You know you’re in for something different and something special as soon as you enter Water Library Thonglor.
By Percy Roxas.
“See you 7 p.m. at Water Library Thonglor,” a colleague tells me over the phone. “We’re having the best dinner of your life!” Exaggerated? A tad perhaps, but after a dinner at this second Water Library in Bangkok, I’d say that wasn’t really off the mark.
The experience was simply incredible: food fit for a connoisseur, wine/beverages geared for aficionados, and wonderful service from the beginning to end, from the serve staff and the top chefs to the management. It will probably take some time for me to again replicate such pleasure over a meal.
From the outside Water Library Thonglor seems like just another chic, trendy venue at the Grass complex, where several “hot” restaurants and bars are now located. Water Library Thonglor built up a reputation from their original location in Chamchuree Mall (Rama IV Road), but this one takes their concept notches higher.
It’s not just the place — consisting of a restaurant upstairs, a cocktail bar with a unique Infusion Pharmacy Wall, a cozy terrace lounge, a walk-in wine cellar, and a private room. It’s the entire package: from the touch of exclusivity that permeates the place to the quality of food, drinks, and service, which can be easily described as novel, innovative, and unique. Even the comfort room has character. More superlatives aside, you know you’re in for something different and something special as soon as you enter Water Library Thonglor.
Our experience started at the intimate seating area on the ground floor while we were waiting for the rest of our company to arrive. Usually, one of the beautiful hostesses make the guests comfortable during the wait, but this very night, Mirko Gardelliano – the affable Italian bar manager and a multiple award-winning mixologist – is our host, asking us to choose our preference from their 90 award-winning cocktails.
Mirko is justifiably proud of their 40 homemade infusions and cocktails here, which included tamarind infused bourbon, vodka with white chocolate and wasabi, and the famous gummy bear infusions. He gave each of us a cocktail “suited to our taste and personality,” sort of to “open the senses” as a prelude to the exquisite culinary journey that was to follow. When, at about 7:30 p.m. sharp we were ushered to the restaurant upstairs, we were truly ready to savor the surprises.
The Chef’s Table is usually prepared for only 10 guests by a team of 10 chefs from four different countries headed by Executive Chef Haikal Johari. But there were just seven of us that night, making it a bit more exclusive. On one side of the counter, the chefs let loose their culinary skills with inspired dishes that delighted our senses. On the other side, we enjoyed watching them work to satisfy our shared passion for fine food and good eating. Not only did they satisfy our taste buds but also our grey cells, as we try to anticipate what’s coming next. We eagerly awaited the chefs’ explanation on the ideas behind each dish, and the interaction made the meal a pleasant personal dining experience for all.
Our particular dinner – a set menu of 12 courses with strong focus on high-end seasonal produce and creative preparation and presentation — started with egg cocotte, described by the chef as “Chaud-froid of organic eggs, scallop, and miso.” It was an absolutely delicious starter where you get to enjoy the rich, clear taste of even the minutest ingredient in the dish. Wordsmiths have probably tasted something like this when they coined the word, “appetizer.”
This was followed by Zealand oysters, served in a transparent crystal bowl; a dish that perfectly blends horseradish, pickled cippolini, and osceitra caviar, and made more exquisite by the pairing of Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg (one of the seven or eight fine wines served with our food that night).
Next came the Tasmanian lamb (lamb tartare, herb mayonnaise, and ponzu), the taste of which lingered like a melody, bursting into a full symphony with the exotic zing of the Japanese sake. The fourth dish as simply labeled – as all the dishes were actually — foie gras, which belies its fantastic taste and unique presentation. It’s a truly artful rendition of foei gras parfait, New Zealand cherries, and coffee – made more sumptuous by the Bordeaux wine. Served next was the potato bread, hand-churned with truffle butter, usually served as a side dish but here as part of the meal, which as can be expected, was amazing. Crispy on the outside, but moist on the inside it had a delicate taste that prepares you for more unexpected flavors to come.
The dinner continued with the lesoy langoustine (Danish langoustine, lardon, chervil root veloute) served with jasmine tea this time. The orange-colored roe added a zesty counterpoint to the generally white foamy dish that tastes simply exquisite.
By this time, one would think the surprises would have ended and the “usual suspects,” as one of us puts it, would arrive. But when the crab torteaux – described by the chef as “our take on the typical Chinese congee — was served, all we can say was “wow!” – how a simple Oriental dish transformed into an elegant, jawdropping fine dining, thanks to the sheer creativity of the chefs.
And the parade of amazing flavors continued: monkfish (baby monkfish, shellfish, acacia honey, and capers), which looks healthy as well as delicious and the chef will tell you why when you try this; suckling pig jowl (with savoy cabbage and beets); and the main course: Kagoshima beef (grilled Kuroge beef, winter vegetables, and garnishes) – all superlatively done, all served with creative flair and finesse that you would expect only in high-end, Michelin-starred eateries. The fantastic duo of Valrhona Guanaja (70% choc, passion fruit, vinegar and star anise) and the petit “four” (actually petit “five”) was a fitting highlight, perfect, for this meal.
Needless to say, the food experience was enhanced by wine/beverage pairings: French pinot noir, German Riesling, New Zealand chardonnay, Californian red, and unforgettable Bordeaux, but also sake, tea, and port wine from Portugal — selected by the general manager, whose vast experience includes working at the world-famous Mandarin Oriental Hotel Bangkok, a staff whispered to us. The staff also explained to us why in some menus, not only wines are served but also sake, cocktail or any infused beverage: “So you can enjoy beverages that match the food perfectly and give you a great experience in trying out new things, and novel combinations of flavors,” she said. Yes, the staff is very knowledgeable, experienced, and passionate about what they do.
Of course, this dinner was not everybody: the price is something like Bt6,600 per person (food only); Bt8,400 with wine pairing, excluding tax and service charge. In fact, an “Exceptional Decouverte” (five guests minimum) can even go as high as Bt16,800 per person! But if you’re a true-blue foodie who enjoys new dining and wining concepts and exclusive, sophisticated Michelin-star quality meals, and can afford it, does cost matter? Oh, by the way, the menu changes every six weeks.
As we sat down at the Terrace Lounge later to enjoy more of Mirko’s exceptional cocktails, we can’t help thinking about how exceptional, incredible, and unique the dinner we have just had. “Probably the most unique dinner experience in Bangkok today,” sums up my friend as he toasted his glass of kaffir lime vodka with my infused homemade gummy bear gin. “Probably,” I replied, my mind actually still chasing for some more adjectives to describe the experience in a fresher, more novel way.
Anyway, we’re already making plans to visit again soon, to enjoy more of the Water Library Thonglor experience, and especially its unique cocktails and infusions. But that’s another story.
Water Library Thonglor
The Grass, Thonglor Soi 12 (Sukhumvit 55), Bangkok
Open daily except Sunday
Tel: 02-714-9292 // ww.waterlibrary.co.th
Mirko Gardelliano has been in charge of the Water Library Bars since February 2012. An award-winning mixologist, Gardelliano was the “German Cocktail Champion” in 2003 and was voted “Mixologist of the Year” in 2004 and 2006. Other honors include: Two times “Best Bar of the Year” (2005 and 2010); nomination as “Host of the Year 2010” for Switzerland, Austria, and Germany; and “Bar Team of the Year” (2005). He was also sixth placer in the “World Cocktail Competition “ held in Las Vegas, USA in 2006. Gardelliano has previously worked for the Robinson Clubs world of TUI Germany, where he was responsible for the worldwide bar team and also as bar manager for the legendary Shepherd Bar in Cologne.