If you’re looking for evidence of the West’s declining cultural cachet – and Asia’s corresponding rise – you might like to check out the latest addition to Bangkok’s ever-growing selection of gargantuan shopping malls: Central Plaza Grand Rama 9 at Rama 9 Intersection. Have a gander at the restaurants renting square meters on the top two floors. Aside from the good ol’ Golden Arches, the last bastion of the once-mighty West, every single one of them is Asian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, obviously. But it’s surely a sign o’ the times.
Truth to tell, among the various bland-looking purveyors of corporate Thai food, hot potteries, dim sum joints and ramen houses, there is a pasta restaurant. And, as if to underline the point, it’s Japanese – via Singapore. Pasta de Waraku (spelled with the French “de”, rather than the Italian equivalent, for reasons that will no doubt never be known) now has two outlets in Thailand to add to its branches in the all-conquering city-state to the south. The second Bangkok branch is in Central World.
On the menu is a bewildering selection of Japanese-Italian fusion dishes seemingly designed by a group of culinary vandals who just don’t give a fuck. Spaghetti with eel and egg in wafu sauce (mmmmm, eggy eel). Bacon, yolk, potato and asparagus with Japanese-style carbonara cream soup (a lot going on here, no?). Spicy cod roe and potato pizza with mayonnaise (WTF?). In the tepid environment of Grand Rama 9’s sixth floor, these recipes seemed to skirt the line between genius and madness. Or maybe they just sounded amusingly disgusting. Whatever – they sucked us straight through the doors.
If you’re at all sensitive to light (e.g. hungover), some advice: wear sunglasses. During daylight hours, Pasta de Waraku is almost dazzlingly bright. This is partly the fault of the whitewashed brick walls but mostly that of the large glass window that forms its Western flank. Said window provides you with a panoramic view of the Fortune IT Mall – a sort of bargain-basement Pompidou Center – as well as of the bottom-end of Rachadaphisek Road, one of Bangkok’s more monstrous thoroughfares.
The walls are broken up here and there with glamour shots of the dishes on offer. One, highlighting the charms of a pizza, is helpfully overlaid with the word “CRISP”. The floor, less helpfully, is dirty, the creamy tiles disfigured by track marks and foot prints. It’s a fault seen elsewhere in Central Plaza Grand Rama 9 and not really excusable in a mall that’s been open for barely two months. Strange.
And here, sadly, is where the story comes to its perhaps predictable ending. The food isn’t very good. We ordered two spaghetti dishes and a pizza. The former arrived in five minutes or so. Spaghetti with prawn and edamame cream (THB220) grabbed our attention because, well, the prospect of gobbling edamame peas without having to peel the damn things was not one we could ignore. Unfortunately, a bland cream sauce suggested the use of milk powder. Ugh. And the prawns, of which there were four, were cheap and lacked texture. We also gave tuna and corn spaghetti with wafu sauce (THB180) a go. The flavors here were perfectly fine, if a little unexciting. The dish essentially resembled the tuna-pasta-garlic-oil dish that every university student in the Western hemisphere knows how to cook. Only with less tuna, maybe about a third of a can. We estimated we could cook the same dish at home for about 30 baht. Not exactly value for money.
What Pasta de Waraku does to pasta, it also does to pizza. We plumped for the bacon and kimchi pizza (THB190). Truth be told, it wasn’t too bad, with a thin and crispy base and salty toppings that made up for the general lack of flavor on the table. Again, though, our “regular” sized pizza was small, perhaps no bigger than 7 inches. The mini version, we assume, really does put the Japanese genius for miniaturization to the test. Including drinks, this was a THB800 meal for two. Of course, you’re paying a shopping mall premium. And, as some cynics were no doubt thinking from the start of this review, you’re getting shopping mall flavors to boot. Shame.
Dan Waites is a writer, translator, interpreter and glutton based in Bangkok. Follow him on Twitter:@danwaites
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