Published on November 9, 2007
In 1949, Lieutenant Aphai Isarabhakdi opened the Bharani restaurant on Sukhumvit Road. The restaurant quickly became known as a place for introducing Western dishes - with Thai twists - to Bangkok diners. Among the staples on offer were home-made sausages, smoked ham, minute steaks and French-style bouillabaisse soup.
Almost 60 years later, Bharani is now run by a third-generation owner, who instead of introducing something new to local diners, proudly keeps offering dishes according to his grandfather's original recipes along with a few old-style home-cooked meals.
"We still refer to my grandfather's hand-written recipes. We have to measure everything to establish easy-to-follow recipes for a modern kitchen," explains Paniti Vasuratna, whose childhood pictures adorned Bharani's wall. Back then, we can see, the young heir was already helping out making deliveries for this famous establishment.
The Bharani at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre is a world away from its original. The small, airy restaurant overlooking a green rooftop garden is simple, clean and comfortable with wooden tables and sofas with lots of fluffy cushions.
Our meal began with their famous beef taco (Bt180) with bite-sized home-made tortilla chips stacked with minced beef, finely shredded fresh cabbage and heaps of cheddar served on a wooden tray with a cup of salsa. A mouthful of taco bursts into creamy tastes of the cheese, curry-scented beef and sweet and satisfying flavour of their home-made tomato salsa.
Bharani's fried Vienna sausage (Bt85) and smoked ham spicy salad are famous. The sausage is served Thai-style with ketchup and sauerkraut. The smoked ham is hand-rolled into small bites with spicy lime-chilli sauce and served with fresh lettuce leaves, toasted peanuts, cilantro sprigs and diced shallots.
Paniti says the sausage is still made by a hand-cranked machine, and the ham comes from a smokehouse that can churn out just a small batch each time. They stick to the old recipe of using sugarcane and sweet coconut husks for the aromatic aftertaste the ham is famous for.
Home-baked chicken pie (Bt90) always has irresistible power and here its creamy stuffing is packed with chicken meat. The pie is served, again, with ketchup, but I found the stuffing flavourful enough to be eaten alone along with the buttery pie crust. Bharani's popular minute steak (Bt220) brought us back to the old days when local restaurants in Bangkok introduced Western steaks to their regular menus. The seasoned beef slice is well-cooked and super tasty, best eaten with the salad leaves dressed in Thai-style vinaigrette.
Paniti's creation of "red eye" chilli paste fried rice and fried salmon (Bt150) offers modern twists on traditional flavours. The plate is plain looking, but it is packed with spicy and pungent tastes of the chilli paste. It is best enjoyed with the provided salted egg and salmon.
Bharani's pad Thai (Bt150) is as traditional as the dish can be. The rice noodles are sauteed with cubed tofu, radish, dried and fresh shrimps and one big river prawn. The best thing to do is to mix everything up with squeezes of fresh lime.
Guay tiew ruea (boat noodles) also appears on Bharani's menu. Boat noodle dishes are popular for their spicy and tasty beef or pork broth. Bharani uses well-selected Thai-French beef and pork and serves them with a traditional clear and namtok thick broths. A bowl is Bt85.
Local fruits in syrup served with crushed ice are refreshing for hot days. Choices include seasonal gra-ton (santol), sala (zalacca) or look-tan (palm fruit) for Bt55 to Bt65 or you can opt for their creamy coconut-based ice creams of those noi na (sugar apple), Milo, tea, corn and coconut.
Bharani also offers special deals on meals at their Sukhumvit 23 branch, (02) 664 4454. Parking is available at Narcissus nightclub with free transfers from the restaurant.
Thailand Creative and Design Centre, The Emporium, sixth floor
Tuesday to Sunday, 10.30am to 9pm
(02) 664 8468
Sirin P Wongpanit
The writer's Web log is at www.ohsirin.blogspot.com.