This is a condensed version of our full review found in the August 2016 edition.
Before there were gastro pubs, food trucks and bao buns, there was Le Normandie. A fixture on the Bangkok dining scene since 1958, the French fine dining institution has outlived countless restaurants and seen food trends come and go. That kind of longevity is a tremendous feat in a city like this.
The first fine dining establishment in Thailand masters the difficult balance of embracing change without alienating its loyal following, some of whom have dined in these rooms for half a century. A good example is the recent restaurant renovation.
Gone are the yellow wall panelling and the heavy ceiling drapes, but the colour scheme and overall feel remains the same. The ceiling has been raised to give the restaurant an airy, contemporary feel.
Chef de Cuisine Arnaud Dunand Sauthier mimics these changes in the kitchen. Ever since joining Le Normandie four years ago, the amicable Frenchman has embraced Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok’s philosophy of change without change.
For most of Arnaud’s career, all the way up to joining Le Normandie in 2012, he worked exclusively with three-Michelin-star French chefs.
After helping to open one of Guy Martin’s restaurants in Romania, he got an appetite for travelling and started looking for places abroad – and found Le Normandie.
Arnaud’s food follows the tried-and-tested recipe of fresh and seasonal imported products, prepared with a great dose of technical skill and a welcome surprise touch thrown in for good measure.
A generous piece of lightly seared red tuna is accompanied by squares of cantaloupe, watermelon, and edible flowers in a striking presentation that is almost too pretty to eat. A sprinkling of almonds adds texture while slices of parma ham lend the dish umami flavour and salt.
The elements of surprise continue in the lobster dish, served with white peach, potato gnocchi, verbena sabayon and a touch of curry.
“The inspiration for this dish comes from the region where I grew up in France,” explains Arnaud. “I come from the mountains and we have a lot of verbena, which is a common herb in that region. I try to mix it with curry in an “East-meets-West” fashion. The lobster is from Brittany in France and so is the peach, which is in season now. It is fruity but not too sweet and I like the combination of the verbena, the acidity of the peach and the spice of the curry.”
Arnaud’s use of seasonal products is evident in the menu, which features white peach, tomatoes, potatoes, verbena, orange, fennel and truffle from Australia, which is one of the few countries that has summer truffles. But other than that most of the produce comes from France.
The commitment to French produce shines through in a rich and plentiful spelt ‘risotto’, served with sous vide egg, zucchini and a generous helping of truffle. The grains have a slightly firmer texture than rice, and a nutty flavour that goes well with the truffle.
The main course – slices of perfectly cooked duck breast, served with orange and fennel – is a departure from the somewhat heavier dishes of the past.
With slices of fresh and preserved orange and a bit of jus, the dish is light and balanced and leaves just enough room for dessert, a mix of chocolate mousse cubes made from Araguani chocolate, shavings of dark chocolate, mint ice cream and yogurt spheres. The portions are generous without being overwhelming.
“I am someone who eats a lot and I try to be generous,” says Arnaud. “I think a restauant should be generous. People talk about tasting menus and nouvelle cuisine, but after a four-to-five-year cycle we always come back to something a little more rustic, because at the of the day, people just want to eat good food.”