Feb 4, 2021
OF THE MANY CULINARY TRENDS that swept our collective consciousness over the past year, comfort food has to have been the most satisfying. The dishes may vary by culture, but the effect is the same: hearty, unfussy fare that reminds you of home, of a beloved grandma’s kitchen or an energetic family mealtime. Made with an eye on tradition and a heart full of love, it’s food as nourishment, both physical and emotional—something we’ve all needed in these unprecedented times.
That’s why the reopening of Front Room at Waldorf Astoria Bangkok as a home-cooking Thai restaurant was so ingeniously au courant. Like the best creamy burnt-amber massaman curry (made here with Wagyu short-rib!), the matrilineal pedigree could hardly get any richer. The consulting menu maestro was culinary professor Niphatchanok ‘Ajarn Ning’ Najpinij, the daughter of famed doyenne of Thai cuisine, Kobkaew Najpinij, who taught countless celebrated chefs including Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava (of bo.lan) from her perch at Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, a royal-affiliated home economics school.
How fitting, then, that the menu she dreamed up with chef Supanat ‘Ann’ Khanarak is of the traditional Thai style known as ros mue mae (“cooked by mother”).
Of course, this is still the Waldorf Astoria, so expect lovely platings by sous chef Sarocha ‘Bua’ Rajatanawin and her team, of only prime ingredients in a subtly stylish setting where the floor-to-ceiling windows surround you with tall, leafy greenery. It’s the sentiment of serenity and care from this culinary crew that shines through in the food, built for sharing, crunching and maybe even slurping. The truest sign of appreciation!
“Chef Ann and I have always shared the belief and trust that simplicity with quality will shine,” Ajarn Ning says, “and that starts with sourcing the best ingredients through to cooking techniques and appealing to the senses.”
Lead off with the signature phla lai bua hoy shell (seared Hokkaido scallop with lotus stem, pomelo and homemade chili paste)—it’s sweet, sour, salty, a bit bitter and pungent, and a lot nutty and umami, which basically sums up the flavor range of this menu.
You’re going to wish you had a snack bag of the goong phae phrik gaeng gub ajard (a big cracker of curried prawns, with sweet-and-sour cucumber sauce) for your next Netflix marathon. Get a little stinky with the talae gub sator kua sauce khem (squid, tiger prawns and bitter beans in salty seafood oil), one of those homecooking stars that give smart fancy menus soul. Then fight over crowd-pleasers, the light and heavenly pla gao nung gub sauce larb kua (steamed grouper with northeastern Thai-style sauce) and the tender, crunchy suea rong hai (marinated Wagyu beef, sprinkled with roasted rice and chili powder).
Moms can modify with the times, too, and Front Room has an equally on-point plant-based menu. Highlights include fong tao hu hor hua chai tao thod (deep-fried tofu skin and steamed turnip) and gaeng khiao whan (green curry with plant-based meat, vegetable and coconut meat).
Combining the taste of childhood with the crave-able street treats, the maphrao cheesecake is coconutty, with young-coconut jelly, and white-chocolate mousse. Still, it’s hard to beat the soothing guaytiew nuea toon (noodle soup with braised beef cheek and thinly sliced beef) in the comfort food department. Maybe not something you’d have expected at a posh dinner—at least until mom came along.