Sunday, March 25, 2018

Freebird Bangkok: The Definition of Casual Fine Dining

Update: July 2018 - new concept and working hours

I find it important to update everyone here that Freebird has just become an all-day modern bistro. On the surface, it might seem that the food has been simplified to provide hearty plates that customers want to eat again and again, knowing Chef Top Russell, who is still at the heart of it all, it is merely a change in form, but not in spirit.

Take the bruschetta for example, something I can put together in minutes using baguette, onions and tomato and a knife, Freebird needs 3 days to make from start to finish. It's one of my favourites from the new menu, together with the salted cod omelette, lamb loin, roasted potatoes and sticky toffee pudding.


So, take note of the new opening hours, from 11.30am to 9.30pm (10.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays) everyday except Mondays.

Say hi if you see me!

*************************************

What? Eddie is writing about Freebird again?

Yes.

And even though I have been there maybe 10 times over the past year, and written about both its head chef and the food multiple times over various channels, no, Freebird hasn't been reviewed on this blog before.

It's not easy to put a finger to why I love this place so much.

Have I eaten better food than at Freebird? Yes.

Have I been to a more well-decorated restaurant with better service? This is a close call, but yes.

What's Modern Australian Cuisine anyway? That's quite a blur for me too. But after frequenting Freebird and totally enjoying my meal at Cheek by Jowl in Singapore, I sort of understand it as a produce-oriented cuisine, blending European cooking techniques with Asian flavours (since Australia is such a melting pot in terms of culture as it's a relatively-new immigrant-based country). It's a kind of cooking that allows the chef to totally express himself without having his hands tied behind his back by stiff rules of cuisine authenticity.

So, why Freebird?

Because Freebird is an extravagantly-eclectic space, executed perfectly, has a grassy backyard with rabbits on the roam. It's a restaurant that wouldn't look out of place if you decide to bring your most important corporate guest for an important discussion, nor will you feel embarrassed turning up in shorts and flip flops pushing a stroller (or two) to have a slow, casual meal with the family. I've done both, many times.

And the food, yes, it's borderline fine dining, and you know the kitchen is capable of more. They are just holding back, simplifying the dishes to keep them approachable and comforting.

A couple of days ago, I went in on the first day of their menu overhaul (first in a year since Chef Top took over) and I am pleased to report that the newly-crowned Best Young Chef 2018 seems to have upped his game, challenging bigger ingredients.

Spiced Cashews.

Grilled Ciabatta with House Dips.

I'm actually kinda glad they chose to keep the start of the meal the same, because a meal at Freebird will feel a little different otherwise.

Soft Shell Crab with Sweet Pepper Dip and Burnt Lime.

One of the new dishes, and a show that Top's deep-frying skills has improved tremendously since a year ago. A safe start for the wife who doesn't fancy raw stuff.

Tea-cured Sea Bream  with Mango Salsa, Herb Dressing and Pickled Daikon.
This was a necessary refreshing starter, combining freshness of the bream with tangy mango (in season now), to prepare us for the full blast coming ahead.

Potato Gnocchi with hazelnut oil, lettuce, Parma Ham and aged Parmesan.
This gnocchi dish has come on leaps and bounds since I tried another iteration of it a few months ago. Gnocchi and Parma Ham fans will love this.

Pan-seared Scallops, spiced butternut, pomegranate, and guanciale
One of the winners of the new menu. I love how Top frequently places a thinly-sliced cured ham atop burning-hot seafood to achieve a salty, oily transparent sheet that lifts the whole dish.

Grilled wild tiger prawns with Masala butter and lemon curd.
When I saw this posted on Freebird's IG feed, I wondered whether a dish as simple as this would work as a main at Freebird, and how wrong I was. This was unanimously our favourite dish of the night. How the masala butter gave the dish its X-factor was completely unexpected. It will be challenging to find a prawn cooked better than this.

Oh, such decadence.
King crab Ravioli with seafood broth, Chardonnay gel and basil oil.
I didn't fancy this dish quite as much as the rest, but I still dedicate 2 pictures to it because this is THE dish in the menu that I see the most potential in. Who doesn't love a HUGE ravioli stuffed full of King Crab drenched in lobster bisque? It's luxury personified. With a few tweaks here and there I am sure this will become a crowd favourite.

Local Jerusalem Artichoke soup with parsley emulsion, paired with celeriac bread and gorgonzola cheese.
This warm soup reminded me of the pea and ham chowder I had in Amsterdam years ago in the middle of a bitterly-cold, rainy winter afternoon. A suitable course to welcome what's coming.

Pan-seared Cod, Broccoli two ways, lemon gel, chicken consomme.
I most look forward to Top's fish dishes, which are always excellent. He replaced my favorite Hake on the old menu (!!) and replaced it with this. It was a generous serving of cod with burnt broccoli so good you can eat a whole plate of it on its own, in the most wonderfully-light but flavorful chicken consomme. An eye for an eye I suppose, can't complain.

Pork collar with yellow pepper emulsion and watercress.
It's the chef's interpretation of sweet and sour pork. I can see customers loving this dish, it's just a bit safe for me.

48hr short rib, miso eggplant, potato mille feuille.
This was a perfect ending to the savouries, immaculately-executed elements that we couldn't get enough of.

The typical pre-dessert, passion fruit, white chocolate and meringue sprinkled with chilli flakes.

Chef's rendition of banana cake.

Chef Top shared with me that he will take over the desserts from now on. It's interesting, because I always had a feeling that desserts were his 'weakness', if he had any. Taking over the desserts at Freebird would give him the perfect platform to experiment and improve. If this banana cake dessert is any indication, he is on the right track.

Freebird is a restaurant that started with a bang but fell with a thud. The head chef who started it all off didn't deliver what's promised. I had numerous foodie friends who went in when Freebird was newly open and told me, "oh it's a nice place but the food was not very good." Even though things have taken a complete turn after Chef Top took over, it's still a long hard road winning back hearts that have already been lost.

I love the current Freebird for what it is.

It is Bangkok's definition of casual fine dining.




Thursday, March 15, 2018

TheKawayiis' Inaugural Adventure on the Songthaew in Bangkok

For the past year, Noah had been bugging me about sitting in a Songthaew, one of Thailand's most creative ways of providing public transport for a population which absolutely detests walking under the sweltering Thailand heat. I kept telling him to wait for the cool season, and I will take the Songthaew with him to Seacon Square. Now that winter's come and gone without any Songthaew ride to boast of, it's time to fulfill a father's promise.

Finally! 
We were on our way to the BBQ Feast Mashup at Viva Thong Lor last Sunday and faced a long queue at the taxi stand outside Emquartier. A small truck parked in front of us and the security guards started asking whether anyone wanted to take it instead. It was a variation of the Songthaew, called the Sii Lor (literally translated as 4 wheels). It's a smaller vehicle, albeit also with two short rows of seats facing each other. Unlike the Songthaew, which in most cases have a fixed route, this smaller variation takes you to wherever you want in the vicinity, charging according to distance. My wife indicated her willingness to take this alternative form of transport, and off we went.

The girls were excited too!
It was quite a ride from Emquartier to Viva Thong Lor, weaving through countless tiny alleys, most of which I might not have passed by in my 8 years here, twisting and turning, bouncing up and down. It felt generally safe, but on occasions we had to hold on to the railings real tight to keep our balance.

Towards the end of the trip, I turned over to ask Noah if he enjoyed himself and whether he wanted to take the Songthaew again.

He smiled gleefully and nodded (oh crap).

Then I asked Ellie.

Ellie!

Ellie?



Fast asleep already!



PS. The trip cost us 60THB, comparable to a taxi journey (with metre). We did not haggle.



Tuesday, March 13, 2018

RC怡香园 (Yi Xiang Yuan): Authentic Southern Chinese Cuisine in Pattanakan

I have been looking for a restaurant like this since the day I set foot in Bangkok. Proper authentic Chinese flavours are surprisingly not common in this metropolitan city, unless you either consider the high-class Chinese restaurants in 5* hotels (mostly Cantonese cuisine, and pricey), or Thai-Teochew Chinese restaurants, which are more common, but serve dishes that exhibit a fusion of locally-inspired flavours.

The unassuming shopfront of RC怡香园, which looks like a normal roast duck stall, but is more than meets the eye.
Sitting down with co-owner 大象 (literally translated as Elephant), he struggled to tell me exactly what cuisine his food represented. He came from Fujian, China, and his co-owner (who's in charge of the kitchen) spent much of his life in Hong Kong, and a few of his dishes are essentially Thai, like stir-fried basil roast duck and Tom Yum grouper head. Walking into the eatery, you will be forgiven for assuming it to be a typical roast duck stall. Don't be confused by its inaccurate packaging, look deeper into the menu and be daring when you order. If you love authentic Southern chinese cuisine, RC怡香园 will prove to be a precious hidden gem.

Their one and only double-boiled soup - cordyceps militaris with pork ribs

If you are a fan of double-boiled soups (老火汤) in Hong Kong, you will absolutely adore this cordyceps militaris soup. I can confidently say that it is the only place in Bangkok that I have tasted soup as good as this. They just don't do soup like this in Thailand.

Seafood/chicken porridge

Their porridge is another star. Unlike the usual gooey congee or boiled rice you find in Thailand, their porridge is somewhere in the middle, with a smooth consistency given by the Japanese rice that they use, and a flavorful punch contributed by their excellent soup base.

Flawless steamed pomfret.

One thing that strikes me about this place is their insistence to serve only the freshest fish. Whether it's their giant grouper fillets or pomfret, they either serve the best, or tell you they have none that day. Every dish is steamed to perfection, we've never had any fish that's overcooked. If you love fresh steamed fish, chinese-style, this place is perfect.

Claypot aubergines, warm and satisfying with steamed rice.

To balance off your meal, they have an assortment of other simple dishes, like vegetable stir-fries and hearty claypot dishes. You can also order some decent roast duck/pork from their counter, even though I don't think it's their strongest suit. For lamb lovers, don't miss their herbal lamb stew.



They have ample seating, both open-air and air-conditioned.

I think their only 'problem' would be their location, deep inside Pattanakan, beyond Pattanakan Soi 78, right opposite the bright red ATIKER building, towards the new flyover that leads to Onnut and Chaloem Phrakiat.

Their map in Thai.

They open everyday, only closing during the last Wednesday of every month. If you have been looking for such flavours in Thailand for a while, please make the journey, trust me that it will be a fruitful one.

There's only one thing left to do now.



Wah Lau Eh!

PS. RC 怡香园 was formerly known as 格香,and is currently going through its name change. Many of the large signages still bear its old name so hopefully they will be changed soon.

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