Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dinner at Le Planteur in Yangon



Last night, for our last dinner in Myanmar, we went to Le Planteur, reportedly the best restaurant in the whole country. It's run by Eric Eppisser, one of Switzerland's top Michelin-starred chefs, who moved to Yangon with his wife Lucia in 2011 to run Le Planteur.


Photo from Le Planteur website

It operates out of a pretty estate with a red brick mansion, a short walk from the Embassy of Singapore, and the tables are spread out all over a most picturesque garden complete with Burmese parasols and artsy lanterns. It certainly is a lovely setting.

Needless to say, it was very chic and full of beautiful people -- expatriates and locals alike. Club music played in the background while a very big dog and a couple of ducks roamed the grounds among the tables of diners.

And yes, we were in the heart of pretty stuck-in-time Yangon, so the whole experience was quite surreal. Most of the VIPs who visit Yangon do end up dining here, though, and recent guests have included Mick Jagger, Cambodian royalty and the President of Switzerland.


SURREAL PRICES

The prices were slightly surreal too. After being shown to our table, we were given menus in US dollars and the prices were pretty much at the same level as Hong Kong and Singapore. And considering this is Yangon, where the cost of living is about one-tenth of HK and Sing, this meant that a dinner for two was the equivalent of a small fortune in local terms. For example, the Tajima wagyu I ordered last night cost US$64 so you can more or less estimate what a three-course dinner for two came up to.

That was the ceiling, however, as I think this Tajima wagyu was the most expensive item on the menu. Appetizers hovered at around $16 to $25, if I remember correctly, while main courses started at about $35 and up.

Of course, when you stop comparing this place to everywhere else in Myanmar and start remembering that a Michelin-starred chef is cooking for you with ingredients that are mostly flown in from overseas -- meaning that international pricing is quite appropriate -- then the prices take on a more reasonable perspective.

BYOB, AND IT'S A NICE BOTTLE


Fortunately we didn't have to pay much for wine. Thinking wine would be few and far between in Myanmar, my companion brought with him into Myanmar several bottles of good wine. And for last night, he brought to dinner a very nice bottle of Chateauneuf-de-Pape which he knows I like, and after paying the $25 corkage fee, we opened it and drank ourselves tipsy.

EASY CHOICE OF THREE

If you like fine dining, there are really only three restaurants to go to in Yangon right now: the restaurant of our hotel, the Governor's Residence, which is run by the Orient-Express group; the restaurant of the Strand Hotel, and Le Planteur. And in three nights we did all three just to check what the gourmet scene is like in Yangon.

The restaurant at the Governor's Residence is still my favorite, especially for the total ambience, service and garden setting; but Le Planteur comes in a close second as it's really one of the handful of fine dining experiences in Myanmar, and certainly a must-visit if you find yourself in Yangon and looking for a nice place to go. I like these two places because they combine fancy food with a great atmosphere, and also throw in lots of local flavor and ingredients. You get the best of both worlds.


Le Planteur under Chef Eric has only been around for about 18 months, so it's done a very quick climb to the top. They also have a very nice service which just about rounds up the experience nicely: if you arrange things in advance, they'll send their car to pick you up and also take you home, on the house.

A VERY SPECIAL PICK-UP

So that's what happened last night. At 730 pm, a driver came to our hotel to pick us up -- and he was driving the most quaint car I'd seen in a long time. It was a circa 1955 red-and-white British car that was immaculately restored for an unforgettable and fun ride. Considering Yangon is in a time warp, as well, this was just about the best way to ride through the city to get to Le Planteur.


Meanwhile, the food was pretty good but it's really the ambience and the whole set-up in the garden that's the killer. It's certainly one of the best upscale experiences in Myanmar.

We had three courses each and so dinner began with a nice appetizer of ravioli that was very creatively seasoned with finely chopped fresh spring onions.

Meanwhile, my Tajima beef steak was good, considering the very fine material the restaurant had to work with; but I've tasted better. I'd had Tajima beef with my prodigal friend J sometime back at the old Kobikicho in Makati and I thought that had been much better than last night. Perhaps it was the cooking...

My companion, however, said that his duck was just perfect in terms of seasoning and cooking.

CHEESES AND DESSERTS

After the main course, the staff at Le Planteur rolled around a very substantial cheese board of Myanmar and French cheeses, which made us feel we were somewhere in Europe. Again, what a nice surprise that the Myanmar cheeses were excellent.


The only minor letdown perhaps was the dessert wagon. After the cheeses, the staff rolled out another very substantial wagon cart laden with desserts, in the style of so many top Michelin-starred restaurants elsewhere. Considering we were in Yangon, this looked very impressive and was a pretty nice touch. So nice, in fact, that I ordered more than I should, as I wanted to taste everything.



THE IDEAL COMBINATION

When I got to actually taste the desserts, though, a couple of tarts and cakes were quite dry and their version of the dark chocolate cake was not quite dark at all. I'm a fanatic for dark chocolate so this strikes a bit of a sore spot with me.

"You know what we should have done?" I asked my companion, as we finished off our desserts with tea. He looked at me inquiringly.

"We should have ended with our main course and then just headed back to the Governor's Residence for dessert in the garden," I replied. We'd had dinner at the Governor's Residence the previous night and I'd ordered a hot chocolate cake with ice cream which had been absolutely delicious.

"It wouldn't have worked," he said. "There's all those YPOers there tonight."


I'd forgotten about that. We'd been staying at the Governor's Residence for three nights and on our last night, the entire hotel was practically taken over by members of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) from all over the world. They'd set up tables in the garden and it had been quite lively for them but noisy for non-related guests.

But all in all, dinner at Le Planteur was a wonderful end to a most wonderful visit to Myanmar. And then we got back into that 1955 red-and-white vintage car and headed back to the Governor's Residence, passing by the majestically lit-up Shwegadon Pagoda on our way back. Perfect. Simply perfect.


The Governor's Residence
The Orient-Express Group
www.orient-express.com

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PS: Some photos are from Le Planteur's website.

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