La Boulange, 2/21 Soi Convent, Silom Road, Bangkok
A while ago, Spinsterella requested more Thai content, specifically food. As her wish is my command, I thought I'd tell you about my favourite haunt in Bangkok. La Boulange's main purpose is to supply authentic French bread and patisserie to shops and hotels in the capital. However, the operation has a parallel identity as a cafe/bistro on the slightly bohemian Soi Convent. As you might infer, it's not a Thai restaurant, although there are numerous stalls on the pavement immediately outside serving such titbits as barbecued pig bowels, if you like that kind of thing.
Not surprisingly, the baked goods are a major draw, whether you want to eat in or take away: fresh, still-warm baguettes and batards; buttery croissants and palmiers; and a revolving cast of gooey chocolatey and/or fruity things, including a distinctly moreish tarte aux pruneaux, the slight sourness of the fruit cutting through the unctuous custard. If you believe in the dictum that you have to finish your main course before you're allowed a pudding, there's a proper bistro menu of delights like salade Niçoise, roast chicken and charcuterie. Portions are generous, ingredients are fresh and it's good value, even by BKK standards. There's excellent coffee or, if the heat gets too much, citron pressé. A decent Bordeaux is usually at hand.
But my favourite thing on the menu is the potato salad with herring, despite the fact I've never tasted it. I love it because I order it every time I go, and it's never available. It's the Godot of potato salads; it's like the vermouth in a bone-dry martini, the slightest hint of potato salad. Maybe it only appears on the menu to instil an atmosphere of disappointment, a frisson of melancholy, a faint echo of Piaf or Brel; its essence being its absence. Hell, it's all pretty damn existential. In fact, I like to think that one day I'll turn up to La Boulange and find Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus discussing the fundamental aloneness of modern man confronted with the non-existence of potato salad, while Guy Debord daubs slogans on a spare tablecloth: SOYEZ RAISONNABLE! DEMANDEZ LA SALADE DE POMMES DE TERRES!!!
The level of service is variable; some of the staff have the typically Thai nervous desire to assist, even if they're not sure what they're doing. Fortunately some of them have cultivated a more quintessentially Parisian shrug that indicates they'll get to you in their own good time, which is much more comforting. None of them appears to speak any French, beyond what appears on the menu. The many French-speaking customers simply accept this - bof!- as a sad, global reality, an attitude not shared by their dear leader, it seems.
Also authentic are the French cartoons on the walls, and the copies of Le Monde, but other key indicators are missing. The ashtrays aren't emblazoned with the Ricard logo; there is no jukebox pumping out Claude François; and there's a distinct absence of teenage girls called Marie-Claude in unfeasibly short shorts, playing le flipper and sneaking drags of Gitanes from their swarthy older boyfriends. Jean-Paul and Albert and Guy are also sorely missed, but I don't think they hang out at Les Deux Magots either, these days.
And all these failings find their redemption across the road, where a Starbucks stands, taking the sins of the world unto itself like a globalised, corporate Jesus. The sheer, almost erotic joy of nursing a heady grand bol de café and a hunk of baguette with sweet, unsalted butter is good enough; but what takes La Boulange into another dimension is being able to flip the finger (bearing the tell-tale, flaky traces of that must-have pain au chocolat) at the witless brand zombies opposite, who've probably paid three times as much for their microwaved pastries and bland, goopy frappucinos.
"Cassez-vous!" we sneer, knowing that they won't be able to hear us over the whine of the tuk-tuks and the sizzle of the pig bowels, and that they wouldn't understand us anyway. Our insults are mere empty gestures. Like the potato salad.