Floating in the Blue
February 02, 2020
Alain Ducasse was not overstating the obvious when he described the latest addition to his portfolio, Blue by Alain Ducasse, as extraordinary. On the first floor of IconSiam, this theatrical space in royal blue has a very Parisian sensibility. A wood-panelled foyer, with not even a hint of blue, opens into a lounge in wood, cream and brown leather with a champagne bar, the space marked off by elongated timber and brass pendant lights. This is the place to pause, perhaps sip Champagne, before entering the 130-seater main dining room where the real drama begins to unfold, for which, frankly, one is quite unprepared.
An extraordinary pleated chandelier fans out over the main dining area, grabbing your attention. Crafted by Bangkok-based industrial designer Martin Hoontrakul, it’s pretty impressive. Take your eyes off it, and expansive views of the Chao Phraya through floor-to-ceiling windows framed by royal blue walls vie for attention; the blue is also picked up in the carpet. Long, cream cream banquettes and chairs, unadorned wooden tables echoing the wooden floor add to the sensory smorgasbord.
This dramatic space has been designed by long-time Alain Ducasse collaborators Jouin Manku Design Studio in Paris, masters at setting the stage. Their inspiration for Blue was the sensibility that underwrites the intimate, tranquil gardens of Château de Versailles. I first connected with the genius of Jouin Manku at the Van Cleef & Arpels Patrimony exhibition in Beijing when Sanjit Manku took me through his design concept for the event. As I was then, I am now floored by the genius of the design - very chic, very Parisian, and very contemporary. It’s a little bit of France on the banks of the Chao Phraya.
The menu has been personally conceived by Alain Ducasse, using carefully selected ingredients - the restaurant works with over 45 small suppliers and artisans. Every element of Blue, from the design to the cutlery and menu, has been personally signed off by Ducasse himself. With 21 Michelin stars across 31 restaurants in 10 countries, the legend knows what he is talking about. In Bangkok, his vision is ably translated by Executive Chef Wilfrid Hocquet.
I discover modern French through the evening, with Wilfrid riffing off a classical base. The setting is modern, too: minus the white tablecloths, the tables are bare. A polished steel cutlery stand with a notch to keep the knife on its edge sits on one side. The flatware is classic European with an engraved pattern, and the stemware elegant in its simplicity.
I decide to let the chef set the pace, and he begins with an amuse bouche – Pumpkin Royale with sautéed pumpkin, sea urchin and toasted pumpkin seeds presented in a tiny cut-glass bowl. The pumpkin has a custard-y texture, its sweetness heightened by the minerality of the unni and the crunch of the seeds. It’s a tiny bowl but revealing of Wilfrid’s approach: making local references (Thai pumpkin custard) to connect with the diner. In my bread plate are housemade sourdough and salted brioche rolls served with lightly salted Bellevaire butter with fine fleur de sel from the island of Noirmoutier (the butter deserves a separate write-up).
It’s time for starters, and in my glass is a fruity Sauvignon Blanc Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc 2018 with refreshing minerality. It’s the perfect foil for the meaty tuna - ‘Smoked akami tuna slices (marinated with olive oil, lemon and pink peppercorns), alternated with barbecued beets’ (the barbecuing bringing out the sweetness), and topped with a tangy beetroot vinaigrette. The second starter is ‘Pan-seared duck foie gras, wild mushrooms and hazelnuts’ – the sumptuous goose liver is lightly seared, the hazelnut puree adding the sweet element which is countered by the earthiness of sautéed mushrooms. The dish is grounded in a duck and mushroom cooking jus, with slivers of pickled red onions and raw shiitake to shake things up. What begins as a subtle experience turns into a lively composition. I end up mopping the jus with my bread. There are no rules here. The Sauvignon Blanc works surprisingly well with this very complex offering.
The first of the mains is ‘Grilled lobster with curly kale and gala apple’ – a traditional French braised cabbage recipe that has been pulled into the 21st century with great mastery– the charcoal-grilled Boston lobster, is served with a slice of braised kale gateau and finished with lobster and apple cooking jus. A dehydrated kale crisp brings in the crunch, as do the slivers of apple. The sauce is a light homardine, reminiscent of a subtle bisque with an edge of apple.
By now, in my glass is a dry, medium-bodied 2012 – Médoc – Château Campillot, a Bordeaux blend (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot), perfect with ‘Wagyu beef with pepper, fluffy potato crisps’. The wagyu beef from Rangers Valley in New South Wales is served with Treviso radicchio glazed with anchovies, crunchy parsnips, quince and a Kampot pepper cooking sauce alongside the potato. The Treviso, more delicate and less bitter than the regular radicchio, is an inspired accompaniment to the seared beef. The fragrant Kampot pepper sauce adds a punch. The potato crisps are playful – flash fried twice on high heat, these puffed balls take me to my childhood in Bombay and freshly made potato wafers sold in paper cones.
Dessert comes in two steps, the work of pastry chef Maxou Boonthanakit. First up is the visually dramatic ‘Strawberries, warm jus, fromage blanc sorbet’. The fromage blanc shells sit on strawberry jam and strawberries marinated with lemon. To complete it, warm strawberry jus is poured into the shells. Creative and playful, it sets the stage for ‘Chocolate tart with cocoa nib ice cream’. The tart is made from chocolate from the Alain Ducasse manufacture in Paris. A mixture of 40 per cent, 75 per cent and 100 per cent chocolate, it is baked in the oven and topped with toasted cocoa nibs. Accompanying it is a swirl of salted cocoa nib ice cream to offset the intensity of the chocolate. The refreshing demi-sec sparkling Rosé (NV – Bugey Cerdon – La Dentelle) works wonderfully with both desserts, holding its own and cutting through the intense flavours.
I hear Maxou’s soufflé is to die for as well. I need to return for it and my childhood favourite, a very hard-to-get dessert, île Flottante. I will be back, Blue. I will certainly be back; so much more to explore.