selection that accompanies the a la carte menu is also offered, including Soft Roll, Sour Dough, Lavoche.
So quite a lot of appetizers. And that doesn't include the two soups; a painstakingly prepared French mushroom consomme with Pernod and a classic Lobster bisque, one of the constants, an earthy marvel with multiple medallions of prime Canadian lobster. Needless to say, both were assembled on the spot so that the mushrooms and lobster were still firm and the flavours retained their integrity.
Moving inside the main dining area (there are also two exceedingly grand private dining rooms), we next located the risotto table offering three types. One was Champagne risotto, black truffle, Reggiano Parmesan, another Mushroom Risotto with hazelnut and parsley, and yet another with Seafood. The truffle option did indeed taste like creamed champagne with the short, fat-grain carnaroli rice and generous shavings of fresh truffle hitting the spot bigtime. According to Executive Chef Mark Hagenbach, an Aussie, other permutations include asparagus, pumpkin, tomato and blue cheese.
Then there were the separate surf and turf tables, the former featuring plump US scallops offered simply sauteed with tomato, olives and capers, and the other a Scallop pot-au-feu, vegetable broth with saffron. These, too, were big hits with the assembled guests. Another week, they might feature King prawn or something equally regal from the deep.
As for the turf station, there is one stallwart - outstanding 240-day grain fed Australian rib eye roast, glazed carrot & boulangere potato - and whatever else is particularly good at the time, such as, on this occasion, Veal Nowgorod, a classic Russian dish with porcini and beetroot, both shipped directly from Russia, and always acceptable Pork saltimbocca with Parma ham and sage, the Italian classic. Another week you might get a veal zurichois.
I didn't get beyond the beef, however. And what beef! Fabulous flavour and wonderfully tender with no fibrous residue. This Michel explained is because of the careful cooking. The joint is roasted for about 4 hours, starting at 160oC then dialled back to 90oC, all so as to maintain 68oC core temperature, a technique that has the added advantage of keeping the meat as good as when it came out of the oven for longer.
And that's not all. Every guest also has the option of one of the best half lobster thermidores you'll ever find, or lobster salad, prepared to order and delivered whenever you like. Proper cold-water Canadian lobster, mind you.
For dessert, there are another two tables. One was preparing a la minute Cherry Jubilee with Kirsch, Vanilla Ice Cream and Peach Melba, peaches, vanilla ice cream raspberry sauce and almonds, both invented by the great Escoffier, remember, and therefore needing no further introduction.
The other arrayed a selection from the Pastry Chef's ovens ranging from Black Forest Tart with Kirsch and cherries to Pavlova with strawberry and chantilly, plus excellent cheeses with fruity counterfoils such as stewed rhubarb.
All very fine stuff but not a bit stuffy. No starched white table cloths here. Seemingly they were whisked off the tables before we arrived, leaving elemental wood more consistent with contemporary values and everything neatly in place.
The Sunday Brunch package (Bt1,400++ adults, Bt800++ children 6-12) includes water, iced tea, coffee and tea. An optional free-flow beverage package (Bt580++) includes Prosecco rose, wine, beer, orange juice and soft drinks.
From 12:00 noon to 2:30pm.
For reservations, call Tables at +66 2254 1234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
TABLES. Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok.
494 Rajdamri Road. Tel. 02 254 1234.