Bangkok’s iconic riverside boutique resort The Siam is adding a new chapter to its long and storied history with the upcoming debut of The Story House restaurant. Prestige gets an exclusive sneak peek at this exciting new, soon-to-be-launched, dining concept.
Reinvention is undoubtedly the word that best describes how to succeed in this ever-changing world of ours. At The Siam, one of Bangkok’s most beloved and visually captivating hotels, the idea of reinvention is everywhere you look at the moment. A little over a year ago this celebrated riverside property began work on several modifications, including putting a solarium-style glass roof over the inner atrium courtyard, and entirely revamping the dining area formerly known as Café Cha – famous for its afternoon tea service – which has now been reborn as The Story House.
In-house guests at the hotel have already been able to sample this new restaurant’s offerings, and the general public is set to get their chance as soon as lockdown restrictions ease. Last month, Prestige was given an exclusive sneak peek at what diners can expect to find at The Story House, and the verdict is out…
First of all, there’s the utterly unique décor which, in keeping with the property’s overall design style, is an enthralling mix of Art Deco elegance and antique collector eccentricity. And lending his impeccable sense of taste to it all is the famed architect and designer who has been with The Siam since the very beginning.
“Bill Bensley was brought in to do the whole area,” explains General Manager Nick Downing as he guides me on a brief tour. “He’s responsible for the architectural alterations, and the whole feel of everything. It involved not just The Story House, but also redoing the welcome courtyard, the reception area, and the curio store.”
What diners will encounter at The Story House is an interior divided into five, light-filled rooms, starting with a small coffee shop at the entrance, and followed by a cosy lounge space with plush sofas, the main dining hall with its soaring, sloped ceiling and marble topped tables, and two private dining rooms – one with a rectangular wooden table, and one with a circular wooden table. In each room, adorning every nook and cranny, are eye-catching art pieces and antiques; a vintage rocking horse here, sculpted figurines on pedestals there, a pair of chairs painted like tigers over there.
Nick goes on to mention how the new restaurant got its name. “The Siam has so many stories around it, and such history, so we decided to call this space The Story House. Every room is a different chapter, and has a slightly different personality, and there’s also a story behind every curio and artwork, all from the collection of Krissada “Noi” Sukosol Clapp, the hotel’s founder and creative director.”
As he tells me this, my gaze is drawn upwards to the trio of magnificent Art Deco, vertical chandeliers that are suspended over the tables in the main dining room. “Those chandeliers were custom-designed by Bill,” says Nick, anticipating my next question. “This room needed something, because of the height of the ceiling, and the day those went in it just made the whole space.”
Knowing when you’ve got something just right also applies to the management’s selection of the man behind the new menu, which in this case is Blair Mathieson, a New Zealand native who was part of the pre-opening team and was the Executive Chef when The Siam first opened its doors almost a decade ago. Blair has since gone on to do other things – Quince, for instance – but the decision to bring him back as consulting chef was simply a case of getting the best man for the job.
“We love his style of food,” says Nick. “It’s very fresh and modern, and it’s not really any particular cuisine – it’s a mix. It’s a collaboration of so many different flavours and styles and ingredients from all over the world.”
Our tasting begins with the arrival of the lobster roll, in which tasty chunks of Maine lobster are mixed with lemon aioli, ikura (salmon roe), and chives, all wedged into a soft brioche. It’s marvellously rich and delightfully decadent, so no surprises there, but things quickly shift gears when the portobello mushroom panna cotta makes its appearance.
Looking more like a dessert – it is a panna cotta after all – I’m slightly baffled, and a tad wary, of how mushrooms could work here. But the first bite is extraordinary! Created using a slow-cooked purée of portobello mushrooms, onions, garlic, and a red wine reduction, this purplish panna cotta is served alongside asparagus, walnuts, thinly sliced zucchini strips, and balsamic. Nick shares that this particular dish was on the original menu at the Deco Bar & Bistro, back in 2012, and has always been a personal favourite of Noi’s.
The next dish is also an eye-opener, consisting of pan-seared calamari – fresh from Southern Thailand – paired with velvety hummus, piquant chili jam, and an earthy walnut-coriander pesto. The hummus and squid is a very novel combo, which I can’t imagine ever daring to try on my own, and in this plating everything works in perfect harmony. When I ask Chef Blair about it he gives a characteristic nonchalant shrug, and remarks it was the result of “just playing around with a few different flavours, tastes, textures, and colours. Keeping it light, fun, and accessible”.
His mixing and matching of different cuisines, primarily Middle Eastern, Asian, Mediterranean and European, results in what he calls a “well-balanced, global-style menu”. For me personally, it’s his use of Middle Eastern flourishes that most intrigues my palate, making the first main course sampled – the salmon fillet – a definite highlight. Here a thick, pan-roasted slab of Ōra King, special breed of king salmon from New Zealand, sits atop a mix of smoked eggplant, harissa (a Tunisian-style chili pepper paste), and lemon tahini yoghurt, which lends the dish a lovely zing and gracefully offsets the smoke and spice.
Moving from the sea to the land, the beef tenderloin entrée showcases Cape Grim grass-fed beef, a product of Tasmania this time. These juicy, expertly grilled prime cuts are plated with crisp potatoes, asparagus, and topped with a zesty chimichurri salsa and red wine jus. It’s a well-orchestrated ensemble in which each element shines.
The Story House’s compact, yet varied menu offers just over two dozen dishes, and includes a section nicely tailored to suit veggie lovers, entitled ‘Tales From the Garden’. From here we sampled the roast cauliflower dish, in which chunks of lightly charred cauliflower are paired with caramelised onion, sunflower seeds, dollops of hung yoghurt, sumac, and fresh dill. It’s quite good, with the onions adding a nice sweetness and the yoghurt and dill contributing a pleasant freshness, but I actually found myself more partial to the aptly named Grains Bowl; a mix of pearl barley, quinoa, chickpeas, broccoli, edamame, feta cheese, and miso dressing. The feta, for me, nicely anchors this already yummy and very textural dish, but I also love the sprinkling of pomegranate on top – found also on the cauliflower plate – which adds both colour and tartness. It’s also worth noting that these health-conscious dishes can be ordered full-course size, or as side dishes.
Finally, from the desserts list I indulge first in the fluffy hot cinnamon donut, served with dulce de leche ice cream, and small banana slices coated with a crunchy, candied glaze (a very nice touch).
However, the showstopper finale is the aptly named Soft Chocolate; a mound of aerated chocolate mousse – made with 72 percent dark chocolate but less cream than a normal mousse – which strikes the perfect midway point between fluffy and dense. This sinfully superb chocolate would be fabulous enough on its own, but the addition of sea salt caramel, honeycomb pieces, slivers of orange, and just a hint of basil makes it positively soar. You’ll be back for this one.
Primed and ready to welcome guests for lunches, dinners, and afternoon snacks, The Story House is going to be a charming addition to Bangkok’s restaurant scene. When things get back to normal, and the wine, cocktail, and craft beer section of the menu can be perused as well, this beautifully designed space will no doubt be humming with the oohs and aahs of satisfied clientele.
This story was first published in the August 2021 issue of Prestige Thailand.
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