By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Nation Weekend
THIRTY YEARS AGO, the Peninsula Plaza mall’s restaurant Le Jardin was a pioneer, taking guay tiew ruea (boat noodles) from their usual environs among the roadside stalls of Bangkok and giving them a rousing welcome in a posh setting.
The restaurant, run by Dusit Thani Bangkok founder Thanpuying Chanut Piyaoui and her daughter Sunong, went out of business about 20 years ago, the space taken over by another restaurant.
But this past July Le Jardin was reincarnated under a new name, MaiMai, and the terrific boat noodles are back too, made from the original recipe.
MaiMai is Le Jardin reincarnated and revives the notion of serving classic boat noodles in a posh mall.
The Peninsula Plaza feels quieter these days, hemmed in by all the other retail palaces around the Ratchaprasong intersection, which makes it quite a surprise to see MaiMai packed with diners throughout the day.
MaiMai is in the hands of another generation, Sunong’s daughter Chalita Salirathavibhaga, though she’s keen to revive the recipes of her grandma and mum.
Situated in the centre court of Peninsula Plaza, the restaurant is deep blue for the most part, save for a glowing pink-neon portrait of Sunong on one wall, as if guaranteeing that the heritage carries on.
In a charming example of wordplay, the logo appears with the first “M” drawn in traditional, graceful Thai curves to represent Grandma Chanut.
It was Thanpuying Chanut, in another pioneering feat, who built the Dusit Thani Bangkok 48 years ago – the first Thai hotel touting international standards while at the same time celebrating Thai design and culture.
“The first ‘Mai’ represents my intention to revive the restaurant and my grandma’s recipes. The second ‘Mai’ is my mum’s nickname and the second ‘M’ in the restaurant logo is rendered in a contemporary style,” says Chalita, 30.
Boat Noodle Soup with Rib Eye Beef
The eternal favourite among locals and foreigners, as popular today as they were 30 years ago, the boat noodles are presented in a large bowl and in a generous portion. You can have them dry or in soup – Bt140 if ordered with pork and Bt160 with beef. (With Kurobuta pork they’re Bt280, with rib-eye beef Bt320.)
The broth is full of flavour thanks to the salted cow’s blood used and spices such as star anise, pepper, coriander seed, fennel and cinnamon. Among the noodle types on offer, rice vermicelli is recommended because it soaks up the broth so well.
Spicy Grilled Mushroom Salad with Shrimp
“My grandma and her long-time cook came up with the original broth recipe,” says Chalita. “We also add fresh coconut milk to intensify the taste and make the broth slightly creamy. You should taste it before adding any condiments because it’s already designed to have the right combination of flavours.”
Chalita served the same dish at her other Bangkok restaurant, Khun Mai Boat Noodle, which has outlets at the GMM Grammy Building and the Central Chidlom Food Hall. The same broth is used but the noodle portions are smaller and the price of a bowl between Bt60 and Bt65.
“At MaiMai, I’ve added Thai and Western comfort food for a wider variety of choices,” she says. “Half our customers are Thai and many of them were long-time customers of Le Jardin. Most of the rest come from Hong Kong and mainland China.”
If the broth, with its intense infusion of cow’s blood, isn’t quite your thing, you can opt for noodles in clear broth with pork and a fish ball, or a spicy kick of tom yum noodles. Each of these costs Bt160.
Sweet Corn Soup with Crabmeat
The Western dishes extend to pasta and burgers, with the starters including Sweet Corn Soup with Crabmeat and Garlic Toast (Bt260) and Crab Croquettes with Tartare Sauce (Bt250).
Also recommended is Duck Confit Rillettes (Bt280), which you spread on slices of toasted baguette, though my serving arrived slightly frozen.
Duck Confit Rillettes
Thai-style fire is evident in Spicy Grilled Mushroom Salad with Shrimp (Bt250) and Stir-fried Rice with Mackerel and Herbs (Bt220), both beautifully prepared and flavourful.
Perfect for sharing is Sticky Rice and Papaya Salad with Grilled Chicken (Bt380). The papaya salad (som tum) typically follows Central region tradition with a blend of sweet, salty and tangy, but you can specify any style you prefer.
Sticky Rice and Papaya Salad with Grilled Chicken
One of the most popular desserts at Le Jardin was Banana in Syrup (Bt80), and it too has returned at MaiMai, presented with fresh coconut milk.
Chalita notes that coconut custard has always been a must-order at the Dusit Thani, “and we offer coconut creme brulee mixed with coconut juice and coconut meat”. That’s Bt180.
Coconut Creme Brulee
For the holidays there’s Homemade Stuffed Turkey with an herb stuffing and classic gravy on Christmas Eve for Bt399. You can order the whole one to take home for Bt5,955, but they need two days’ advance notice.
COSY AMID THE COMFORTS
MaiMai at the Peninsula Plaza on Ratchadamri Road is open daily from 10am to 8pm.
Call (02) 652 1399 or visit www.Facebook.com/maimaieatery.