You can find dirt cheap, delicious food on every corner in Bangkok, but when it comes to Thai food fine dining, there’s only a very limited number of options. Could it be that people find it hard to justify paying big Thai bahts for something that’s similar to what they could get at any of the city’s food stalls for a fraction of the price?
At least that’s been one of my excuses for not visiting Bo.lan until now, of course combined with the fact that it used to be really hard to get a table there, at least for people like me, who still haven’t learned to book well in advance. So when I heard that Bo.lan had moved to a new and bigger location in Thonglor with more seats available, I finally decided that now was the time, so I went to their website at clicked home a 9:30pm table for one.
I had the Balance Menu (2680 THB + taxes + service charge), which is the full tasting menu at Bo.lan. First out was a selection of snacks and an aperitif with Thai whiskey, which was all part of the set menu, and I must say that I like the idea of kicking off a meal with a bit of booze.
Then an elegant line-up of amuse-bouches arrived at my table. All very pretty, all very tasty. At Bo.lan, the dishes are served family-style for the whole table to share, and the main courses turned out to be family-sized too. Main courses? Yes, that’s plural. I think I had 5 different courses plus a big serving of rice.
Crayfish salad, chicken relish, stir-fried local fern with clam and squid, pork rib soup with pineapple and curry with beef. What’s not to love? Everything was delicious, but the stir-fried fern dish deserves a mention. It looked rather ordinary, and I actually thought about skipping it to save some space for dessert. Fortunately, I didn’t, because that dish was really outstanding. The intense-flavored garlic-y broth from the clams and the squid was that kind of stuff that foodies write poems about.
Even though I have a healthy appetite I soon reach the more-than-full point, and I only managed to eat a little of each dish. Besides, I’ve also learned from experience that it always pays off to save some space for dessert, and this time was no exception.
One of my favorite Thai desserts is tab tim krob, which is water chestnuts in syrup with coconut milk and ice, and I was delighted to see that this was what Bo.lan had in store for that night. Yay! Can you see my happy face? 🙂
The petit fours, which came after the dessert looked pretty but wasn’t as impressive as the rest of the meal. Though at that time, I was so full that it was almost a relief to know that I wasn’t missing out on anything.
The service was attentive and you could see that the staff really cared, but sometimes, it just turned out a bit awkward. One of the petit fours was supposed to be inside a bell jar filled with smoke, but after several attempts to light the fuse, which was supposed to create the smoke, the waiter gave up and disappeared.
A little later, another staff member came by and gave it another try, which also failed until someone arrived with some bigger matches, which finally did the trick, but by then, the element of surprise was kind of gone. Though I can easily forgive these minor hiccups as long as it’s so obvious that they are trying their best.
The only thing that really disappointed was the Mocktail Flight, which was supposed to be 3 of Bo.lan’s signature mocktails. As far as I could see (and taste) it wasn’t mocktails, but just a selection of the juices from their menu, and it was more expensive than purchasing the juices individually. I would have expected more for 870THB.
Don’t get me wrong: These were just minor flaws, which didn’t affect the impressive overall experience. The ambience at Bo.lan is somewhere between rustic and hip casual, but even though there’s definitely a playful element in the restaurant’s take on Thai cuisine, there’s no doubt that Bo.lan is serious about Thai food.
The Balance Menu was like a journey through contemporary Thai cuisine that went far beyond the beaten track. It wasn’t just food, it was edible art, and after dining at Bo.lan I was left with a grateful feeling of having experienced something on close range that will most definitely go down in Thai food history.
Diners choose among 3 different set menus: The Bo.lan Balance, which is the full Bo.lan experience, the Bo.lan Brief, which is a brief version of Bo.lan Balance, or the Bo.lan Botanical, which is the plant-based version of Bo.lan Balance. The food is served family-style and all guests at the table have to agree on the same set menu.
The set menus consist of a number of small dishes, which are served in groups of starters, mains and desserts. Thai cuisine relies heavily on the freshness and high quality of the ingredients and Bo.lan works with local farmers to source the very best ingredients for their menu. The result is stunning, sexy Thai food.
The price tag is pretty hefty for Bangkok standards, but the food is amazing, so stop wondering how many street kitchen pad thais you could get for the same amount. This is fine dining, so of course it comes at a price. Just think about what a similar meal would cost you in New York or Copenhagen.
Bo.lan is one of the brightest stars on the Bangkok dining scene, but even though the food is top notch and the location is gorgeous, the atmosphere is very relaxed and down to earth. The dress code is also casual, but diners are kindly asked not to wear shorts and flip-flops.
There are beer flights, wine flights cocktail flights and mocktail flights. I had the mocktail flight when I was there, and it was expensive and disappointing, so I would suggest that you order individual mocktails (or cocktails) along the way.
• A reservation (sometimes weeks in advance) is crucial. You can book your table on Bo.lan’s website. Bo.lan is also open for lunch (cheaper than dinner) on Saturday and Sunday. Service charge (10%) and VAT (7%) is added to your bill.
• The easiest way to get to Bo.lan is to take the Skytrain to Thong Lo Station. Bo.lan is located away from the street down a driveway on your right hand side approximately 100m down Sukhumvit Soi 53. There’s a sign out on the street, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.