Bangkok is a city of the river that dissects it: the Chao Praya River, or River of Kings, is the main route for water traffic of all types imaginable, from ferries zipping commuters from bank to bank, to barges laden with cargo and the plentiful longtails a.k.a. water taxis. In many respects this river embodies the spirit of Bangkok, feeding it, shaping it, lending its ever-changing character to this diverse city. So, when it came time for my hungry French husband and me to decide which of the Mandarin Oriental’s seven eateries would gain our custom on our first night in Bangkok, it seemed only natural that we should give it to the Riverside Terrace restaurant, with its unbeatable view of life on the Chao Praya.
Some reviewers have complained of the river noise disturbing their Riverside Terrace experience, but the constant honking and swooshing didn’t bother us at all. We were seated so close to the river that had we been much closer, we would have been in it, which would have been a whole different dining experience. As it was, we were thrilled with our table and, wanting to soak up the sunset atmosphere, ordered a couple of cocktails to kick off the evening.
I know my drink included lemongrass and ginger ale as I could definitely taste both, but Heaven only knows what happened to the alcohol – vodka? gin? I presume it was one of the above because it arrived in a Martini glass, but who could tell which, there was so little of it? I almost asked for the list again, so I could check what I was drinking because this was one alcoholic drink with zero kick. The main reason I’d chosen it in the first place was to taste lemongrass, all in an attempt to immerse my tastebuds in proper Thai flavours, but seriously, people, what a cocktail FAIL. It might as well have been vaguely-fizzy lemongrass and ginger iced tea.
Where the cocktails were a disappointment, and had now been replaced by the far more reliable Tiger beer, the buffet more than made up for lost brownie points in its range and quality. It was almost impossible to know where to start; the bread alone must have come in at least a dozen varieties. There was a Tandoori oven, kebab station, a Japanese Teppanyaki chef and separate sushi and sashimi bar. A rotisserie was in full operation over open fire and barbecue meats were available for all those with a carnivorous fang or two. For those with the desire to dine light, there sat bowl after bowl of salad, from simple tossed greenery to those with a more Asiatic influence, noodle salads, seafood with chilli and beansprouts, something to tickle a great many palates.
Elsewhere, I discovered wisdom in the provision of cool gazpacho, ready to ladle with all the optional condiments lined up in adjacent bowls. Of utmost relevance to this keen pescetarian, the seafood selection was vast, with grilled King prawns so Jabba the Hut-fat that just one would take care of any starter requirement, succulent chunks of octopus, and juicy blue river lobster.
In all honesty, there was so much variety that the Riverside Terrace’s buffet could become an advertisement for Alka Seltzer. Mindful of this and the fact that we’d now spotted the dessert bar, Monsieur and I restrained ourselves as much as possible. This was an exercise in LESS now equals MORE later.
On an island set back from the savoury buffet, patrons could choose from a wide selection of desserts, bespoking them with toppings and sprinkles and sauces various, but knowing that the potential for further consumption was limited, we chose just the one sweet – making a bee-line for the flambé cart where a chef served us up some wickedly alcoholic (compared to the mock-tail of earlier) crêpes Suzette.
Apart from the mock-tail experience, the only blot on the Riverside Terrace’s copybook was the staff. Compared to everywhere else in the hotel, this bunch were far from happy bunnies. They looked hot, tired and a bit bored. It just seemed so out of sorts with all the other staff we’d met so far, who were ever-smiling and cheerful. I’d like to think that perhaps we just came on an ‘off’ night.
- visit the Riverside Terrace for an atmospheric aperitif at sundown but don’t bother with the cocktails unless you’ve just come off a bender and need to dry out.
- The food provides plenty of options for individual tastes, but remember: eating less now means you can squeeze in some wicked sweetness later.
- After dinner, take one of the hotel’s pagoda boats across the river – the crossing is free to all Mandarin Oriental guests. On the other side you’ll find the MO Hotel’s annex, housing Sala Rim Naam, a traditional Thai restaurant, where displays of traditional Thai entertainment may be enjoyed as part of a buffet lunch or set Thai dinner.
- Sala Rim Naam is contained within a traditional Thai building with carved wooden pediments and steep roof. Adjacent to Sala Rim Naam is a river-front area with impressive Buddhist shrine, and if you walk further back into the annex, you’ll find peaceful sunken ponds filled with lily pads. The hotel Spa is located over here if you feel like a massage to aid digestion.