Thailand…the South East Asian epicentre of smiles, turquoise waters, dense jungles, opulent royal palaces, ancient ruins, and one of the world’s raved about and respected cuisines.
A country nestled in the very heart of the continent with neighbouring Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia - has had its fair share of conflicts over the centuries and even with significant pressures from the UK and France in 18th and 19th centuries for territorial concessions – it remained the only country in South East Asia to avoid direct Western rule.
This could have been one of the most important factors to have contributed to the preservation of its ancient roots, beliefs and most importantly it’s cuisine over the coming centuries. With earliest human footsteps on the soil dating back as far as 50,000 years ago – it is also one of the oldest and earliest in the region with first traces of wet-rice cultivation in Thailand dating to 1,700 BCE, coming a short distance from the origin of the domesticated grain in the Yangtze Valley, China.
All reads pretty ancient and historic, much like the meaning of the Thai word “Borān” (โบราณ) - which when pronounced correctly sounds exactly like “Bo.Lan” – a Thai restaurant born in early 2009 in Bangkok by the husband and wife Chef duo Duangporn Songvisava (nicknamed “Bo”) and Dylan Jones to preserve the ancient traditions and culinary art of the nation.
The restaurant name is a combination of their names “Bo” and “Lan” and from the first opening of its doors – they have set out a concrete vision, going to great lengths to not only rediscover long lost traditional ingredients, recipes and techniques but just as importantly – to adhere to the ancient Thai philosophy of Lamiat.
Perhaps the most well-known philosophy of seeking perfection and thriving for constant improvement over age is the Japanese term of “Wabi Sabi”. However, few may have heard of Lamiat (lá-mîat) – a Thai philosophy which has been around for centuries. It too requires time as the most important element. Time to add the detail and to strive for excellence – whilst doing so in balance and harmony with the surroundings.
The fundamental principles, in brief – rely on expertly choosing the best possible ingredients, from trusted farmers and artisans, ensuring the full respect throughout the process of preparing those ingredients. Bo.Lan has firmly placed these core values and beliefs at the forefront of the world’s gastronomy.
Chef Bo and Chef Dylan met at David Thompson’s London restaurant “Nahm” back in London in 2005. Dylan, a Canberran by birth was the Sous Chef at the prestigious Thai establishment, which was the first Thai restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star, six months after it opened its doors in the swish London neighbourhood of Belgravia at the Halkin Hotel.
Dylan first completed his apprenticeship in Australia’s foodie capital of Melbourne before doing extensive travels around Thailand. It’s during his culinary studies in his home country that he fell in love with the Asian flavours and the trip to Thailand further deepened his love for the ingredients and the cuisine, before he finally made his move to the UK.
Chef Bo on the other hand is Thailand-born and raised and first went on to achieve the Master of Arts degree in Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide before heading home to Bangkok to join the kitchen and pursue her passion and desire to create exceptional Thai cuisine.
She first joined the Cy’an in Bangkok, then housed at the Metropolitan hotel, before relocating to London’s Nahm in 2005 which consequently led to the duo’s first encounter and soon after - romance. Bo was the Chef De Partie under Dylan, and he still jokes that it was him that turned her into the Chef she is today.
The couple’s love for Thai cuisine and for each other ultimately led to a decision to bring all of their knowledge, skill and passion back to the home country of Bo and to bring to light some of the world’s most precisely executed traditional Thai cuisine with a delicate touch of modern flare.
Although Dylan was slightly hesitant to open their own restaurant at first due to direct awareness of hard graft required of running a business – an experience through his father’s carpentry operation back home, Bo’s incredible drive and her well-known occasional “firecracker” character wouldn’t settle for anything less and so they went ahead.
Bo.Lan is founded on the solid belief that the best Thai restaurants should be found In Thailand and after relocating the original restaurant into a very homely location in the old Thai villa, where the restaurant is now housed in the central part of Bangkok in Thong Lor district in 2014 – the husband and wife duo have propelled Bo.Lan to one of the most respected Thai restaurants in the country, the continent, and indeed the world.
Bangkok skyline by Thom Rigney
Dining experience here is genuine, the flavours intense and authentic, the techniques are traditional with a minor modern touch in presentation, the service is welcoming.
Amuse Bouche assortment
Sustainability and environmental awareness are a big thing at Bo.Lan. Working closely with their local farmers helps Chef Bo and Chef Dylan to maintain their social responsibility whilst getting the best out of what the land, the river and the sea has on offer each season.
Red curry of pork, morning glory and kaffir lime with salted fish
Bo.Lan has just undergone some renovations recently and a new menu launch earlier in August, with some of the highlights such as the “Tair Po” red curry of pork and morning glory and kaffir lime, Cassia leaf curry with grilled and aged Thai-angus beef (yes, you read that right – the beef is actually reared in the north-eastern Sakon Nakhon province of Thailand), served with pickles.
Chilli relish of summer Santol
Some of the favourites of course remain and all is done with the usual “Bo.Lan Balance” – where the chefs interpret the Thai cuisine through their own inspirations from their journey so far, the ancient cookbooks, the strong bonds and great conversations they have with their farmers, artisan producers, fishermen and many like-minded culinary professionals and gastronomes.
Thai rice noodles with poached chicken and prawns, mangosteen
Relish of grilled pineapple with southern style chicken dumplings
Cassia leaf curry with grilled aged Thai-angus beef
By preparing a la minute – not only are they adhering to Lamiet and their Bo.Lan Balance philosophies and beliefs but most importantly accentuating the aromatic characteristics of many of the tubers, herbs and spices used in the cuisine – aside of the just as vital elements of the interplay between flavours and textures in Thai cuisine. It’s all about balance and to enjoy the true hospitality of such a cuisine, it is perhaps one of the very few dining establishments with a strict course-prohibited menu – one would enjoy sharing each dish with another and they are served at once.
A BIT ABOUT GARLIC
Shundong province in China…almost all the globally exported garlic comes from here. Surprisingly and in equal measure shockingly, a lot of it is processed through forced labour in Chinese prison cells by inmates in Shundong and the neighbouring Hunan and Jiangsu provinces - who spend up to 14-16hrs a day peeling it. Each prisoner is forced to peel 20kg per day and must finishing it no matter what. The conditions are extreme and majority of the inmates switch to peeling the roots of the garlic cloves with their teeth, since their nails have long worn out through repetitive strain.
A live cooking demo by Chef Bo at the Asia’s 50 Best Talks, preceding the awards ceremony the following day, which were both held in Bangkok in 2017 – shun incredible light on the devastating impact the cheap Chinese imports are having on the country and the farming community in the country and the region. The so-called “dumping”, where the exporting country is undercutting the local producers of where it exports significantly – has been battering the region for some decades and has no sign of slowing down. The issue is in fact worldwide and with a $40bn worldwide garlic export market – China controls 80% and it’s pretty clear the fat cats won’t be willing to lose any slice of that pie.
Bo.Lan however does what it was born to do and feels that it has a social responsibility to the local community through its beliefs and ethos of the restaurant and the menu. Bo and Dylan don’t believe in Organic Certificates that are commonly found on many “Organic Farms” around Thailand (and much of South East Asia) and go to the farmers, the fishermen and the artisans directly and see everything for themselves. This allowed the husband-and-wife team to source only the finest local, seasonal and bio-dynamic ingredients and build tight relationships with the passionate local producers that would eventually see them pioneer a whole movement and campaigning for sustainability of their own.
Bo campaigns regularly in Bangkok and beyond to help bring change to the culinary world with mindfulness and respect for the environment. A truly inspiring and perhaps the most memorable speech in the last couple of years for us was by
Bo at the Asia’s 50 Best Talks - on the use of plastic containers during one of the Chef’s demonstrations. It got a standing ovation - at least from those who could move their legs and close their jaws after such a powerful, emotional and to-the-point speech. It was memorable. And this is what sets them apart, they don’t just practice it – they live it and they preach it in the way that is set out and to succeed to make a difference, by no means a fad marketing strategy you often see.
Dylan, Bo and team have been working towards a common goal since the opening – to be a carbon-neutral restaurant by 2018, by channelling their efforts into initiatives such as an own vegetable garden, a water filtering system and waste recycling scheme and they may just become the first restaurant to achieve that goal, step by step – in tune with time and the surroundings.
And they don’t stop there. Bo and Dylan have co-founded the RE: Food Forum along with Leisa Taylor, with the inaugural event held in Thailand’s capital in March of 2018. The week-long event of cooking demonstrations, talks and dinners with collaborating Chefs and international culinary experts, farmers and passionate producers from across the globe was themed around the prefix RE, a Latin syllable that signifies anything that can be related to; about; concerning to; - such as recycle, reuse, renew…A discussion on the future of food, the food waste and food security in today’s ever faster paced culinary world.
The inaugural event was a huge success with some influential sustainability pioneers in attendance across South East Asia and the world - and as they gather new ideas and initiatives - the couple plan to return with the food forum in the nearest future
Bo.Lan has been rewarded with numerous awards across the board for the restaurant itself and individually with Bo claiming the Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2013. The restaurant has also succeeded in setting foot back onto Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list at #19 in February of 2017 and in 2018 at #37.
With the inaugural Michelin Guide for Bangkok released in December of 2017 – Bo.Lan is also one of the only few restaurants in Thailand’s capital to be awarded a Michelin Star, grabbing one right away and getting a Big Gourmand recommendation for their sister joint – ERR.
Err, their more down-to-earth street-food style Thai diner would be branching out to Phuket to offer a Thai-style Izakaya with craft beers in the months to come - and a couple more in 2019 and 2020, with Bo.Lan remaining as their core & legendary culinary establishment to constantly evolve.
To fully understand the culinary art at Bo.Lan, one has to embrace the deeper meaning of the philosophies behind the establishment and the Chefs, the dedication of the team to the land and the passionate farmers and artisans – and perhaps most importantly that by true definition of Lamiat, Bo.Lan is set to perfect and only get better as each day goes by – and that’s what makes this place, truly quintessentially Thai.