Since opening in 2012, Café Claire at Oriental Residence Bangkok has offered a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of one of Bangkok’s busiest business districts. With its marble flooring, soothing music, elegant black-and-white décor and comfortable leather seating overlooking a green garden, the all-day brasserie is a great spot to unwind with a cup of coffee or, better yet, indulge in some signature French classics.
It comes as somewhat of a surprise to discover that the new executive chef at Oriental Residence Bangkok, Chawapol “Boyd” Leetrakul, is in fact Thai.
Café Claire after all takes great pride in its French roots. With over 15 years of experience in both Western and Eastern cuisines, Chef Boyd is no newcomer to the French way of doing things – as a taste of the dishes he serves up soon proves.
The first dish that lands on the table is a refreshing appetizer, Gambas à la Mangue, consisting of sizable prawns that have been lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection, served on a mango sauce. Subtle hints of chive and ginger cut through the richness of the sweet and sour sauce.
Another must-try is Escargot de Bourgogne à l’ai. This French classic is made with large imported snails that are baked in their own shells with garlic, butter, thyme and rosemary.
While many restaurants tend to make this dish a little salty, Chef Boyd goes easy on the salt and lets the natural sweetness and earthiness of the snails come through.
Fat in the form of butter helps spread the perfume of the herbs as the dish bakes, making it a mouth-watering appetizer. On the side comes sautéed shallots with reduced white wine, adding more depth and aroma to the plate.
Café Claire offers a variety of delectable entrées. Recommended is Cuisse de Canard Confit, duck leg confit.
The duck is slow-cooked overnight at 60 degrees Celsius in its own fat and then seared until the skin is golden and crispy. The meat is so tender it slides off the bone, and it goes wonderfully with creamy and warm dauphinois potatoes.
French food might be associated with heavy creamy and thick sauces, but Chef Boyd’s Roquefort blue cheese sauce is simply divine.
The cream sauce has a pleasantly thick consistency with enough Roquefort to entice yet not overwhelm. Served with succulent grilled grain-fed US beef and crunchy fresh watercress, this dish truly makes my day.
Another healthier choice for entrées is Chiang Mai trout, served with brown butter sauce and capers. Trout from the Royal Project may be a bit smaller than its imported counterparts, but it’s packed with flavour and as fresh as it gets. The dish is served with grilled asparagus and bell peppers, as well as ripe mango salsa.
For dessert, I wholeheartedly recommend the sensational hot fudge brownie, which plays with hot-and-cold and bitter-and-sweet contrasts.
The luxuriously fudgy Valrhona dark chocolate brownie is served on a flaming iron skillet with rich chocolate sauce. While the sauce moistens the brownie, the heat from the flame warms it up, making it a perfect match with creamy vanilla ice cream.
Apart from brunch and dinner menus – complemented by cocktails and a choice of fine wines – Café Claire also serves a traditional afternoon tea set, with specialty tea selections from TWG Tea.
Lunch at Café Claire turns out to be much more than a welcome respite from Bangkok’s heat and traffic, because my taste buds were fooled into thinking we were on another continent altogether.