Eating/Drinking  •  Epicuriousities

5th Anniversary of Quince

Happy birthday Quince! To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the opening of Quince Eatery & Bar, we look back at our very first feature of the now-established eatery in 2004, before it even opened its doors. Congratulations and we wish for many more years to come.

July 24, 2017
Walking into the front section of Quince, the soon-to-be-opened restaurant and bar in Sukhumvit 45, I nearly tripped over a tub of wet cement. Loose wires poked out of the walls. Dusty men milled about with a sense of purpose. A circular saw screamed its way through a piece of tile. The bar was a grey slab of rough concrete. It didn’t look or feel much like the latest hip, trendy and buzz eatery. “We are behind schedule but on track,” laughs Philippe Bramaz, a partner in the project. “It is Thailand … everything will come together when it needs to.” Quince is due to open its doors (Philippe is absolutely confident that the restaurant will have doors by then) in late June, most likely to thunderous applause, with its down-to-earth but somewhat adventurous dishes solidly based on “Modern Australian” cuisine.
This unique eating (and drinking and socialising) place is the brainchild of three men: Philippe, a Swiss winemaker and importer-exporter, who is also the director and partner of Casa Pagoda, the shop next door, specialising in rustic furnishings; Sanya Souvanna Phouma, co-founder and creative director of Bed Supperclub, which made its own culinary waves when it opened a decade ago; and Stephane Dumas-Lebrun, a Koh Lanta resort developer who is also involved in Oskar Bistro on Sukhumvit 11. To escape the dust, heat and noise of the construction site that will soon be Quince, Philippe and Sanya sat down with me on comfortable chairs around a rough-hewn table at Casa Pagoda to expound their vision.

“Initially, we thought about how the customers of Casa Pagoda would enjoy a place to eat that was in line with the style of the shop,” Philippe says. Indeed, some of Quince’s furnishings are sourced from here – comfortable, casual but stylish décor that goes directly against the grain of high-gloss gilt-edged kitsch that was the predominant style in these parts for far too long.

“Tastes are changing here,” he says. “More people are beginning to appreciate the earthy style in how they live and eat.”

“We want the people who come here to relax and forget about the clock – even our servers’ style is less formal than usual,” Sanya says. “We’ll have open spaces, rough chic and delicious food that we encourage people to share.” They promise that the mixed drinks will mark a return to the traditional spirit of cocktails – ‘spirit’ being the operative word here. “Instead of these small and weak cocktails you get in so many other places, you will get a real drink, where you can taste the liquor,” Philippe says. And though many won’t have heard much about Modern Australian cooking in these parts, both men assure me that it is on the cutting edge of global cuisine.

“Australians are really uninhibited in the kitchen – its international background has brought together influences from all over the world and it has really come into its own in recent years,” Sanya says. “The real advances in gastronomy are happening in Sydney and Melbourne.” Philippe adds: “You always hear about ‘dining’ – whatever happened to ‘eating’?” They have tried out their theories at a couple of party-style sneak preview pop-ups, with one at the Lotus Arts de Vivre showroom in a street-food style, and one at Opposite Gallery where they served everything from a roasted whole pig to a sell-out crowd. Both were big hits.
They are also committed to a different approach with ingredients. “We want to use a ‘locavour’ approach as much as possible, using ingredients that are produced locally and in season,” Sanya says. “There are special farmer’s markets where you can get organic produce as well. There is a huge evolution now where people care more about what they eat. And not only is it better for your body, it tastes much nicer.”

All of this is quality produce is channelled through Jess Barnes, a genuine regular-guy Australian of Scottish, Welsh and French stock (his genetic cooking talent most likely originating from the latter).

His credentials are impressive. Landing a position at Grossi Florentino, one of Australia’s finest Italian restaurants, he became a sous chef there at 27 years old. His swiftly developed skills and an itch for travel led to him through Asia, where he staged at prominent restaurants and eventually to Bangkok, where he presided over the opening of Grossi Trattoria at Bangkok’s Intercontinental, to universal acclaim.

Though Jess assures me that “not all of the dishes have quince in them, just so you know,” it does provide a unique note in a number of them, and there would be few who wouldn’t appreciate the fragrance that it brings to the party – especially when used in quantities that add a subtle je ne sais quoi to a salad or meat dish.

Quince, formally known as Cydonia oblonga (which would not be a very good name for a restaurant) is a kind of proto-apple/pear – not quite the same evolutionary gap as that between a rhino and its distant relative, the horse, but definitely a different breed from its snack-food cousins. It is a lumpen, elongated and quaintly ugly yellow fruit that is hard and sour and difficult – rather pointless, in fact – to eat raw.

It is usually stewed, and then can be eaten as a sweet, or turned into a paste that can be spread on various surfaces or stirred in dollops into a wide range of sweet and savoury dishes.

Sometimes considered a bit ‘old-fashioned’, it has stayed firmly in style in the Middle East and Spain for many centuries – most often in paste form to be eaten with goat cheese and biscuits.

Quince has been around since before Roman times. The biographer and historian Plutarch once wrote that a Greek bride would nibble on a raw quince to perfume her kiss before entering the bridal chamber “… in order that the first greeting may not be disagreeable nor unpleasant.” This is, remember, a long time before toothbrushes were invented.

We kicked off a specially prepared “worker’s lunch” (assembled in the kitchen of a friendly nearby restaurant) with a bespoke light cocktail that combined a Monsoon Valley white with house-made quince syrup, citrus and soda; a play on a spritzer, and a real tongue awakener. Sharpish, fresh, and very more-ish. It was the first time I had tasted quince in more than a decade and the first time in such a context. Nothing tastes or smells quite like it.
The food was fresh and delicious: house marinated olives and pickled vegetables, terrine of pork neck, chicken liver and pistachio, self-assembled with chunks of sourdough bread (that will be baked on the premises once the ovens are turned on). Then there were the more salad-like like potpourri of roasted eggplant, labne (hung yogurt), soy beans, romesco and radishes. Also there was a plate of shaved zucchini,
capers, tomato confit, mint and grana padano. Along with the quince wine cocktail, these little flavour explosions had my tongue fizzing.

The dessert, which was in a portion that really needed to be shared (but I ate all by myself) was – you guessed it – poached quince with Royal Project vanilla bean, chocolate and almond biscuit and, mmm … dulce de leche crema. Excellent – and again, I really enjoyed the quince. Lord knows why it is so neglected.

And that was just what Jess could toss together in someone else’s kitchen up the road to give us an idea what’s going to be cooking in Quince’s kitchen soon.

The initial menu (which will change with the seasons) includes such comforts as roast cauliflower salad, baked clams with hand-rolled noodles, slow-cooked lamb shoulder or, for starters, a blue crab and chive omelette, pulled pork sandwich, char-grilled squid with anchovy butter and chickpeas. I plan on going back for the cured and grilled pork jowl with baked beans and black pudding. 

There are several dining areas, from the heavy wooden table of the bar to the al fresco seating on the other side of the plate glass. There is a cosily sized public dining area and also two private dining rooms upstairs (one of them in a really cool hexagon shape).

And the really good news is the price range of under a thousand baht per person for a top-notch feed – a bit more when you add in the drinks, but from the sounds of it, you won’t need many of those to do the job.

It looks like we’ve got a winner on our hands.