Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dedicated to the true food lover


LOOKING for the perfect dining experience in the Thai capital? Then grab a copy of Thailand’s Best Restaurants 2009, a restaurant guide book published by Thailand Tatler.

The book lists 150 – in the words of Thailand Tatler editor-in-chief Naphalai Areesorn – top restaurants in Bangkok.

As a Liverpool football club fan, I was quite sceptical of its selection criteria though because it included Manchester United Restaurant & Bar.

“Why is it on the list?” I queried Naphalai, giving her a bulldog glare that Wayne Rooney would have been proud of.

She laughed and half-jokingly said: “You ask the Manchester United fans who nominated it.”
Turning serious, she said: “Because it has an unusual concept (the restaurant and bar is adorned with United memorabilia and photos of players past and present).

“We do that (include restaurants with an unusual concept) once in a while.”
Manchester United Restaurant & Bar or not, Thailand Tatler’s restaurant guide is popular with Bangkok’s foodie crowd (including tourists).

It is so popular that some restaurants in Bangkok have resorted to creative methods to get themselves featured. For example, a restaurant (which shall remain unnamed) nominated itself 20 times as Bangkok’s best dining establishment.

Thailand Tatler received 20 nomination forms with the same handwriting but signed with different names proposing a particular restaurant.

Why would some restaurants be so desperate to be listed? “If it was something that was constantly referred to by restaurant goers, wouldn’t you want to be in it?” asked Naphalai.

Klyduan Sukhahuta, the co-owner of Minibar Royale, which was launched late last year, was so ecstatic to be featured in Thailand’s Best Restaurants 2009 because “it is one of the best guide books in Bangkok”.

“It would give us exposure not only to local customers but also foreigners,” she gushed.
Thailand Tatler’s review of the restaurant – which it described as “everything reminiscent of a New York bistro, from the aroma of brewing coffee to the compulsive people-watching” – was brutally honest.

The incognito reviewers wrote: “Service remains the biggest drawback. Staff appears stressed and unable to grasp what decent service should be. However, the owners are attentive and amiable.”

But Klyduan was not too stressed with the appraisal.

“We like direct opinion. When we opened the restaurant, family and friends gave (positive) opinions but we did not know whether they were sincere,” she said.

“It is good to get an honest comment from an outsider.”

She added that Minibar Royale would strive to provide “decent service”.

I asked Philippe Saunier, the manager of New York Steakhouse, a JW Marriot restaurant which has been listed nine times in a row since the guide book was first published, how he would feel if the steakhouse was not listed in Thailand’s Best Restaurants 2010.

“It would be a great deception for all of us in New York Steakhouse as it would not be reflecting our reputation as the finest steakhouse in Bangkok,” he said.

A quick look into the guide book confirmed Saunier’s boast about his steakhouse.

The book glowingly acclaimed: “When it comes to great steak meals, the New York steakhouse can lay a pretty credible claim to being the best in town.”

There were times, however, that Thailand Tatler got it wrong.

I named a restaurant I patronised solely because of its glowing recommendation, and told Naphalai the dining experience was disappointing.

And she agreed it was a mistake to include that establishment.

“Eating out is a personal experience,” she explained. “Everyone has his own perception. To be honest, nobody (including Thailand Tatler’s reviewers) gets it right all the time.

“There have been times we included a restaurant – which we have already rated on the low side – and a diner goes there and then writes back to us saying ‘you said this and this and it wasn’t so ’,” Naphalai added.

Thailand Tatler’s reviewers would then dine at the establishment to verify the feedback received.

“If it is true, we will drop the restaurant from our list the next year,” she said.

(Published in The Star on June 7, 2009)


The FrogBlogger said...

All of which leads me to think that I will rely on word of mouth recommendations rather than guides of this kind, when I wish to dine out in Bangkok! You can't eat a Manchester United scarf. Well, you probably could, but I wouldn't recommend trying.

For the price of the book I could probably have a delicious couple of meals anyway...