This month marks the fourth edition of Prestige’s brunch series, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to “set the stage” for a Sunday noon-time meal at one of our favourite luxury hotels without sounding like a broken record. The St. Regis Bangkok has been a staple on the city’s high-end brunch circuit for years – long before it was saturated with the current stable of establishments clamouring for our hard-earned brunch dollar.
To its credit, it hasn’t rested on its laurels. Unlike some other staple hotels in town, which haven’t changed their brunch in years – if ever – The St. Regis Bangkok has proved to be unafraid of tinkering with its recipe for success (its Sunday brunch is almost always fully-booked). Recently, it did just that, launching the “Legendary Sunday Brunch” at VIU – its 12th-floor restaurant designed to resemble a New York bistro. It even goes so far as to say the experience matches “exactly the same tradition as New Yorkers enjoy.”
What exactly New Yorkers enjoy isn’t entirely clear, even if you do some digging, but if there’s a hospitality brand that understands New York culture it would be St. Regis. Its original property in Manhattan is an official New York City Landmark, a 20-storey Beaux-Arts beauty that once towered over the palatial homes of the Vanderbilt family and other wealthy New Yorkers. It also infuriated William Rockefeller to no end, which resulted in some charming millionaire-vs-millionaire clashes between him and John Jacob Astor, Jr – the owner of the original St. Regis. Far and wide, no matter where the brand stakes its claim, New York remains a central aspect of its inspiration.
The city itself has made its mark on brunch. In the 1930s, it was wealthy New Yorkers who popularised the meal as a way to cap off the week, and it was the New York Times that first claimed Sunday as a “two meal day” back in 1939 – adding the sub-headline: “The Word [Brunch] May Not Be Elegant, but It Can Mean Good Food.”
The St. Regis New York, for its part, is responsible for inventing the Bloody Mary – the iconic tomato juice and vodka cocktail that’s found on brunch tables around the world – and every St. Regis on planet Earth has its own take.
This is how brunch at The St. Regis Bangkok starts for most – sipping on its “Siam Mary” and enjoying the cool breeze on the terrace or in The Drawing Room next to VIU. The Siam Mary is, to say the least, a punchy start to your Sunday meal with two shots of vodka, tomato juice, Thai chillies, wasabi, dashi and Worcestershire crammed into a silver goblet. Think of it like a Bloody Mary on overdrive, definitely tasty but perhaps a little too much kick to the tongue for a second glass. Besides, you should keep your belly clear for the free-flow champagne on offer – Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut, a blend of pinot noir, meunier and chardonnay that is elegantly balanced and well worth the extra Baht on your bill.
The brunch at The St. Regis Bangkok includes one of the better backdrops you’ll find out of the dizzying options available city-wide. Spread across VIU restaurant on the hotel’s 12th floor and spilling over into The Drawing Room and The St. Regis Bar next door when needed, the setting is designed to feel like a traditional New York bistro – a very high-end one. VIU’s position on the 12th floor also fills the room with warm natural light in the afternoon hours, which adds a really nice touch to the overall ambience and casual energy in the room. You’re day-drinking and eating on a Sunday, it should feel warm, bright and comfortable, and VIU does.
When you are talking about the “battle of the brunches” in Bangkok, it largely comes down to the menu. All of them have a buffet, and all of them have à la carte choices. Perusing the buffet is as splendid as you would expect. It’s a smorgasbord of delicious delicacies from land and sea, representing both hemispheres and challenging your stomach to an all-out war.
Some folks consider it blasphemy to gorge on heavy meats like pork roasts and beef tenderloin during a brunch. Their logic is sound: this is a time when you should fill up on the food you rarely get to eat. I respectfully disagree, and often travel to these stations first. (Really, who eats pork roast with mustard and apple sauce so often it becomes boring?) With that said, my predictable country-boy palate isn’t interesting here.
Something that is interesting: if your eyes are too easily distracted by large slabs of meat and potatoes during a buffet run, wait for The St. Regis staff to float trays of its finer delicacies near your table. They do this to prevent guests from needing to stand up – one of the key concepts of the brunch – but I found it an excellent way to sample things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, like the scrumptious fish tacos or miniature pancakes with crème fraîche and caviar.
You can fill on the buffet all you like, but a trip to The St. Regis’ brunch is a waste without trying the exceptional specialities crafted by Richard Sawyer, the hotel’s culinary director. This is where the aforementioned “rare foods” come into play full force.
First off, the chef’s take on eggs Benedict is required eating. The St. Regis’ version comes with lobster or smoked salmon and a perfect soft-boiled egg deliciously smothered in homemade hollandaise on a crispy English muffin. This is the brunch food, and the lobster version by The St. Regis hits all the marks.
The simple caviar omelette is another standout. A sizeable portion of creamy eggs topped with 30-grams of Royal Baeri Caviar makes for a rich and satisfying combination that’s surprisingly well paired – and was scooped up rather quickly by our table, I should add. So was the mushroom and black truffle pizza and the beef tenderloin Rossini sliders – both came in highly eatable, bite-sized portions that made it easy to forget how many you’d eaten. These are premium specialities, so it’s not really surprising they were all so well put together and unanimously delicious, but it still felt like this was a level above what you would expect from a typical brunch, even a luxury one.
There are other made-to-order treats of note here. Namely, the barbecue pork ribs with honey barbecue sauce, grilled Boston lobster and, of course, pan-fried foie gras – the last one being another must-eat dish at any brunch. Like everything else, these were succulent, well cooked and delicious, but by this time the initial symptoms of food coma were taking effect and somewhat nullifying any chance to savour the moment fully.
There is, however, always time for dessert, and the station outside the main VIU restaurant is basically Candyland if you have a sweet tooth. (Seriously, it includes a big jar of gummy bears.) If you only pick one item from the impressive selection of ice cream, tarts and treats, it should be the cranberry crumble pudding. It’s an excellent contrast of sweet and sour, soft and crunchy. No matter how full you are, you have room for one.
There is a lot of noise to cut through for a restaurant looking to make a splash in Bangkok’s brunch scene, but it seems like The St. Regis Bangkok has the pieces in place to do it.
Just don’t expect to get much done afterwards – the ultimate sign of a successful brunch.