To Err, and it's divine
This month Cafe Now offers a handier locale to sample the food of Bo.Lan's casual cousin
DUANGPORN “Bo” Songvisava and Dylan “Lan” Jones – the chefs and co-owners behind the immensely successful Bo.Lan – perennially counted among Asia’s best restaurants – have spread the goodness around with more fantastic dining destinations.
Err is a more casual eatery hidden in an alley without a name next to the Tha Tien pier in old Bangkok. They’re going for “urban rustic” here, the dishes derived from street cuisine and home cooking, and the focus is on gab glam – bite-size nosh that’s perfect with particular drinks.
The location isn’t the most convenient in town, though, and there’s no handy place to park, so – until the end of this month – the entire Err menu is also on offer at Cafe Now right downtown, on the third floor of Siam Discovery.
Bo explains the rationale behind Err, which gets its name from a folksy affirmative in Thai.
“Err’s been open for a year, serving little dishes that go well with different liquors produced by small local communities. Bo.Lan is fine dining and the food is a bit ‘difficult’, but Err is laid back – you don’t have to worry about a dress code and you don’t need any expertise in food. The ingredients we use are the same quality as at Bo.Lan, but the inspiration comes from the huge variety of street food.”
Bo recently opened a “pop-up” version of Err in Hong Kong and wanted to try the same in Bangkok. She discussed the idea with Satit Kalawantavanich, founder and creative director of the design firm Propaganda, which runs Cafe Now. He suggested substituting his regular menu for the Err menu at Cafe Now this month.
Cafe Now has also had a few changes in the interior design for the occasion, adopting something of Err’s rustic look with an old wooden food cupboard, vintage-looking tables and chairs and enamel tableware. In the kitchen they’re using utensils like Grandma might have wielded.
Bo shuns mass-produced ingredients, searching instead for domestic, organic “artisanal” produce. She buys her palm sugar in Samut Songkhram, shrimp paste from Phuket, jasmine rice from Yasothon and brown rice from Si Sa Ket.
The free-range chicken arrives from Kanchanaburi, Pang Nga and Chiang Rai, the grass-fed beef from Kasetsart University’s Kamphang Saen campus and herb-fed pork from the small business Sloane’s. Bo makes her own spicy Sriracha sauce, roasted chilli paste and curry paste and squeezes her own coconut milk.
The high quality of the ingredients and her attention to detail are reflected in the high prices and small portions. While a skewer of grilled pork costs Bt10 on the kerbside, three of them at Err and Cafe Now will set you back Bt165.
“But what you buy at almost every street-food cart will taste the same, because the pork comes from the same supplier. And it’s usually marinated with an industrially produced tenderising powder and cooked with many artificial seasonings to make it yummy – but it’s not healthy,” says Bo, Champagne maker Veuve Clicquot’s “best female chef” in Asia in 2013.
In her kitchen you won’t find any artificial colouring or flavouring. She marinates pork rump from Sloane’s in coconut milk with pepper, garlic and coriander root before it’s grilled slowly and served with a hot Isaan-style jaew dip. It’s terrific with steamed sticky rice, and the price is just Bt35.
From the North comes the nicely spiced sausage Sai Ouwa (Bt250). Again it’s pork from Sloane’s, with less fat than normally found in the meat used in such sausages. The taste is intense thanks to pepper, red onion, garlic, ginger and lemongrass, plus the smoking process over grated coconut.
Naem, the Northern-style cured pork (Bt250) is another winner. Sloane’s minced pork is cured with sticky rice and garlic for three days to achieve the perfect flavour.
The Crispy Rice Ball of Salted Mackerel (Bt140 for three pieces) is another finger-food favourite, and Yum Kai Dao (Bt140) is a pungent salad with an organic egg that’s deep-fried so it’s crisp on the outside and yet still retains the creamy yolk. Fish sauce, lime juice, coriander, shallots, chillies and roasted rice powder make it a flavourful delight.
If you’re yearning for comfort food, Stir-fried Morning Glory with Shrimp Paste (Bt165) is wonderfully simple and satisfying. In place of the usual oyster sauce and salted soybeans, Bo stir-fries the morning glory with shrimp paste from a Muslim community in Phuket, along with garlic, chillies and a little fish sauce.
“People today are so addicted to oyster sauce when in fact they should be concerned about the high amount of MSG,” she says.
The Chinese dish mapo tofu is always popular with its minced pork and tofu in chillies and oily, bean-based sauce. Bo again has a unique variation, braising the minced pork with ginger, black peppercorns, garlic, red onion and eggplant. It comes on a bed of steamed egg custard for Bt230.
An enamel pot holds Chicken Red Curry with Winter Melon (Bt350), a great match with fermented khanom jeen rice noodles.
There are several refreshing drinks to try, including the Kaffirlime Mojito and Thai Milk Tea, each Bt150.
“Good food is 80 per cent fresh, top-quality ingredients and the rest is the skill of the cook,” Bo says. “The distinguishing characteristic of Thai food is the delicate balance in the flavours, and that’s what I’m aiming for here, using only the freshest hand-made and hand-grown ingredients.”
BETTER HURRY IF YOU’RE HUNGRY
>> Until September 30 tuck into the menu from Err while it’s available at Cafe Now on the third floor of Siam Discovery, open daily from 10 to 10.
>> Book a table at (097) 147 4094 and find out more at www.ErrBkk.com or the “CafeNowbyPropaganda” page on Facebook.