At J’aime, Jean-Michel Lorain cooks Michelin mystique in every dish
FRENCH CHEF Jean-Michel Lorain is always trailing a pair of Michelin stars behind him when he scoots back and forth between his hotel-restaurant Cote Saint Jacques in Burgundy and his second home in Bangkok.
And the glimmer of those stars illuminates his second venture, a place on Soi Ngam Duphi called “J’aime by Jean-Michel Lorain”.
J’aime is of course French for “I love”, and the restaurant with the affectionate name (also a play on his initials) is Lorain’s only one besides the original in France.
Open for two and a half years, it adheres to his family’s recipes passed down through the generations.
J’aime by Jean-Michel Lorain serves magnificent French cuisine from recipes passed down through the generations of the Lorain family.
J’aime is elegantly set out with white linen on tables, bone china and silverware. Long divans are made extra comfy with lime-and-purple cushions, a playful touch that tones down the formality, and casual attire is fine.
In the centre of the dining room is a stepped floor of clear acrylic that reflects the zigzag pattern on the ceiling. A life-size “piano”, also translucent acrylic, hangs inverted from the ceiling like an otherworldly chandelier. You sort of feel “upside down”, but it’s fun.
“With this restaurant we’re bringing our family tradition of French cuisine to Bangkok,” Lorain says. “What we do here is the same as what we do in France, with the emphasis on high-quality ingredients and consistency. The chefs are constantly being trained, day after day.”
Lorain, left, seen at work in the kitchen, has earned two Michelin stars for his restaurant in France.
Lorain’s grandmother Marie and then his father Michel ran a cosy family bed-and-breakfast in Burgundy. His dad turned it into the Cote Saint Jacques restaurant that earned its first Michelin star in 1971. The second one came the following year, making the establishment an instant destination for gourmands.
Steeped in the family’s kitchen wisdom, Lorain honed his skills as an apprentice to several masters of the trade, including Troisgros and Girardet, and at the celebrated restaurant Taillevent.
He returned to the family fold in 1983 and, with his father, garnered a third Michelin star for Cote Saint Jacques in 1986. Lorain the younger has been in charge of the place since 2001.
“Back in 1993 I had a restaurant in Bangkok at the Four Seasons Hotel,” he says. “It closed after a few years due to the economic situation here and I left, but I always wanted to come back. I love this country.
“The street food is very unique to Thailand – you can eat so many things just walking around the streets, picking this and that.”
At a charity event he attended on one return visit, he met Kiri Kanchanapas, owner of U Sathorn Bangkok. “He suggested I open a restaurant here, so why not!” J’aime is on the second floor of U Sathorn.
J’aime by Jean-Michel Lorain is at U Sathorn Bangkok
In Lorain’s absence, the kitchen is under the baton of chef Amerigo Sesti, while his daughter Marine Lorain oversees operations as the ever-personable maitre’d.
“I’m very blessed to have such an excellent team,” Lorain says. “They share the same determination, desire and nearly limitless focus on continuous improvement in the cooking techniques and the creation of a unique personality and style for each dish.”
Ingredients come from around the world, but Lorain and his team are always scouting for top-quality local produce grown at small, sustainable farms.
“French restaurants are perceived as being very expensive, but we try to keep the prices affordable,” he says. “We like to buy our herbs and vegetables from little farms and the Royal Projects. The Bangkok dining scene is getting more and more active, so chefs are seeking out better produce and sustainable production is on the increase.”
The quality is evident from the first taste.
Beetroot Borscht with vegetable brunoise
Beetroot Borscht with vegetable brunoise, dill and sour cream (Bt295) comes from a traditional recipe. The soup can be ordered chilled or hot.
Rock Lobster and Heart of Palm Carpaccio (Bt1,110) arrives with sweet potato and lime rouille, the heart of palm dressed in a tangy vinaigrette.
Rock Lobster and Heart of Palm Carpaccio
The Frog Legs (Bt1,200), served with morel mushrooms and black cardamom-scented peas, have hopped all the way from France. The morel puree gives the dish a lovely aroma and added flavour.
Frog Legs with morel mushrooms
The main courses include Fillets of Wild Venison pan-seared and served with parsnip puree, glazed chestnuts, salicornia and sea-urchin foam (Bt1,990). On the side are an egg-yolk infusion and garlic custard.
Pan-seared Fillet of Venison
The urchin foam seems to be a nod to trendy molecular cuisine, but “food is always molecular”, Sesti says.
“Take mayonnaise, for example. The preparation can be a combination of classic and innovative, but chefs should know how to use different techniques, as well as seasonal ingredients and how to design the plate.”
Smoked Sea Bass with celery and snow peas
If deer brings visions of Bambi to mind, another signature dish is hand-caught Atlantic Sea Bass. Lightly smoked, presented with celery and snow peas in white-wine sauce and topped with caviar, it costs Bt2,620.
A perfect end to the meal is Red Berry and Spearmint Grappa-Baba (Bt300). It’s sponge cake topped with a thin, crispy disc of pastry and layered with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries that’s been infused with grape-based liquor.
Red Berry and Spearmint Grappa-Baba
The Michelin Guide Bangkok will debut at the end of this year, making Thailand the second country in Southeast Asia and sixth in Asia with an itinerary of star-studded restaurants. Lorain acknowledges the importance of those stars.
“The acquisition of a star and the continuing commitment to attain a second or even third star always felt like an adventure to me, and of course it’s the ambition of chefs around the world,” he says.
“The Michelin Guide’s arrival in Thailand will have a huge impact on the culinary business here. It will foster competition, because a Michelin star is a reliable indicator followed by gastronomes around the world. And it will lift Bangkok to the same high level as other major cities around the world.”
NAME IT, ‘I LOVE’ IT
J’aime by Jean-Michel Lorain is at U Sathorn Bangkok on Soi Ngam Duphi off Sathorn Road.
It’s open for lunch from noon to 2.30pm and dinner from 6 to 10pm.
For reservations and further details, call (02) 119 4899 or visit www.Jaime-bangkok.com.