Yes, some of the best food to be found in Thailand is street-side and humble. Restaurants, stalls, shacks or trolleys serve up mouthwatering meals with no frills and often little atmosphere. But for many of us, a special occasion night of fine dining is something to look forward to.
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, here are some of Citylife's picks of the best fine dining experiences in Chiang Mai. These are venues where the food is superb and the trimmings turn a special meal into something memorable. There have been many new restaurants opening in the past six months, but since many are still ironing out their kinks, we have gone with the more time-tested (and proven!) venues, which offer consistently high standards. Bon appétit!
This purpose-built French restaurant with romantic lighting overlooking the Ping River serves up a mixture of classical recipes as well as innovative offerings from the enthusiastic and creative chefs (they even have in-house cooking competitions, like Top Chef, to get the creative juices flowing!). If you want flair, the flamboyant tableside presentation of crepe Suzette will impress all but the most jaded of dates. In other words, this is a good place to woo and be wooed.
Favola @ Le Meridien
Favola is set in a more business-oriented yet elegant open-plan venue on the second floor of Le Meridien. But if you love Italian food with robust flavours, exquisitely presented and paired with fine wines, then pop in for a special treat. Chef Filippo Morelli serves up bold and beautiful contemporary cuisine using the freshest of local ingredients, many from the north's famed Royal Project.
This restaurant is imbued with refined taste. Rare artworks and antiques decorate its intimate Sino-Lanna courtyard and stylish buildings where diners can moon at one another under the, well, moon, or sit in air-conditioned comfort inside. Burmese, Shan, Thai and some European dishes make for an exotic menu with mouthwatering surprises.
Mini is the theme which runs through this tiny venue - with the only exception being the big, bold tastes. Intimate little tables, cutesy décor, adorably presented dishes, excellent house wines…what more do you need?
Terraces @ Four Seasons
Distant green mountains, lush paddy fields worked by a posh albino buffalo, landscaped gardens, flickering flames to add drama, and impeccable Four Seasons restaurant standards. Terraces is a sure thing. Each dish is delightful and there is a decent choice of fresh local and high quality imported ingredients. Try the seared Andaman sea bass fillet with sea scallops, cauliflower mousse and Mediterranean garnish….pure bliss.
Tengoku de Cuisine
Japanese food like Chiang Mai has never seen before! Fresh seafood is imported from Tokyo's famed Tsukiji market three times a week and you can virtually taste the Sea of Japan as slices of yellow fin tuna, salmon and all sorts of other delights slide into your mouth. A wonderfully innovative appetiser is the foie gras sushi and don't forget to try the house favourite: cameralised eggplant. Plenty of cosy nooks and corners for intimate tete-á-tetes.
053 851 133
Le Coq d'Or
The Grand Old Dame of Chiang Mai fine dining, this classical French restaurant feels as though it hasn't changed in its 40 plus years of existence. Old fashioned serving etiquette, suited waiters, fading photographs of royal diners, pomp, ceremony and utter charm. Even the names of the dishes - aromatique roasted lobster, bellini sorbet - seduce the tongue. The ingredients, from Kobe beef to Maine lobster, are always fresh, the live trio croons old goodies and you can even get picked up at your doorstep in their classical London cab. A truly classic dining experience.
For the young, hip and thirsty set, this is a place to see, be seen, and sample some of the most eclectic dishes in town. So get creative and go nuts with a vast array of Thai, Chinese, Western and fusion concoctions, each looking more like a piece of art (or a science project) than food, but most quite delicious. Don't miss the fanciful frozen cocktails or the fabulous desserts, either. Now two locations, on Nimman Soi 1 and at the new Promenada Resort Mall.
Italia @ Sala Lanna
At this authentic Italian eatery and wine cellar, elegant riverside dining gets a modern gothic twist with sexy candelabras, ornately carved wooden chairs and prettily lighted greenery. Sample fabulous appetisers (don't miss the octopus carpaccio), homemade pastas and pizzas and delicious protein dishes, such as the succulent La Ricciola grilled king fish fillet.
Low lights to make us look prettier, smart casual elegance and a menu which includes some of the most succulent steak and lamb dishes in the city. Green Table is a relatively new kid on the fine dining block, but its consistent standards of food and service makes for a solid - and less expensive - fine dining option. The Valentine-ready pink salmon fettuccini is to die for.
Shang Garden @ Shangri-La
Welcome to the hottest new dim sum and Chinese restaurant in town. Steaming plumb dumplings, sexy slithers of succulent Peking duck, aromatic jade crab soups and all sorts of sumptuous Cantonese fare is served up in an elegant dining room. Want something special? Book the private room overlooking the chef's kitchen.
Ruen Tamarind @ Tamarind VillageAnother stunning boutique hotel setting, this time serving up pure and traditional Lanna cuisine. Sit poolside or lounge back on comfy red cushions while dining on classic northern Thai fare - at times with a twist - such as hang-lay, laab and panang curry. This is the idealised version of Northern Thai tradition: elegant, seamless and personalised haute cuisine oozing Lanna-ness.
With wonderful views of the mountains, this hideaway is a wee bit out of town but worth the drive for a quiet, intimate night out with superb Thai food in a charming setting, at embarrassingly inexpensive prices. Arguably one of the best authentic Thai fine dining venues to be found in Chiang Mai.
More casual than many other venues featured, River Market's riverside romance cannot be beat. Candlelit tables for two, the historical iron bridge as backdrop and occasional boats meandering their way down the Ping accompany a vast variety of traditional and creative Thai dishes as well as a bewildering assortment of other goodies such as oysters, sashimi and more.
Farang Ses @ Dhara Dhevi
Chef Carlos Gaudencio brings Paris-trained classical French cuisine to this sumptuously elegant restaurant, adding creative touches and twists both in terms of ingredients and compositions. Each dish is presented as though from a fantasy scene of an old fairy tale (see our cover!). The wine list is also extraordinary. If your pockets run deep enough, there is no other venue that will wow a special someone like this.
The Dining Room @ 137 Pillars
Snuggle up together in your own private loveseat underneath a curtained canopy, sipping on creative cocktails or a superb bottle of wine. Order the fancy Boston lobster, unique pomelo soft-shell crab salad, or a gourmet take on Thai mango salad with salmon. The food is exceptional and the gardens quintessential for a romantic stroll or a drink on the lawn.