Above: Chef Fae, Rungthiwa Chummongkhon – Chef de Cuisine, Front Room, Waldorf Astoria Bangkok at mise-en-plâte.
[September 2018 – Bangkok ] This is perhaps the most exciting and innovative cuisine that has recently landed on the Bangkok territory. Front Room at the newly-opened Waldorf Astoria Bangkok on Ratchadamri Road is the first of its kind to offer a Thai-inspired Nordic cuisine that, when you look around, there is not much to make a comparison. Or even a reference.
Read about Front Room’s Vegetarian Menu here.
As far as the real distance between Thailand and the Nordic region goes, the marriage of two uncommon cuisines seems a bit absurd. But then, when you look deeper, the stark differences can create a new delicious melody. The two total disparities can even make its own special unique accord. Just like the food that we had tried and liked and were so excited about at this restaurant.
Above: ‘Velkommen’ Danish for welcome or ‘amuse-bouche’ – Thai-style golden puff made from coconut filled with fresh pomelo salad. Fish cracker – with the taste not unlike tod man is served with mini dollops of sweet and sour gel made from pineapple.
Front Room is headed by a Thai female chef named Rungthiwa Chummongkhon (Fae) – a native of Chiang Rai, Thailand. Through her marriage to a Danish man, she crossed the oceans and settled into the Nordic lands more than a decade ago. And through a mere friendly suggestion of her neighbour, Chef Fae slowly earned herself a full respect as a Thai chef who could master the arts of New Nordic cuisine. She was trained under Michelin Chef Wassim Hallal at Frederikshoj and graduated from a three-star restaurant, the Belle Epoque in Germany. Among her series of fine-dining Michelin-starred experiences was her last post as the Executive Chef at Kokkedal Slot Copenhagen.
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Above: ‘Velkommen’ Danish for welcome or ‘amuse-bouche’ – Salmon cured with beetroots served in macaron-style meringues. Sweet potato chips stuffed with apple and peanuts that gives a familiar taste of Satae.
But back here on her native land, Chef Fae vows to create a new level of an inspiring cuisine of her own. Up her sleeve is the exotic strength her gathered from working in the region where sunlight is so scarce that people are intuitively keen to make do with what they have during the three-month period of summer. Hence, in a nutshell, a slew of Nordic food preservation techniques – curing, fermenting, pickling, you name it. Not only to preserve the natural nutrients but also, in often occasions, to produce or enhance the existing flavours.
Above: The last ‘Velkommen’ Danish for welcome or ‘amuse-bouche’ – pumpkin leaf chips – crispy and sweet and aromatic.
Front Room serves degustation menus along with a la carte. The ten-course meal that we had is Bt3,200++ per person and you get to munch and explore all the tastes pictured. Drink pairings are available in juice pairing Bt600++ (for 6 drinks) or wine pairing Bt2,100++ (for 6 wines). The menu lists each dish as in any modern gourmet would, as items of ingredients and nothing else. So, make this a good meal adventure of the night.
Above: Born and bred in Chiang Rai, Thailand, Chef Fae ventured into the New Nordic cuisine when she started working in Denmark just over a decade ago. Now she is bringing home Nordic cooking techniques that she deliciously juxtaposes with Thai flavours.
“All these dishes are brand new,” explains Chef Fae who came back to Bangkok to set up Front Room almost a year prior to the grand opening of Waldorf Astoria Bangkok in early September 2018. “Everything served here contains Thai influences, although we cannot say that what we are serving here is Thai food.”
Above: ‘Asia Pacific’ – the first in the ten-course degustation menu – with the Nordic techniques of fermentation and curing, Chef Fae uses Thai herbs such as garlic, long pepper, ginger, turmeric, and kaffir lime to address to the fine tastes of seabass. She pairs the dish with coconut pearls (liquid nitrogen-produced) and fresh micro leaves.
The result is a series of subtle, yet evident in tastes and feel, of Thai-Nordic marriage in a literal sense. The delicate Nordic fish-curing techniques, along with their gentle uses of strong herbs and marination that leads to the flavour-boosting fermentation are applied to local ingredients. Long pepper, an Asian herb considered close to Thai northern cuisine, is present to provide a mild, yet fulfilling, note to the sauce, for example.
Above: Even the basic has a great twist. Front Room’s beautiful sourdough rice-berry loaf with paper-thin and super-crispy crust and the super soft-dense doughy texture. The best part is that this lovely loaf is served with house-made soya butter. The butter is cured by hand at in the kitchen (using fresh cream) and then fermented with soy sauce and other secret ingredients.
Home-made ingredients, well-planned kitchen, and endlessly creative minds run the kitchen of Front Room. Butter served with their home-made rice berry loaf (above) is hand-churned out of fresh cream and then cured (again, a Nordic technique) with soy sauce and honey, making the butter very deep and fragrant in taste so delicious with the thin-and-crispy-crusted toothsome dough. This dough and butter are to-die-for, especially for those into carb-laden bites like me.
Above: Focusing on just one main ingredient, in this case ‘beet,’ Chef Fae explores the different layers of tastes the roots can reveal after being baked in high temperature. The result is a delicious and refreshing medley of beet-centric escalations. The entire ensemble is smoothed out with a dash of caviar.
Chef Fae, in order to get us all to understand what she is doing, goes to great lengths explaining how each and individual ingredient is usually extensively studied, observed and employed in various methods to produce different kinds of tastes. Winters in the Nordic region, she explains, can be the chance for certain roots to gather extra nutrients that deepen and mellow their natural tastes. Carrots and beets, for example, harvested after two years underground, can produce a whole new level of sweetness and flavours than the ones harvested sooner. Also, the cooking techniques, acquired by a series of observations, trials and errors, can make one single ingredient a whole new dish with all the different tastes combined.
Beet, for example, on the plate above, roasted in high heats, produced different tastes in multiple layers. The combination of all beet tastes in one dish manifests the creativity of Chef Fae.
Above and Below: The simple look of this bowl disguises the complexity of the preparation. This is a combination of three different consommés (cucumber, gourd and squid) and its steaming hot form is poured over the paper-thin-julienned cured and baked squid that, when lightly stirred with a spoon, looks like a wide rice noodle.
In some plates, Thai tastes are more pronounced than others. But behind the scenes are still a complex vortex of culinary techniques. The above soup, for example, that looks so simple and tastes so comforting, is, in fact, the precise mixture of three comsommés, the noodle-thin squid was also cured and baked and then sliced and then ensembled neatly to serve. Again, a marvellous dish.
Above: A signature dish of Chef Fae – crabmeat salad in curried hollandaise sauce served in a thin case of celeriac chip. You need to fork-break this beautiful thing and try to eat every element together in one bite. Awesome.
Above: This is perhaps my best-loved dish. 😀 Not that it was easy to name one. Deboned and stuffed chicken wing is so tasty with Thai herbs and it goes so good with the lightly buttered rice berry puree. Lemongrass crisps on top add to the aromatic impact.
If you are looking for a full-on culinary experience, Front Room’s 10-course menu is a must. We had a wonderful time enjoying, anticipating, and appreciating Chef Fae’s creative minds that are translated into a dish after dish of deliciousness. You will get full (stuffed towards the brink of being exploded) by the end of the meal with a feeling that this is perhaps the most exciting meal ever you can have this year.
Above: Beef can be replaced with fish or pork. Pictured is Wagyu striploin, sous-vide and served with stuffed morels, chestnut puree and topped with thinly sliced ‘koon’ or the trunk of giant elephant ear tree.
Above: The first of the three desserts – Asparagus ice cream served with caramelized asparagus (delicious and packed with crunchy texture) and tastes even better when paired with infused ginger, pandanus and soda drink.
Above: The second dessert. Now with a visible Thai element of sesame cookies in Thai Kanok pattern. Basil ice cream served with white chocolate mousse and mangoes – ripe, mature and sour green. So good.
Above: Petit Fours come in a heady collection: from left – beetroot cookies with white chocolate, banana marshmallow with parsley powder, som-sa jelly coated with Thai-style salt-and-chilli, green tea cookie with specks of salt flakes, Durian foam kiss (gooey marshmallow), ginger truffle, star-fruit (mafeung) jelly and black sesame crusted caramel. 😀
On the final note, the best thing about Chef Fae that, for me, differentiates her from many other chefs I had talked to is her attitude towards non-meat delicacies. Whereas many still need to rely mainly on meats to create deep flavours (well, anyone can grill a slab of meat and create flavours in my opinion), Chef Fae is totally up for a full-on veggie challenge. Vegetarian and vegan options are available in well-thought-of gourmet-style. While vegetarian options can be ordered at the instance, a vegan might want to call the restaurant ahead a few hours so they can prepare you real vegan delicacies.
Read about Front Room’s Vegetarian Menu here.