For people who care about their food

Am Café, Bangkok

Ambassador Hotel
171 Soi 11 Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok 10110

Several years ago when we were relatively new to Bangkok we used to enjoy visiting the Ambassador Hotel’s buffet lunch on Bangkapi Terrace – you could have all you could eat of a wide choice of Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Western food for less than 500 baht, which in those days was a little over a tenner. Not only that, but they had a pretty good live band which did quite accurate renditions of current pop and rock hits, including “Zombie” by the Cranberries – although like most Thai bands they did tend to overdo the Eagles a lot.

The Ambassador’s undergone a lot of changes in the meantime, and the buffet got moved first into a new block (where nothing else ever seemed to be moving in) and then into a funny little lower-ground floor area in the main hotel building itself. We’d also discovered alternative lunch places, including FoodLoft, the food court at the top of department store chain Central’s Chidlom branch, so for many years we forgot about the Ambassador buffet.

[We also weren’t terribly impressed with the hotel itself. While living in Delhi we tried booking to stay there a few times on our visits to Bangkok, but got fed up with arriving at six in the morning (because of the flight schedules) only to be asked to wait for a couple of hours while they made up the room for us. In the end we decided to book (and pay for) the room from noon the previous day to ensure it would definitely be free for us… only to be asked yet again to wait for it to be made up. Being ripped off like that was the final straw, and we’ve never stayed there since.]

Then on a visit to Bangkok in July 2008, on a whim we decided we’d give the buffet another go – if it still existed. A quick search in the main building revealed it to be in a place called Am Café, which turned out to be the funny little lower-ground place we remembered. However, it was only near the entrance that you had to be careful to duck your head. A friendly staff member asked us where we would like to sit. After first doing a quick scan of what was on offer, and finding that there was enough choice for us to have an enjoyable meal, we chose a table for two towards the back of the restaurant, near the window.

Once our beers had arrived, we went to have a closer look at the buffet in detail. The choice on offer was pretty similar to what it had been in the early ’90s – it’s still Thai, Japanese, Chinese and Western.

Japanese

There wasn’t a great deal of choice of sushi available, and the rice turned out to be over-soggy. But the sashimi display had both of our favourites: salmon and tuna – as well as the ubiquitous crab sticks.

As far as the hot dishes were concerned, the tempura wasn’t. It’s a real pity that so many buffet restaurants make the mistake of putting tempura out ready-made. By all means cook some for display purposes – and make sure that it clearly is for display only – but it really does need to be eaten freshly cooked if the batter’s not to be greasy and soggy. The miso soup was very good, though.

Chinese

Neither of us is that big on Chinese food, but Mr ND did sample some of the char siu pork. It was tasty, with just a hint of crispiness on the outside; very nice!

Thai

You’d expect the Thai food to be done well, and it was. We tried some of the duck green curry, the barbecue pork curry, and pork with ginger. All of them were full of flavour and well prepared. However, we stopped short of the boiled egg and intestine soup with soy sauce!

I decided to ask for some som tam, the famous green papaya salad from the Isaan region (north-east Thailand). There was much hilarity all round when I asked for it phet phet (very spicy) – we’re still not sure whether it was the fact that I used the Thai term, or whether they were tickled by the novelty of a farang asking for spicy food. In the event they overdid it with the chillis, so Mr ND asked for one made merely phet (spicy) and we swapped.

Western

We had a look at the Western station out of interest, but were a bit nonplussed to see that the very first dish we came across was baked seabass cooked, erm, oriental style… I did try some of the salmon with dill sauce, which is something of a culinary cliché. It may be rather damning it with faint praise, but it really was nicer once the dill sauce was scraped off.

There were a good selection of cheeses (something that you don’t necessarily find everywhere you go in Thailand – many Asiatic people are lactose-intolerant) with nice, crusty bread to accompany them.

As usual we didn’t bother with dessert or ice-cream. Neither station’s selection captured our imagination, and in any case we were starting to run out of time before our departure from Bangkok later that afternoon…

Our rating: 3½ out of 5
The food was pretty good, and decent value for money at just 399++ baht per head (ie 399 baht, plus 10% service, plus 7% tax on the whole amount – so that’s really 470 baht). (The beers were a bit on the pricy side, though, at 140++ baht (which works out at nearly 165 baht) for a 330ml bottle, but that’s hotel prices for you.) The staff were friendly, too, although we did find they were verging on the over-attentive, hovering in the background and waiting to pounce the moment there was anything at all they could do to “help”. Still, we’d happily go back again.

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