The summer khao chae set demonstrates how this old-world restaurant earned a Michelin nod
THE SUMMER heat is rising and restaurants everywhere are offering relief in khao chae – rice chilled in jasmine-scented water and served with various side dishes. It’s usually a series of delicate snacks, but at Baannai in Bangkok, the khao chae can be a full meal, with the rice presented in a deep platter that can be endlessly replenished.
“Khao chae is complicated and takes a long time to prepare,” says restaurant owner Doungsawart Soonthornsaratoon. “But we’ve always had it at family gatherings and everyone lends a hand in the preparation.
Khao chae set
“When it’s ready, we have a ritual of serving the rice in a deep plate rather than the usual small bowl. You’ve put so much work into making it that you have to enjoy it as much as you can. And that’s the approach I wanted to share with our guests at Baannai.”
Presented on the side are battered and fried shrimp-paste balls, stuffed shallots with fish, sweet peppers filled with shrimp and ground pork and delicately wrapped in egg, and slices of pickled radishes sauteed with egg.
You also get beautifully carved fruit and vegetables, including green mango, cucumber and green onions.
The khao chae set costs Bt390 and is available until the end of May.
Baannai the restaurant is part of a boutique hotel set in a renovated wooden mansion and filled with charming mementoes of a bygone era.
Doungsawart, who formerly worked at interior-design firm P49, renovated the colonial-style wooden house that belonged to her great-grandfather Phraya Ronnachai Charnyut (Thanom Bunyaketu). Two years ago it opened as the four-room boutique hotel Baannai the Reminiscence.
The term baan nai refers to the innermost residence among houses on a large family estate. In the case of Doungsawart’s family, the land sits opposite Samsen Railway Station.
Phraya Ronnachai left the mansion to his three unmarried daughters, who remained there a long time, extending from the reign of King Rama VI to that of Rama IX, King Bhumibol.
“The renovation was done with full respect for the original structure,” says Doungsawart, who grew up in the residence. “We wanted it to look the same way it did when the three ladies lived in the house.
“We followed the original floor plan, with three rooms upstairs and one downstairs. The dining and living rooms became the restaurant and the hotel lobby. Much of the wood was replaced with concrete to reinforce the structure, but sections of the wooden stairs, walls, windows and doorframes are used as decoration to recall the building’s glory days.”
The menu in the 50-seat restaurant is faultlessly authentic Thai, straight out of family recipes. It’s good enough to have earned Baannai a Bib Gourmand rave in the inaugural Michelin Guide Bangkok last year. The award recognises places that are popular as good values for money.
Bael fruit juice
To quench a summer thirst, Doungsawart first recommends two cooling drinks – Bael Fruit Juice (Bt80) and the Baannai Special (Bt120), a concoction of galangal, lemongrass, lime juice and lime syrup.
Younger diners might never have tasted Pla Haeng Tangmo (Bt150), yet it’s one of the most enduring of Thai appetisers. A sweet cube of watermelon is tossed with sugar, shallots and crispy flakes of smoked fish. It’s simple yet sophisticated, and it’s both freshening and wholesome.
Pla Haeng Tangmo
Flower blooms from the garden are used for the salad Yum Dokmai (Bt190). The petals of various buds are lightly battered, deep-fried and capped with blanched prawns. This comes with a sweet-and-sour dressing of roasted-chilli paste and minced pork.
The flowers used change with the seasons, but on the day I visited, I was happily munching on the blossoms of anchan (butterfly pea), khem (ixora), khae (sesban), kularb mon (damask rose) and phuang chompoo (Honolulu creeper).
The next course is Phra Ram Long Srong and Khao Pad Khun Seng (Bt290) – pork in rich and creamy peanut sauce on a bed of leafy morning glory – presented with a bowl of rice fried with just salt and garlic. Doungsawart explains the origin.
Phra Ram Long Srong and Khao Pad Khun Seng
“My grandfather, who was an architect, visited his friend one day, a Chinese contractor named Seng, who cooked them this simple dish of fried rice with salt and garlic. My grandfather loved it so much that he always cooked rice this way for the family and served it with phra ram long srong.”
The spiciest entry on the menu is Gaeng Moo Yang Bai Chaplu (Bt230) – grilled pork yellow curry with chaplu leaves.
Gaeng Moo Yang Bai Chaplu
Baannai also serves afternoon tea from 2.30 to 5.30, mingling Thai and Western bites. It costs Bt590 for two and includes fried breads spread with minced pork, steamed tapioca dumplings stuffed with minced pork, and Thai rice crackers with crabmeat and coconut dip.
Afternoon tea set
You also get crabmeat in a crispy pastry cup, mango sticky rice, a tuna sandwich, passion-fruit panna cotta and chocolate cake – and of course tea or, if preferred, coffee or bael fruit juice.
YOU’RE IN FOR A TREAT
Baannai Hotel & Restaurant is on Soi Kamphaeng Phet 5 off Setsiri Road in Bangkok, opposite Samsen Railway Station.
It’s open daily for lunch (11 to 2.30) and dinner (5.30 to 10). Coffee, tea and baked goods are available from 2.30 to 5.30pm.
Call (02) 619 7430 or visit www.BaannaiHotel.com.