It is not everyday that you get to have lunch at a palace, and also in this case, a cafe that is the homage to Thailand’s oldest Western style cafe back in the reign of King Rama VI or King Vajiravudh (1910-1925) during which Siam was high on westernization and modernization. The cafe was called Cafe de Norasingha (กาแฟนรสิงห์) then as it is called now. But the venue has changed. From the area called ‘Sua Pa’ in the old town, the new cafe is now located inside the Phya Thai Palace in Phra Mongkutklao Hospital on Ratchawithi Road in Bangkok.
Situated inside the royal car-boarding platform and the waiting hall of the restored Phya Thai Palace, Cafe de Norasingha is lavish – to say the least – in every of its intricate details. Its interior all European in style, adorned and embellished with carved wooden panels, leather upholstery, teak wood tables, brass-framed chandeliers, and ceiling murals. You can come in for a lunch or afternoon pick-me-up, but I’d say if you have time to spare, come over on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays when the palace also offers a tour (about 1.30 hours, Tue + Thu at 13.30, Sat + Sun at 9.30 and 13.30, free of charge, first come first serve, no reservations, please dress properly like to you would to a palace or a temple) and enjoy a meal here along with a very informative and insightful tour to this gorgeous Phya Thai Palace.
Built in 1909 and completed in 1910 as a rural residence of King Rama V, Phya Thai Residence became Phya Thai Palace when King Rama VI decided to make this place his own home and bestowed a royal status on the palace in honour of his parents. Throughout the years, this palace was lived by the King Vajiravudh who was also an avid author, poet and artist. Many of his works were written here and Dusit Thani – his ideology of a perfect and peaceful democratic city – was alive here at this palace. King Vajiravudh lived here for six years until 1925 when he moved temporarily into the Grand Palace for a Brahmin rite and awaiting for the Queen Suvadhana to give birth. But then, the unexpected occurred, the King fell ill and passed away on November 26, 1925, just one day after his daughter Princess Phetcharatana Rajasuda was born.
Phya Thai Palace later became a hotel to bear its high cost of maintenance. The Phya Thai Palace Hotel was considered to be the most luxurious hotel in the Far East during that time. Apart from receiving many international guests, the hotel was chosen to be the first meeting venue of the Bangkok Rotary Club in 1930. A few months later, the King’s brother, Prince Kamphaeng Phet, who was the Commerce and Communications Minister at the time, inaugurated the Bangkok Radio Broadcasting Station at the palace. After the regime change in 1932, Phya Thai Palace – like many other royal premises during those days – was confiscated by the government. The Phya Thai Palace Hotel became the Bangkok military medical division which a decade later turned into a hospital that occupied the whole palace.
In 1969, when the Phra Mongkutklao Hospital moved out to a new nearby building, the palace was occupied by the Army Medical Department for another two decades, until 1989. The Department of Fine Arts registered the Phya Thai Palace as Thai National Heritage Site and announced it in the Royal Gazette in 1979. Today, most parts of the palace have been restored and volunteer-run tour guides are now available as aforementioned.
Cafe de Norasingha serves a small menu of coffees and other drinks, including decent teas to my surprise. Lunch choices include a good variety of salads, pasta dishes cooked Thai style, assorted sandwiches and so on. But we chose on their rice with chicken brown sauce (or Khao Na Gai – ข้าวหน้าไก่) and loved it. Also very delish is the rice with chicken massamun curry (Khao Massamun Gai – ข้าวมัสมั่นไก่). We also enjoy their old-style salad with egg-cream dressing, served with a frankfurter (Salad Sai Krok – สลัดไส้กรอก). Their coffees were ok, but nothing compared to selective cafes now so abundant in Bangkok. For desserts we had this brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and thick toasts with a pool of condensed milk, the way I like it. Perfect.
on THEIR NON-GREEN ISSUE
But still this is one of the places in Thailand that still uses plastic carelessly. Plastic to-go glass for every chilled drink ordered, even sitting in!! Straws dispensed freely without first asking. Still far back on the other side of the hill in terms of social and environmental care. Can do better if they care.
Cafe de Norasingha (คาเฟ่นรสิงห์ พระราชวังพญาไท), Phya Thai Palace, Ratchawithi Road, Bangkok. T: (+66) 02 354 8376, Mon-Fri: 08.30 – 19.00, Sat-Sun: 09.30 – 19.00. MAP.