How an Aussie lunch ritual became a firm favourite with Bangkok gourmets
Today, the organisation currently has nearly 200 chapters (155 in Australia and about 20 are in Asia). In 2002, a few friends led by Robert Jenkins decided to seek support from Adelaide HQ for Bangkok to form its own B&B Chapter. Those friends, including Peter Williams, Brad McElroy, and Graham Storah, were often to be found in The Blue Barbeque, Sukhumvit Soi 33 (sadly long since closed).
Currently, President Tom Whitcraft, Winemaster Thomas Boedinger, and Foodmaster Thomas Nowak arrange a lunch to be held on each first Tuesday of the month unless an unavoidable incident such as Covid-19 causes a lunch to be skipped. 15 to 20 diners sit down to a set lunch normally featuring red meat and at least four different wines and held at a venue willing to waive corkage. Members pay an annual membership fee and special price; guests pay a little more. The Club provides the wine at cost and members take it in turn to compliment or very occasionally disparage the food and wine.
We have enjoyed many memorable lunches over the years but a few did fall below our expectations. Thai law makes libel a criminal offence so some past reports might have been considered either “economical with the truth” or offered “alternative facts”. For example:
- Our only meal in a Brazilian-style cafe with high ambient noise and poor seating arrangement was compensated only in part by the simultaneous staging of a rehearsal for models getting ready for a fashion show.
- A restaurant supplier who arrived with his delivery of the promised lamb rack after we had finished the coffee.
- A renowned Steakhouse so overcooked the prime rib that they invited us to return two weeks later to remedy the mistake at their expense with a new menu.
- A meal in a local hotel where the Chef quit one day before our lunch and the smokers lit up cigars before the first course arrived.
In fact it took some time for diners to fully respect the law invoked in 2005 and forsake smoking.
On one occasion, member K. Wanit and keen cigar smoker (now sadly passed away) invited the Club to dine at Monkey’s, his restaurant. By mistake, we left copies of the menu still bearing notes for the Winemaster with cigar-bearing K. Wanit. Our correspondent reported (in the absence of myself, the regular author and apparently deemed ‘headmaster’):
“With a glass of Duval Leroy champagne in hand I sought out the menu. A few copies were finally provided and we learnt our fate. It was not the food that caught the member’s eye but the wine rations. Yes, finally we were told how much we could drink, and when we could drink it. Was this the headmaster’s revenge? Did he not trust us to drink in moderation? Clearly not, and on some dishes we were restricted to a mere 0.5 of a standard glass per head. Our rations appeared to equate to five glasses of wine. Who goes to lunch and drinks only five glasses of wine, even if it is preceded by two glasses of champagne and the appendix is 2.5 shots of some dubious vodka? Clearly the headmaster who thought he was maintaining control in absentia although the pre-lunch smoke out at the bar would have suggested otherwise.“
But thankfully, these missed opportunities to excel were rare. I will never forget one meal at Cy’an in 2008:
“Dining proper commenced with Chilled Cucumber and Dill Soup (with pickled oysters and avocado). Houghton’s White Burgundy 2006 (Australia) was chosen for this and the following dish – Crudo of Kingfish with tomatoes, olives, and samphire. Both dishes drew praise from food spokesperson, Henny Beeber. A Swiss Du Sierre 2004 Pinot Noir was the first of two red wines to be served.
“The wine chosen by Peter Williams was 2004 Catena Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina), a recent arrival in Bangkok and a very acceptable accompaniment to the beef. The feast ended with Pont L'Eveque accompanied by poached quince and two beautifully presented desserts. We sipped Black Sambuca as we reached an end to the proceedings some time after 4:00pm. [Chef] Daniel Moran made a fleeting appearance to much applause. Every dish had displayed imagination and flair, and he and Amanda Gale justly deserved the praise heaped upon them.”
Similarly, Executive Chef Phillipe Gaudal has made it possible for us to dine on wonderful cuts of beef at Landmark’s Rib Room & Bar for four years in a row. In 2019 we reported:
“Preceded by a sherbet with marinated cherries, pride of place went to Phillipe’s Vintage “Réserva” roasted prime rib, his style roasted potato, ‘Tian Provençale’, beef jus, served medium rare and as tasty and succulent as many have ever tasted. John [MacTaggart] praised every aspect of the dish, even down to the onion, potatoes and the 21-day-old garlic marinade which provided the garnish.
“To match this, we found 2014 Orma (Italy), a “Super Tuscan”. Still a little young and therefore a little acidic, Brendon [Winter] commended the wine which he found to be an excellent match for the beef.”
Chesa has topped the list of favourite restaurants since the Club was started. From an account of the 2011 lunch:
“No expense seemed to have been spared when it came to the first course proper: Balik Salmon, hand-carried by Rene to Thailand for our enjoyment. Balik is synonymous with the traditional salmon smoking method as practised at the court of the Russian tsars. Today, the Swiss manufactory smokes and refines selected salmon cuts according to the secret recipe of the last purveyor of the imperial court. And to go with this: Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, (Marlborough, NZ), the current favourite of wine critics around the world and also winning praise from Jock Tulloch.
“Foodie Mark Guthrie found the Warm Goat Cheese wrapped with Smoked Ham on Avocado Mango Salad an excellent dish and the Boletus Mushroom Cappuccino enhanced with Cinnamon was delicious. Indeed the only complaint was that the spoons could not fit inside the cups. Jock had praised the accompanying Pinot Noir (despite it coming from NZ) but ran out of superlatives when it came to describing the Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage Syrah 2006 (France) generously contributed to the lunch by Harald Sauer. With this great Syrah came Slow Roasted Lamb Leg with Creamy Polenta, Vegetables and Gravy.”
Occasionally, we stray from red meat and European cuisine. Back in 2007, we visited Tsunami (Japanese) though the modest size of the servings did not encourage a reprise. We have also tried with success Rang Mahal and Indus (Indian) and Le Dalat (Vietnamese). Of late our President has suggested a visit to a N Korean venue (but that might be because of the reputedly stunning waitresses rather than the grub). But who know? Our Club may yet be renamed Kimchi & Soju if the girls are truly beautiful.
One currently hopes that the pandemic will end as quickly as it arrived and that we will not have long to await the 210th lunch, and the arrival of number 263 diner to bring the total of meals we have enjoyed to more than 3,600 since 2002. Bon appetit