There are three kinds of Thai restaurants in Hong Kong:
1. The kind that serves tempered flavours to suit local palates (usually found in shopping malls);
2. The kind that charges you too much for too little (usually found in Central );
3. The authentic kind (usually found Kowloon City).
Thai restaurants in Kowloon City are as real as real ever gets. But Kowloon City can never offer an authentic sense of scale and grandeur, even if you close your eyes while sipping a perfect Tom Yum. Open your eyes and you're surrounded by car repair shops.
But enough complaining. If you therefore wish to enjoy an honest-to-goodness Thai meal for cheaply, fly thee off Bangkok without haste.
For a chili lover like me, there's nothing more frustrating than a menu that roars with lip-smacking chili ratings but disappoints with dishes that hardly cause a whimper.
And so it wasn't without a small amount of trepidation that Chris and I trekked to Bo.lan, an upscale Thai restaurant. Especially after I was informed upon reservation that only the seven-course degustation menu would be served for Valentine's dinner.
Bo.lan is tucked into a residential soi somewhere on Sukhumvit. The moment I saw the restaurant's signage, I was filled with a sinking feeling. It was sponsored by "Jacob's Creek," an Aussie supermarket wine.
I wasn't any more comforted when we got to the reception desk. Our table wasn't ready, and the young receptionist was a nervous basket case. "Never mind," I calmed myself down. There's no use throwing a diva hissy fit, like some high-maintenance gay boys who behave as though the world owes them everything. Besides, neither Chris nor myself have ever been on a proper Valentine's date. What's the of point ruining our first time with a foul temper?
While waiting, we were served a bowl of sexed-up rice crispies flavoured with salt, sugar, galangal and spices.
The meal started off promisingly enough - with an amuse bouche that instantly set my entire mouth on fire.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there - the lowest point being having been served a chilled "pink shiraz" from Hua Hin.
What was particularly laughable was an appetizer labeled "For Him" and "For Her" - no doubt a valiant effort to cash in on Valentine's Day fuzziness. It was Chris who first saw it on the menu and wondered aloud who would be served which. It would take a server with just the right balance of cheek and discretion to ask a homosexual couple what they'd like. Our server simply plunked down the dishes without further preamble. Chris got served the dish "For Her" and I got the dish "For Him."
I happily snapped photos.
The meal - from the enormous portions to the utterly obscene dessert served on a hilariously lengthy plate - tried too hard to hard to give "value for money." Sad, because the restaurant was actually beautifully appointed and obviously attracted the local hi-so. In fact, after we were seated, several couples had to be turned away because there simply wasn't any more provisions left for walk-in diners.
Thai restaurants in Bangkok serve food that's almost always uniformly good. But still, there are three, distinct kinds:
1. The kind you find along the streets (usually frequented by locals and the late-night party set);
2. The kind you find along the tourist belt (usually with dumbed-down versions of only the most recognizable Thai dishes);
3. The kind intended for gullible tourists and expats with deep pockets (usually painfully hip and stylish, nothing more).
Thai food is to the East what Italian cuisine is to the West - down-to-earth, cheap to make, the kind that your nanna makes best. Any tourist that falls into the pretense of hoity-toity Thai food deserves to be taken advantage of. You'd be stupid to pay a premium for Thai cuisine here. After all, this is Bangkok. Where better to find every street littered with an embarrassment of tasty Thai treats?
It's not as though you were in New York, London, or worse - Hong Kong.
He answered: "Excess."