Posts from the “Super Candy” Category

Le Kou’Gny, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia: lobster restaurant nonpareil

Review:

Eating a lobster lunch at Le Kou’Gny on Boxing Day 2012 was simply one of  the best meals of my life.

As you will know by now I abhor Trip Advisor, but when it comes to New Caledonia, because there are so few people who visit, there aren’t that many websites where you can find a list of potential eateries.

So, when I was researching NC I did end up reading Trip Advisor reviews out of morbid curiosity rather than for any intention of listening to their advice.

What I read there and what I experienced at the restaurant show what a useless tool such rating and review sites are. Find a critic (or dare I say a flogger) whose opinions you trust and go with that where you can.

This wasn’t going to be a post about the perils of Trip Advisor, but now I’m all riled up again, it’s going to have to be an illustrative case study.

Now, bear in mind that the vast majority of the few thousand tourists who go to New Cal each year are Aussies or cruise ship passengers or both. Aussies as a bunch of people are completely spoiled. We get it. You have fabulous beaches, great weather, amazing landscapes and great food, so whenever you go on holiday you compare it to what you have back home. Unfortunately this can make some of you very small-minded, and this is doubly true of the cruising classes.

To read many of the English language reviews about Le Kou’Gny you’d think that it was a horrendous, overpriced beach shack whose staff were lazy, ignorant Pacific Islanders who choose the size of the lobster they serve you based on your ability to speak French. Honestly, I kid you not. Check out the reviews.

The reality is this:

The restaurant is a simple, rustic family business. Picnic tables are set out on the sand underneath the shady pines in what is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The restaurant is unreachable by road, and is a 15 minute trek along a jungle path. The Kanak guys who run it speak very little English, but are friendly and polite even if you are obviously struggling to make yourself understood in poor French. If you don’t speak French, bring a bloody phrasebook. It’s not that difficult.

Strangely enough, it’s not possible to catch 30 lobsters all the same size each day and so there is going to be variety of size between portions. However, whilst our lobsters were absolutely smaller than the table’s next to us, we were given an extra one and half slipper lobsters each, which were different and delicious. It’s obvious that the restaurant aims to serve each party with a uniform size of portion, but between tables the size might vary. Get over it.

That anyone should expect to pay buttons for a meal because they think that the overheads of the restaurant, the cost of ingredients and the material needs of the owners are limited, is frankly disgusting. I’d have paid double the US$70 per person price tag and been just as happy. They have every right to charge whatever they like.

Now the rant is over, here’s the nitty-gritty.

lobster_kougny

Food:

When you make a reservation you have to tell them whether you want lobster or fish as they will catch or buy the produce they need for their clients every morning. This is why you cannot turn up to Le Kou’Gny on spec and hope to eat lunch.

You absolutely must book in advance (I’ve been advised that you can ring as late as 6am the morning of your hoped for reservation and they will accommodate you if they have room).

Lunch is three courses of utter simplicity. A salad to start, followed by the seafood of your choice and rounding out with a fruit platter.

The salad was fresh with a really tasty dressing, a perfect starter on a hot day.

The lobster and slipper lobsters were superb. Lightly grilled, they were succulent and sweet. I’ve never had slipper lobster before and it was actually sweeter than the big lobster. I cleaned those shells, and sucked those joints and legs of every morsel, and pretty much drank the juice out of the shells too. Bliss.

The fruit was delicious. Local bananas, papayas, passion fruit etc, all sun ripened and perfectly set off with lime juice.

Simple. Delicious. Sweetly presented.

Drinks:

Ice cold beer and soft drinks on hand. Jugs of water brought to your table as a matter of course, and a small wine list. There’s also a dude selling coconuts at the restaurant which completes the tropical tableau.

Service:

We found the service perfectly friendly. We muddled through with our limited French. The food service was languid. There was no rush to get you finished and move you on. A Korean couple turned up without a booking and asked for a table (in English) for that day and were told that was not possible but they could book for the next day. All of this was in English. All perfectly friendly, if not verbose.

Ambience:

Perfect beach restaurant. An amazing view. Soft sand underfoot. Shady trees overhead.

kougny_food

Location:

Kou’Gny is up in Baie D’Oro in the north-east of the Isle of Pines. Road access is close to The Meridien Hotel and the drop-off point for the Piscine Naturelle. I would skip the piscine and head straight for Oro as it’s just as sheltered and beautiful and massive compared to the slightly crowded piscine (although there’s not as much to see snorkeling).

Our journey to Kou’Gny was organised through the Kou Bugny Hotel who were very helpful with tours even though we weren’t staying there. It involved an early start to grab a pirogue (traditional boat) at Baie St Joseph for a trip through the beautiful Baie Upi and then an hour’s easy trek through the forest to the restaurant. Such a lovely way to get there.

On the way back we just had a 15 minute walk back to the road where we were picked up in a minibus and taken back to the Baie Kuto where we were moored.

Mobile: +687 91 17 94 Landline: +687 46 10 65. I’ve read on some sites that you can leave it up to 9am on the day you want to eat to book, but if it’s a busy time of year, then don’t leave it that late.

Price:

The three course lunch was US$70 per person and then there were drinks and coconuts on top. Bear in mind that they are only open for lunch.

Summary:

Idyllic and charming. One of my favourite ever meals because of the mix of awesome location, great food and laid back atmosphere.

Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb: charms the socks off you

ZinfandelI have a new favourite restaurant in Europe. It happens to have one of the most beautiful original Belle Époque dining rooms in existence, amazing service, and importantly awesome food and wine.

It’s in the Croatian capital Zagreb and it’s called Zinfandel’s.

Food:

Ana Grgic is 31 and the Executive Chef. She started her apprenticeship at Zinfandel’s at the ludicrously young age of 17. She called up the executive chef at the time and asked to work for free so she could learn.  She has since worked with a couple of 2* Michelin chefs to hone her skills, holds the highest qualifications as a Master Chef, and worked under the previous exec chef James Vella for a number of years who is himself well-regarded.

Anyway, enough of that. All I need to tell you is that the food was exquisite.

Every morsel was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. There was not one flavour combination that you noticed being slightly out-of-place. Make sure you check out the tasting menu we had.

We did have a rather amusing moment with the food. Because the tasting menu was long and Mr H and I aren’t big eaters of white carbs, we asked if we could swap the frog’s leg risotto for a delicious sounding rabbit dish, which they were very happy to do.

After the rabbit dish, we were brought the risotto anyway, but we had so much food to go we sent it back assuming that it had been a mistake. A minute later the restaurant manager (Stjepan Okun, a charming silver fox) came back with the dish and told us that there had been no mistake and that the chef insisted we must eat the dish because it was very good.  Who were we to argue with that?!  So, eat it we did, and enjoy it we did. She was absolutely right: chef knows best…

Drinks:

I fell in love with the avuncular sommelier who was also our waiter for the evening. Ivan Šneler is Croatia’s first Sommelier and the star turn.

There was no specific option on the menu for pairing wine with food but Ivan offered to do one for us. The wine list was long and reasonably priced, so we had full confidence in asking him to bring us all his best Croatian wines.

Holy smokes Croatia has some amazing vino! We’ve spent a couple of holidays in the country and have had some very passable wines, but nothing extraordinary.  Ivan knocked our socks off, with a raft of wines made from Croatian grape varieties that you don’t find elsewhere.

Service:

Service was brilliant. I’ve never had this much fun with the staff at a fine dinning establishment. Ivan doubles as ‘Comedy Waiter’.

Every time he comes near the table with a dish you think it’s going to end up in your lap, or he’ll manage to sweep everything on the table to the floor.

He must do it deliberately because somehow he avoids impending disaster, finishes with an elegant flourish and your food or wine perfectly placed. It was a roller-coaster of muscle-clenching terror followed by delighted, hand-clapping relief every time he approached. He’s incredibly proud of Ana as well, which was very touching.

Because Ivan knew we were rather full, instead of the dessert intended, he brought us a champagne sherbet he prepared instead. What a sweetie.

The staff handled risotto-gate with real charm too, and seemed genuinely pleased that we’d enjoyed our meal at the end of the night.

The Ambience/The Space:

You can get a bit of a sense of the decor from the photo. The restaurant is intimately sized and very elegant.

The restaurant was very quiet that night, and we were surprised at how late guests were showing up. Once party of four arrived at getting on for 11pm and they were seated and served in a leisurely manner. No clock watching from the staff.

The Price:

The seven course tasting menu was US$123 (Kn695) which was great value considering the quality of the food and the overall experience. I can’t find the exact cost of the wine, but it was less than US$100 for the pair of us.

Location:

Zinfandel’s is on the ground floor of  the Esplanade Hotel, which itself is a very pleasant place to stay. Mihanovićeva ulica 1,  10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Tel: +385 1 4566 666. www.esplanade.hr

Summary:

If you are looking for somewhere a bit different in Europe for a weekend break, I would highly recommend bouncing into Zagreb and staying at the Esplanade to eat at Zinfandel’s. The city is interesting, and the people friendly. It feels like a real undiscovered destination.

Zinfandel’s, Zagreb: Tasting Menu

Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb – 6.10.2012

Adriatic langoustines, bloody Mary Granitte, coconut rolls.

Fois gras terrine, wild berry semifreddo, Istrian summer truffle brioche.

Langoustine consommé, fresh Adriatic shrimps and coriander.

Risotto, asparagus disc, frog legs and truffle juice.

Sole fillet, truffle, roasted asparagus pie, brown nut caper butter.

Veal, ox tail croquettes, horseradish foam.

Lemongrass panna cotta, tangerine sorbet and orange bisquit.

Extra course:

Rabbit roulade, artichokes confit, broad bean paste.

Nahm Bangkok – food to get on a plane for

Review:

I don’t need much of an excuse to bob down to Bangkok for a weekend from Hong Kong. Who does when you have great shopping, awesome food and cheap massages just 2.5 hrs away?

However, the excuse I’ve been using most for the past couple of years, is that when a movie I particularly want to see opens there before Hong Kong it is permissible for me to go to my favourite cinema to watch it – the wonderful Enigma Shadow Lounge in Siam Paragon.

Now though, I have a new excuse: I have to go to Bangkok because I need to satisfy my addiction to David Thompson’s food.

I ate in Nahm at the Halkin in London a few year’s ago and enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away. However, having found out more about David Thompson since then and on discovering he’d be opening a restaurant in Bangkok, I had an inkling that with access to the full range of fresh indigenous ingredients, he might do wonders.

After an abortive attempt to go to Nahm in early 2011, twice this year I’ve been to Bangkok, and twice I’ve flown earlier in the day so that I can get to Nahm for dinner. Yes, it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in Thailand, and yes it’s in a hotel (the Metropolitan), and yes, the chef is a farang, but by crikey he puts together some mouthwatering food! This guy has really nailed it.

Now, we all know that the delight of eating in Thailand is that you can get the most wonderful food from the most humble of restaurants and food-stalls. But for a long time it’s been exasperating that there hasn’t been a really exciting restaurant in the capital pushing the envelope of Thai cuisine. The only difference between a good cheap restaurant and a good expensive restaurant was the decor, the wine list, and the lighting.

The chef and the magic:

Thompson is an Aussie who first visited Thailand some 20 years ago and moved there a year later after being utterly seduced by the place. He was very lucky to meet a lady called Sombat Janphetchara whose family worked in the palace, and who had somehow been taught the intricacies of palace cuisine.

The basis of Thai cuisine is its pastes – the marrying together of the vast array of herbs, spices and aromatics in ideal proportions to produce the taste you want, is an art not a science. This is why you will see many of the same dishes on the menu in the north of Thailand as down in the south, but the flavours are very different because they use different ingredients in different proportions in their pastes.

David Thompson seems to possess an extraordinary gift for creating wonderfully complex flavour profiles in his dishes that reveal themselves in stages through each mouthful, and it’s all because of Sombat Janphetchara teaching him how to use herbs and aromatics with extreme care, presence of mind and unending patience.

And that’s it really. That’s what makes eating his food a startling pleasure. I don’t think I’ve eaten a meal where I’ve wanted to concentrate on each mouthful as much as I have at Nahm.

The best chefs in the world almost universally place a number of different elements on a plate that together create a balanced flavour profile for the dish. You pick a little of this, with a little of that and a bit of another to put on your fork to eat, or you have to eat the different elements in turn in a suggested order to experience the flavour that the chef wants to impart.

Not so with David Thompson’s food. The most you will have is a dip, the rest of that flavour profile is just sitting there in the bowl or the plate, innate in the curry, the salad or the parcel before you. That’s the clever part. That’s the magic.

The decor and ambience:

There’s not much point in going into details about the restaurant’s styling. You come here for the food not for the very standard, could-be-anywhere-hotel-breakfast-room decoration.  The ambience can often be rowdy. There are many people who dine here for celebrations and it can get rather noisy on weekend nights, so ideally I’d suggest going on a weekday.

Service:

The initial front of house service can be maddening. Once the food starts arriving it’s been absolutely fine, but to begin with you can easily be forgotten. Stay on the waiters if you feel you have been overlooked just once, and persevere as the food is worth it.

Having said that, the service the last time I went was impeccable, but that might be because I noticed the note “Take Care!” by my name in the reservations book. Why that’s there is another story, but one with ultimately a happy ending…

Choosing your food:

There are some intense flavours in the menu and to get the best out of the meal make sure that you choose dishes that will balance each other.

We were so excited the first time we ate at Nahm that we ordered a lot of the more unusual, pungent and rampantly hot items, and ended up a little overwhelmed by the flavour punches, (there is no manipulation of heat here; if a dish should be fierce with chilli, then fierce it shall be). The second time we went we chose more carefully and created a more satisfying overall meal, rather than just opting to try as many new things as possible.

There is one starter that absolutely no one should go without and sets the tone for the rest of the meal, and that’s the grilled mussel skewers.

Drinks:

There’s a good list of interesting cocktails and a very adequate wine list. I’m used to just plumping for beer with most Asian cuisine, but the sommelier was informed and helpful and we ended up with a Thai wine from Monsoon Valley, which was very decent.

Price:

You can eat à la carte or opt for a menu that gives you the option of choosing one dish from each of the sections – a relish, a salad, a soup, a curry and a stir fry along with a taster of every one of the starters. This menu costs 1700THB++ (US$55) per person which is a complete bargain in my book, but drinks prices are up there with every other 5* hotel in Bangkok, so it can add up. Overall I think Nahm is great value given the quality of the food.

Location:

Ground Floor, The Metropolitan Hotel, Sathorn Tai, Bangkok. Tel: 02-625 3333. It’s next to the Banyan Tree, so if it’s your first time in Bangkok go to Vertigo before or after for drinks.

Summary:

Ignore the service and the decor, insist on a table in a quiet corner when booking and concentrate on the food.

I have no hesitation in saying that Nahm, without doubt, serves the best food in Bangkok at this point in time, and it’s because of David Thompson’s intense passion and deep respect for his adopted home’s food and culture.

Hotel Lancaster, Paris – sublime.

Review:

This post is part of the same Parisian story that saw my partner and I leaving Hotel Costes rather earlier than expected after a run in with some particulary obnoxious staff.

Having either been bumped from our room, or just downright lied to by that hotel, our lifestyle manager, who was distraught that we’d been screwed about, got us booked into a suite at the truly 5* Hotel Lancaster just off the Champs Elyseés instead.

As soon as we entered the serene lobby and the receptionist smiled winningly at us, I fell in love with Hotel Lancaster.

lobby_lancaster_paris

When I stepped into Suite 75, I knew I was home. It was the most perfect, elegant Belle Epoque apartment for a romantic stay in Paris. It was everything Hotel Costes wanted to be, but would never, ever achieve.

It’s full of carefully chosen antiques and artwork, has all the modern facilities you could want, from iPod docks to wifi, and is the ultimate in quiet sophistication.

The bedroom of suite 75 opened up onto a lovely long balcony overlooking Paris and the Zen garden below.

lancaster_75_bedroom_parisWe had a lounge where we would be served an enormous breakfast every day, and was so cosy and sumptuous in the middle of winter I hardly wanted to leave it.

salon_lancaster_paris_75And the suite had one of my all time favourite bathrooms.  Just look at that art-deco dressing table. Absolutely gorgeous, and so much light. I was also introduced to a wonderful range of Greek beauty products - Korres – their citrus body milk is my particular favourite.

bathroom_75_lancaster_paris

outside_lancaster-parisThe service at Hotel Lancaster is as good as it gets. They are on the Mandarin Oriental level of excellence in my books. The concierge introduced us to a really good modern Sichuan restaurant, and helped us find out about particular shops etc. The housekeeping and room service staff were efficient, friendly and discreet – what more do you need?

The hotel has lots of facilities and a 2* Michelin restaurant, but we really didn’t take advantage of all that because we were so cosy and wrapped up in our suite. Having spent weeks on the move traveling around Europe, being able just to lounge around in this gorgeous set of rooms and having Paris outside the windows was blissful. I have to admit I got rather too used to it.

Location: 7 rue de Berri, Champs Elyseés, 75008, Paris. Tel: +33 1 40 76 40 76. Pretty close to the George V Metro, close to the Place d’Etoile end of the Champs Elyseés.

Boys – if you ever want to take a loved one to Paris, I promise you that if you book into either the Dietrich, 75 or 76 suites at the Lancaster they will be yours forever. It is captivating, exhilarating, elegant and utterly sophisticated – and some of that is bound to rub off on you…

Sukhumvit/Ploenchit – Where to sleep, shop, spa and sup in Bangkok

I never tire of Thailand. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad holiday there, unless you are a muppet and go around smoking drugs and letting coconuts fall on your head.

I never tire of Bangkok either, even though I’ve been there countless times.  It’s just a great city, but – and this is important – it’s only great as long as you know how to get around and don’t sit in traffic jams for hours on end.

causticcandy_bangkok

If you only have a long weekend or just a couple of days in Bangkok then I would heartily suggest staying somewhere along the Sukhumvit Road or the beginning of Ploenchit (they lead into each other).

As the traffic is still atrocious you do need to base yourself close to a Skytrain station preferably, or an underground.

Any bars/restaurants etc outside this immediate vicinity mainly have their own posts elsewhere on the blog (eg, if it’s your first time in Bangkok you really do have to go for sundowners at Vertigo at the Banyan Tree but it’s a way away from Sukhumvit in Silom).

Stay:

The Eugenia on Sukhumvit Soi 31 for small, chic and sophisticated.

Hyatt Erawan or Conrad, for big 5* chains that are both very close to Gaysorn and Siam Paragon for shopping/cinemas/Skytrain junctions/on-site spas.

Do not stay anywhere near the Grand Palace unless you are only going to be doing siteseeing/eating in that area or along the river. The traffic is enough to try the patience of the Buddha.

Eat:

Around Sukhumvit:

Vendome is good (if French and formal), next to the Eugenia. Nice setting in a house with a sweet garden and terrace. Big wine list, and a couple of private rooms up stairs.

Cabbages and Condoms – standard Thai fare, and is always worth a meal if you have time as the service is laughably haphazard – but it’s all for a good charitable cause.

Kuppa at 39 Sukhumvit Soi 16, lovely for lunch, huge, airy and industrial. Tel: 02663-0495

DB Bradley Room in the Eugenia. Now I haven’t eaten here, I was thwarted by the traffic last time I was in BKK when I was trying out a hotel in another part of town. It gets good reviews, and it is the most stunning room – hand painted wallpaper with gold leaf, and only about 8 tables in toto. Super romantic.

It’s fusion, but apparently very good. Someone please go and let me know what it’s like as I’ve been dying to go here for months!

Avoid: Lan Na Thai (great venue, poor food), Spring & Summer (again great venue, poor food).

Bed Supperclub -If you haven’t been to BKK before and you are under 25, then this venue is still something fun and different to go to, but bear in mind you eat lounging around on beds, so it’s not for everyone’s digestive system (must bring ID with you for age-verification even if you are 90), and it’s still style over substance.

I’m putting non-Sukhumvit restaurants in other posts. It is worth heading out and braving the traffic only in the evenings, and it’s certainly easier to get across town starting here, way out west than it is, starting off round the Palace or River areas.

causticcandy_bangkoktaxi

I know I haven’t mentioned many Thai restaurants here, but I’d suggest that your hotel concierge knows where the best ones are in your district, or where their favourite ones are.

Thai’s think that all farang are pussies and can’t possibly take their food as hot as the locals do. If you like it hot, do impress upon your waiters/concierge that you want it proper spicy. I sometimes feel like I have to down a bottle of Tabasco to get them to believe me.

Sup:

Face: Although the Thai restaurant here (Lan Na Thai), is nothing to write home about, Face, the bar, is great. Serves good cocktails and is in a stunning teak housing complex.

Bed Supperclub: Again, one for the kids, but it’s still quite fun.

Q Bar: still fun here too, but better if you are in a bigger group as at least it’s easier for the boys to avoid the hookers (if they want to…).

BKK has lost it’s party really, after the crackdown. If you hang out in some of the bigger clubs though it’s easy to meet people and there is a big scene in underground after-parties (in fact most of them seem to be on roofs).

Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy. As long as you’re not with your parents, or clients, then having a drink in both these Sois can be fun if you haven’t been to BKK before and you’re undecided on the moral dilemma of it all. It’s certainly the better end of the prostitution business, if there is a better end. I have no issue with girls (or boys, or lady boys) dancing round with next to nothing on, or shooting ping pong balls out of their more private orifices, but the take-it-home side of things does make me wince.

For a good overview of prostitution in Asia, that actually gives you some decent context read Louise Brown’s Sex Slaves - the trafficking of women in Asia. The content is useful and enlightening, even if the delivery is heavy-handed.

Day spas:

Ah, one of my favourite pursuits in Thailand.

Lavana Spa: I love this spa, it’s on Soi 12

I am a massive herbal ball massage fan, and they have five different varieties here, made up of different herbs for different purposes (you can even watch the ladies making them, and buy them in the shop, all their products are made in-house).

This is a big spa, they have nearly 50 rooms and it’s a bit of a labyrinth. Rooms are crisp and clean, and their therapists are superb. It’s actually quite an art to perform a herbal ball massage correctly and this is the best I’ve encountered. It’s not as plush as a 5* hotel, but it’s still stylish, at least half the price and it’s really very good. BHT850 (less than HK$200) for 90 minutes of massage is staggeringly reasonable. You’d be hard pressed to wait more than 10mins for a therapist if you walked off the street (although booking is advisable at busy times), and it’s open until 2am. Perfect.

Mulberry: I also love this spa, but mainly for foot massages. Soi 23.

I am a complete reflexology glutton – an addict even. The two best foot massages I’ve ever had have been here, and then at Dragonfly in Beijing.

The surroundings are very sweet and homely here – it’s set in a big wooden house with gardens, so it’s a very enjoyable place to spend some quality time. I’d go to Lavana which is very close by for other massages and treatments though. I had a facial here which wasn’t brilliant, and their herbal massage didn’t stack up against Lavana either. Again open late, so great for a spot of relexology on the way home from the pub, or if you are suffering from jet lag. Blissful.

Shopping:

Malls:

Siam Paragon and Gaysorn are the top end malls and where most of your designer shops are. I have found that for men especially, the designers here don’t carry many sizes, and it’s difficult to find anything in manly, European sizes, let alone US sizes. I’ve also found that prices are higher than in HK, so I’ve never bought anything top end in BKK.

Siam Discovery Centre is a bit more furniture, nicknacks focussed (even has a Habitat, dontyerknow), some nice shops in here.

Central World (the newest in this strip), Siam Center, MBK, Siam Square and Siam Discovery have all the rest of the things you might be interested in really – its a great conglomeration of shopping, just a very useful place to go and get your acquisition fever out of the way in one fell swoop. Really don’t bother going anywhere else if you only have a short period of time.

Siam Centre is one of my favourites even though it’s a bit old and cramped, as it has a Boots (for all you Brits out there), as well as Jaspal and a slew of funky Thai designer shops (like Fly Now), as well as a couple of great shoe shops in the form of Lyn (cheap and cheerful), and one which stocks shoes by Obsession (I’m not sure the whole shop is called Obsession, I’ll update that later but it’s almost opposite one of the exits of Jaspal). Anyway, suffice to say that especially on the level where Boots is, which is the skytrain level, there are loads of interesting shops.

Soi 23:

There are some very nice homeware type shops up around the Mulberry Spa, on the walk from the Asoke skytrain station to the Eugenia hotel.

Almeta Silk: Beautiful made to order fabrics, choose the thread count and the pantone colour.  You walk in and after 5 minutes wonder how on earth people choose, as you decide all you really want to do is deck your house out in the entire rainbow of colours they have on offer. Great for design freaks who know exactly what shade they need. These guys are used to handling overseas orders. Lots of pre-made merch on sale too. 20/3 Soi Prasarnmitr, Sukhumvit Soi 23. Tel:662 2041413.

Incredible & Eligible: These two furniture/nicknack shops are run by the same guy who is a designer. Incredible is stuffed with the antiques and oddities that inspire him, and Eligible houses the new designs bourne out of these inspirations.

Think old telescopes, hurricane lamps, ancient mirrors, stuffed birds, overstuffed sofas. It’s difficult to explain and I don’t have a photo. Just take a look at the Eugenia Hotel interiors on their website and this is the style of things you’ll find in these two shops. Eligible is at 116/2 Soi 23 (tel: 662 662 8053) and Incredible is at 116/4 (tel 662 260 9690). Really lovely staff too, and you can also commission bespoke pieces which is good news!

Pic from the Eugenia website: don't you want to stay there?!
Pic from the Eugenia website: don’t you want to stay there?!

These are my standout stores on this Soi, but take a wander as there are all sorts. For a thorough source I can highly recommend the Luxe Guide to BKK.  I’m not so bowled over by their restaurant recommendations – (to be fair this may well be more a matter of personal taste rather than bad suggestions), but for shopping they are very useful guides if you don’t have a lot of time (and being proper pocket sized, you can avoid looking too much like a tourist).

Cinema.

Quite possibly Bangkok has the best cinema in the world. It’s in the Siam Paragon mall and is called the Enigma Shadow Lounge. The cinema consists of a bar where you can sit and have drinks before the film, and the cinema itself.

There are around 17 booths which are basically 6ft by 6ft beds for two people. There are stacks of silken cushions and pillows as well as silk duvets for you to lie back in and relax. Totally sumptuous. To finish off this experience there is waitress service where you just raise your hand and they come scurrying down to bring you your next beer/G&T/plate of nachos. The screen is huge and you are totally private in your own high sided booth. Bloody marvellous. I have to admit that my recent weekend trips to Bangkok have all been worked around me being able to see the biggest films of the year at Enigma.

This has now become a members’ only cinema, but my hotel concierges have never had a problem getting tickets for us, so that’s probably the best way to sort it out.

One thing to note: Whenever you go to the cinema in Thailand, they play the national anthem before the film and you need to show your respect and stand up.

Places worth making a dash to away from Sukhumvit:

I love Jim Thompson’s house (and it’s on a skytrain line). I must have been there 5 times, and never stop enjoying it. I love the garden, I love the styling, I love the colours, and I actually really love the shop.  The handbags and scarves are particular favourites, (there are good branches of the shop in lots of the top malls in BBK including the ones mentioned above).

Vertigo at the Banyan Tree. Bar literally on the roof, nestled amongst the air-conditioning units 61 stories up. Spectacular. Well worth a visit at sundown, and best to arrive at that time to get a good spot. It is a bitch to get to unless you are staying in Silom, so I suggest leaving an hour to get there if you are in and around Siam Square, longer if you are at the Eugenia.

smashing photo from their website
smashing photo from their website

Cafe de Laos (in Silom like the Banyan Tree, so good idea to go here for supper after your aperitif at Vertigo for some really good Laotian/Isaan food), and Suan Thip, a fantastic half day river trip with lunch or dinner.

Tips and notes:

Thai’s like tips as much as the rest of us. Try and take pink/orange taxis as they are newer. Avoid tuk-tuks unless you are going somewhere close by and the traffic is awful as at least the tuk-tuks can squeeze down the sides. Keep your handbags out of sight, and expect to smell of exhaust fumes and kerosene afterwards. I admit to taking a motocycle taxi once, as I was shopping and would have missed my flight home if I hadn’t. I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
causticcandy_bangkoktuktuk

Use your concierge to the max. The Luxe guide is good for shops, not so hot for restaurants. Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok is also incredibly useful. So useful, that even I, who hates looking like a tourist, will get it out on a street corner to consult. I don’t bother with any other guides than these. Pick up restaurant/events/bar recommendations from the listings mags like BK Mag and Metro amongst others. You can pick the guides up easily around BKK, but best is at the Asia Books store next to the ATMs outside Siam Skytrain station as it’s always a good place to start a weekend in BKK.

Remember to tell your waiters how hot you want your food, and if you don’t ask or tell them, it will come to you almost bland because of all the years of bloody package tourists who can’t take their heat.

River Kwai – brilliant long weekend from HK (if you like driving).

As you may gather I’ve got a bit of a penchant for Thailand, and often go for long weekends.  I love going up to the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi for a couple of days not only because it gives me a chance to drive for more than an hour and not hit either a border or the sea, but also because one of my favourite hotels is up here and it happens to have one of the best Thai restaurants in the whole of the country (believe me, I’ve been to plenty…)

River Kwai Caustic Candy

Here is the itinerary:

Fly to BKK, pick up your hire-car and head west. It takes about 4 hours to drive to Sai Yok, which is about an hour past Muang Kanchanaburi. It is worth pushing on through to Sai Yok, and avoiding the temptation to stop off in Kanchanaburi itself.

Stay at Resotel (more info here) on the River Kwai  - do book ahead as it’s quite small and is popular with the Russians in particular now for some reason.

Now you are ensconced in your hotel there are loads of things to do.  Erawan has some lovely waterfalls, you can go to the fascinating, eerie, and beautiful Hell Fire Pass where all the POWs, Thai and Vietnamese slaves were forced to build the Thai/Burma railway in WWII. You can go and visit the elephant camps, hire bikes and just cycle around, visit the labyrinth of reservoirs up around Srinakarin and go fishing, take river trips, or  just generally mooch around in your car exploring up to the borders of Burma. Lots of things to do for a 2-3 days.

The restaurant (and the spa for that matter) at the Resotel is particularly good, it is without doubt one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at in Thailand.  There are also loads of road-side stalls and restaurants all over the place and you can pretty much guarantee having a good if basic meal at any one of them, no matter how rustic they might look!

It’s a super chilled area of Thailand, it has beautiful scenery and it’s really quiet.  The roads are almost empty and are a joy to drive on.

On the drive back to BKK you do have to be very careful when you close in on the BKK ring-road if you don’t have sat-nav, as it is easy to miss the turning to get on to the ring-road that will take you back to the airport.  If you miss it, turn back, DO NOT get involved in driving into Bangkok. If you miss the ring road and follow the airport signposts they take you straight through the centre of town and it will take you an extra 2 or 3 hours to get to the airport – as you can tell, I didn’t turn back…