How Babette’s was Born
While standing in Babette’s Steakhouse on the 19th floor of Bangkok’s Hotel Muse, a dimly-lit classical European-themed luxury hotel along Langsuan Road, it would be easy to feel like you have been transported to the art deco-fuelled roaring ’20s.
Classic jazz plays softly in the background as the sounds of plates and knives clashing together mixes with the chatter of elegantly dressed diners. You get a bird’s-eye view of the glistening Bangkok nighttime skyline, but given the ambiance in the dining area it feels a lot like Chicago way back when. Prohibition ambience at its finest – and that’s very much by design.
Over one year ago, the space now occupied by Babette’s was Su Tha Ros Thai, the hotel’s generic Thai offering that, according to management, wasn’t cutting it with diners.
Out with the Thai classics and in with the American-style steaks, they said – and it seems to have worked brilliantly. The hearty slabs of quality beef and international favourites have been a constant hit with the hotel’s guests, which are predominantly Western, since the restaurant’s launch over a year ago.
New Chef, New Menu
Seven months back, Babette’s hired a new executive chef, Tobias Schwarzendorfer, a young Austrian with a rich history working for luxury hotels in his home town Vienna. This April, Schwarzendorfer’s first menu overhaul hit the plates, and it was comprehensive to say the least.
Twenty new menu items, six different cuts of beef (all with a marbling score of 4-5), five new sauces and two additional side dishes make up the menu. It’s the culmination of over three months of dedicated work – tasting, testing and sampling items on an à la carte menu.
“We are definitely satisfied, and my nerves are coming back,” Chef Schwarzendorfer jokes. “My blood pressure is at a good level. It was tough work, but I am definitely proud of what we have done.”
Hard work shines through in the details, and the chef’s Sher Wagyu beef tartar appetiser is a prime example.
Classically prepared with slightly spicy horseradish mayonnaise as a binding agent, the dish avoids the overly-creamy downfall of many tartars with sprinklings of kalamata olives and radishes that give it a fresh punch. The green watercress oil lathered around the plate adds a slightly bitter accent to balance everything out, while raw quail egg – still in a half-removed shell – retains the traditional flavours and textures of the iconic dish. An elegantly-crafted palate-primer for the heavy grilled meat to follow.
Choose Your Weapon
Every facet of the experience at Babette’s has been carefully curated with customers in mind.
Before steaks are served – a large 450-gram Ranger’s Valley T-bone, in our case – the restaurant manager brings out “the secret weapon”, a box of specialty steak knives from the various regions represented on the menu. Japanese, American, French and even Thai-style knives are on offer – take your pick.
The experience is certainly fun. And the steak? Sublime. After 30 days of dry-aging, the grass-fed beef is remarkably tender and flavourful and left me struggling to hold a conversation between mouthfuls. Blue cheese sauce, a dash of Himalayan salt – Babette’s provides you with four salt options at the table – sautéed mushrooms and spinach add welcome longevity to a big slab of meat that could certainly hold its own on the plate.
The 12 cuts of premium beef from around the world are undoubtedly the restaurant’s selling point, but not the only trick the new menu has up its sleeve.
A Lot More Than Beef
The king crab legs, flamed with vodka, add a fresh and vibrant alternative for those looking for something a little lighter – or folks who want to complement their turf with some surf. Just like quality beef, good crab doesn’t need a whole lot of sprucing up. Babette’s rendition receives a quick flash in the pan with garlic butter and lemon juice. That’s it, and that’s all it needs to retain the essence of the king crab without overpowering you with seafood flavour. Again, spot on.
The rest of the menu is just as carefully crafted and meticulously balanced – the pickled salmon with beetroot, cucumber, coriander, lemon curd was another highlight, while the white chocolate sphere with passion fruit mousse was a delectable bit of dinner theatre and perfect meal-capper. The “American with international flair” theme works well under the watchful eyes of Chef Schwarzendorfer, who appears to be the exact kind of young, energetic and gifted chef the kitchen needs.
All the pieces are in place, and the new Babette’s seems poised to establish itself among the city’s elite steakhouses. We’ll be back.