Thursday, 24 April, 2014

Published May 04, 2013
A night at the Met
Knock back heady shots of art and food this month at Bangkok's hip Metropolitan hotel. By Jaime Ee
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COMO hotel set aside part of its Met Bar to create a pop-up art gallery for the debut solo exhibition of Chinese fashion photographer/artist, Chen Man, who uses fashion as a platform for social commentary (above). - PHOTO: METROPOLITAN

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ONE night in Bangkok is invariably spent in a bar - party hearty men, women and those-in-between, rubbing shoulders and bumping cocktails of lurid hues not found in nature's colour charts in a toast to life, the universe, that is, nothing in particular.

Except that last Friday night, there was something else to toast at the Metropolitan's painfully hip Met Bar, where the city's "it" crowd had gathered for a shot of culture along with their specially concocted Absolut Vodka cocktails. For the month of May, art meets hospitality with the COMO hotel chopping off part of the Met Bar space to create a pop-up art gallery for the debut solo exhibition of Chinese fashion photographer/artist, Chen Man.

Using fashion as a platform for social commentary, the avant garde artist's digitally manipulated images of women in various model poses in eye-popping colours dress the plain walls of the gallery space. A face framed by a cascade of white curls so extensive that the head seems detached from her body; an olive-skinned woman in a giant afro filling up a bright halo; a model with a plastic face and blue cheeks with Marilyn Monroe curls - they're all images of beauty but with a sinister edge to them.

That night, Chen Man herself was on hand to speak about her work as a successful fashion photographer who decided to go beyond just capturing beautiful faces on film. Part of her exhibition - her first in Bangkok - features works from her Bad Head series, where she uses waste materials to create unwieldy head gear for her models, to drive home the point about making fashion environmentally friendly.

Also on hand that night was British-born curator and writer Karen Smith who spoke about the world's insatiable appetite for Chinese art.

If food and art aren't always mentioned in the same breath, the two make fine bedfellows at the Metropolitan.

For one, you can indulge your inner art patron at the bar and if you'd rather do your art viewing in private, you can splurge on a night at the hotel's specially commissioned Chen Man penthouse suite which has been decorated with a selection of her works (accommodation from 20,000 baht or S$830 a night).

When you're hungry, you can also indulge at nahm - the exclusive Thai restaurant created by award-winning chef David Thompson who's steered the eatery into 32nd place in the latest Restaurant Guide's World's Top 50 Restaurants list.

In a city where it's harder to find a really good, authentic Thai restaurant than you might think, nahm has been a welcome addition to the Bangkok dining scene since it opened in 2010. Thompson is a world authority on Thai cuisine since he fell in love with the food and culture in the mid-1980s.

He spent years researching original Thai cuisine and he has even resurrected recipes that modern Thais don't even cook anymore.

Don't expect any kind of fusion or Western interpretation of Thai food at nahm. Everything is unadulterated so there's no such thing as asking them to ease up on the chilli. You're better off picking dishes that are inherently mild, and it's pretty easy to find them.

The server will ask you what levels of heat you're comfortable with, and make recommendations accordingly. Your best bet is to go with the set menu of 1,800 baht (S$75) which gets you the entire range of canapes and one choice from the different categories of salad, soup, curries, stir-fries or grilled dishes.

The canapes are delicious little morsels comprising pineapple chunks topped with a sweet sticky mixture of minced pork and peanuts, or a chewy sticky sago dumpling stuffed with a lip-smacking mixture of smoked fish and peanut.

Whisper-thin cornmeal wafers are filled with minced prawns and indiscernible crunchy bits, while you can't get enough of shredded coconut cooked with coconut cream and palm sugar cooked down into addictive granules with fried shallots that are crunchy and sweet, paired perfectly with sweet spears of mango and watermelon. It's really hard to identify ingredients in Thai cooking so it's best not to bother and just dig in.

A comforting bowl of snake gourd soup features pillowy layers of crabmeat and egg in a fish sauce-enhanced broth, while a rich mix of minced prawn and pork simmered in coconut cream is tempered with salty, crispy grilled fermented fish served with raw vegetables and green mango.

Nahm's beef curry brings reminders of rendang - fork-tender, gelatinous shank in a balanced gravy of heat and sweetness. The grilled pork collar is also good, with a spicy tomato dip for extra kick.

Leave room for dessert - a refreshing chendol-like dessert of familiar green worms in cold, jasmine-scented coconut milk loaded with attap seeds, corn and yam chunks. The traditional mango sticky rice is, of course, a must - there's a durian version as well.

Don't worry about overeating as you can always detox with the healthy cuisine featured in the hotel's Glow restaurant or a Shambala massage at the inhouse spa.

In a city like Bangkok, distractions are aplenty but the way Metropolitan keeps coming up with new ways to feed your different senses, you may think twice about leaving its comfy confines to battle the crippling heat and traffic outside. But in case you didn't already know, that is the plan.

  • Metropolitan by COMO, 27 South Sathorn Road Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120,  Thailand. Tel +66 2 625 3333