Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Le Du, Bangkok, Thailand (Alissa and Don Eat Asia)

Although long highly regarded for its national cuisine, its only been in the last few years that Bangkok's fine dining scene has come into its own in terms of international recognition. With both Nahm and Gaggan having topped Asia's 50 Best Restaurants lists in 2014 and 2015 respectively and reservations made at both, Alissa and I were interested to try one of the more up and coming restaurants as well. Having seen Chef Ton in David Thompson's Thai Street Food series and receiving some solid recommendations for his restaurant, we decided to try Le Du,  a restaurant serving thoroughly modern food that builds on ideas and flavours from Thailand's rich culinary tradition.

After losing our way without a clear map and confusion about Bangkok's street numbering conventions, Alissa and I found ourselves at Le Du's back street location. The restaurant is a bit off the beaten track, but the restaurant's stylish interior definitely has a look befitting a modern fine diner. The restaurant offers both a la carte and multi-course menus, and Alissa and I decided to go with the choose your own 4-course option given its 990+ THB price (plus add-ons for some of the more luxe dishes) seemed very reasonable for this kind of cooking.

Having check out the menu for the restaurant online, I had initially wanted to order a dish titled Ant Larvae since it sounded suitably unusual, however by the time of our visit it had been discontinued. I decided to go with the new Watermelon, Fish and Shallot dish instead. The Fish of the dish came in the form of a Fish Ice Cream, which was not overly fishy in flavour while still having a decent dose of umami. The Watermelon gave the dish a nice freshness, and I liked how the Shallot Snow provided a nice oniony heat in a cooling form. The basil leaves provided some nice herbaceousness while the peanuts provided some crunch, while I found the green yoghurt gel a little too mild to provide much in the way of discernible flavour. Overall, this was a successful Modernist dish, however I felt that the dish was perhaps a bit too mild and could have pushed the limits a bit more while still being successful.

Alissa went with Raw Thai Tuna as her first course, and it was her favourite course of the evening. The Tuna was cut into small pieces and put together a mound in the middle of the bowl. The Tuna had a spicy flavour and mild taste of dill. The cold Chive Soup that was poured into the bowl tableside had a nice creaminess of texture coupled with some welcome acidity that we thought may have come from lemongrass. The toasted Puffed Black Rice added texture, as did the Tuile Crisp. With Sunflower Shoots providing freshness and vegetable crunch, this was an exceptional soup course and a satisfying start to the meal.

For my second course, I went with the intriguingly titled Refugee Congee. This humble rice porridge is something I grew up eating, and this was definitely the best and most refined version of the dish that I have eaten. I loved the fact the rice had been broken down into a super smooth puree, with Salted Chicken and Dehydrated Pork Powder working as a delicious seasoning. A Betel Leaf Gel worked as an excellent source of peppery herbaceousness with the sous-vide egg gave the dish a great custard-like texture. The fine dusting of pepper on top was a touch I particularly appreciated, as I brought back memories of my father's penchant for always sprinkling pepper on Congee. Modernist dishes are so rarely such a total improvement on the original as this was.

Thai Wild Mushrooms was Alissa's second course. Alissa loved the way the mushrooms were delicious and meaty. The herbal fish broth was umami-loaded and spicy, and with the mushrooms was so inherently meaty in flavour that Alissa said the dish could have easily past for chicken in terms of flavour. The brushed on Pumpkin gave the dish some sweetness with the Herbs providing some nice freshness. This was a successful vegetable-oriented course that showed how umami flavours can help elevate vegetables to meatier heights.

Free Range Pork Collar was my favourite course of the night; a thoroughly successful and memorable dish that would be my main reason for recommending Le Du. The Pork Collar and piece of Pig Spleen tasted like they had been marinaded in fairly traditional Thai spices, but the incredibly soft and tender texture of the Pork Collar suggested that they had been cooked sous-vide. I liked the use of Spleen too as it provided nice springy textural interest, and its one of those offal cuts that has not yet reached the level of trendiness as, say, sweetbreads or tongue. The bean sprouts and spring onions gave the dish some vegetable freshness, however it was the Blood Jus that really made the dish. Fans of Anthony Bourdain have probably seen the Parts Unknown episode where he is served a blood soup. The idea certainly made me feel a bit squeamish and I never thought I would eat a version of it, but upon tasting it I certainly see the appeal. Sweet but well balanced in seasoning, with a strong flavour and thickness, this was absolutely delicious.

Although Alissa would have also liked the Pork Collar dish, she decided to go with the Local 30 Days Dry Aged Beef Tenderloin. The Beef was expertly cooked, putting the 'tender' in Tenderloin. The Beef was accompanied by two sauces - Kale Salted Fish Puree and Garlic Jus. The Kale Salted Fish Puree was amazingly flavoursome, packing a mighty punch of umami flavour. The sweet saltiness of the Garlic Jus provided additional enhancement to the flavour of the meat. In spite of being called a Garlic Jus and there being pieces of crunchy Fried Garlic, Alissa felt like she wanted even more of a garlic hit; the dish was absolutely winning in terms of salty-sweet, but would have reached even greater heights with the bite of more garlic.

Lemongrass Ice Cream, Raspberry and Chocolate Tuile was my final course. I felt that the Lemongrass Ice Cream was well made but that the Lemongrass flavour could have been more intense for my liking. The use of Chocolate with Lemongrass seemed like an odd pairing on paper, but somehow worked in a way that didn't weigh too heavily towards the chocolate as I had feared it might. The Raspberry Sauce gave the dish some welcome sweetness and bolstered the acidity of the Lemongrass. With the crumble beneath the ice cream giving the dish some crunch and some pieces of fruit providing freshness, this was a good and very pretty dessert but one that I felt needed a bit of something extra to really make it soar.

Alissa's dessert of Black Sesame Pudding was the better of the two desserts, and was basically a really smooth, silky Panna Cotta with a nice if slightly mild Black Sesame flavour. The Waffle Crumble had a nice flavour that tasted like a very good quality ice cream cone, and the drop of what Alissa thought was Raspberry Sauce gave the dish some nice acidic bite. The Ginger Ice Cream was definitely the star component however, with its spicy heat really making this an excellent dessert.

The Verdict: Excellent +
Alissa and I really enjoyed our dinner at Le Du, and felt that the restaurant deserved to be a lot busier than it was given the quality of the cooking on display and the very fair asking price for their four course menu. We did feel however that Le Du is an up and coming restaurant rather than one that has arrived at its full potential; The Free Range Pork Collar was a very memorable and masterful dish for example, however not all dishes were quite as perfectly realised. We felt that at time the process of refinement made a couple of dishes milder than we would have liked, and that there could have been a bit more risk in this area. Still, we are talking about degrees of excellence and nothing we ate could be called a bad dish. Given Chef Ton's obvious love and pride in Thailand's culinary tradition and his credentials as a high achieving graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and having worked at such notable establishments as Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges, I have every faith that the best is yet to come from this young chef. 

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