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Publication Date : 11-12-2012
Behind the crowded Molly Bar on Khao San Road in Bangkok stands a century-old European-style mansion beautifully restored to its glory days. Situated in a quiet garden just metres from the hubbub of backpacker haunts and markets, the house, built in the reign of King Rama V, has been transformed into French restaurant Chez Bruno.
Its ochre two storeys offer a rare green space at the heart of Khao San where diners can enjoy fine flavours amid vintage architecture.
Originally known as Baan Kraijitti, the house was built by Chaophraya Athornturasilp - a director of the Department of Fine Arts - as a wedding gift for his daughter Khunying Choey Kraijitti.
Behind carved wooden doors, the restaurant occupies a neo-classical structure that evokes the mansion's original grandeur, with high, frescoed ceilings, elegant chandeliers, stained-glass French windows, exquisitely patterned floor tiles, leather chesterfields, and dining chairs with art deco backrests. Upstairs is soon to become the Khao San Museum, displaying artefacts and information about this old Bangkok area.
"I was impressed by the beautiful architecture; we spent about 10 million baht (US$326,400) on the renovation," says Chez Bruno's owner, Wiriya Phungsoonthorn. "The structure was restored to maintain its old-world charm. In the private dining room we call Egypt, you can see the Egyptian-style fresco paintings by Italian master Carlo Rigoli, whose King Rama V-commissioned murals also adorn the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall. Our Rose Room has a ceiling of painted flowers, and stucco by Khunying Choey herself. Next-door is a China-themed room of paintings by Chinese artists."
While studying in France, Wiriya became a big fan of Chez Bruno - a bistro serving typical French cuisine in the heart of Paris. The Bangkok outlet, which opened two months ago after six months of renovation, is the first overseas branch and the fruit of Wiriya's partnership with French restaurateur Jean Claude Gigoi.
"I liked its casual atmosphere and its concept of sourcing fresh ingredients locally, such as duck from a farm in Toulouse," says Wiriya. "We've tried to preserve that philosophy by using ingredients from small, local farmers as much as possible, such as free-range chicken and fresh vegetables from farms in Ratchaburi. However, some ingredients - like duck confit and foie gras - have to be imported because I couldn't find anything as tasty as the French version."
Wiriya is not a newcomer to the restaurant business. Eight years ago he opened the European restaurant Kitchen Paradisso at Erawan Bangkok. After a very successful first three years, business declined when Siam Paragon opened, and Wiriya decided to move on.
The menu at his new restaurant is identical to the one in Paris. Diners can tantalise their tastebuds with the tapas starter - four slices of bread, topped in turn with pan-fried foie gras, Spanish ham, grilled wagyu beef and smoked duck breast. If you prefer salad, try the rocket and mushroom - sauteed mushrooms with balsamic olive oil and rocket salad. For something smoother, there's the rich flavour of lobster bisque cream soup, while the French onion soup is a subtly sweet concoction of slow-simmered caramelised onions and beef broth.
The starters don't stop there: the olio seafood pasta in garlic, olive oil, basil and black truffle oil is delectable, while the Thai-style seafood black-ink spaghetti with chilli and basil leaves is pungent and tasty.
For mains, the tempting duck confit with sauteed potatoes and juniper berry sauce is crispy to the bite but velvety soft on the tongue.
Leave a little belly room - the crepe suzette and poached apricot honeycomb and yoghurt are deliciously delicate and not too sweet.
Wiriya is also an owner of aromatheraphy and skincare product Nature Touch and La Vanille that manufactures and distributes home-made fresh fruit sorbets and ice creams to many hotels and restaurants.
Also in the grounds of the restaurant is Wiriya's Nature Touch shop, where his own-brand all-natural aromatherapy products are sold. You can sample his home-made La Vanille fruit sorbets here too, with a choice of mango, passion fruit, raspberry and young coconut.