Sunday, August 20, 2017

Restaurant Review: Kalaw gem wows - and leaves you stuffed

Most people who visit Kalaw, a smallish town in southern Shan State about 90 minutes’ drive west of Inle Lake, do so for trekking. The surrounding hills are home to picturesque village of Palaung, Danu, Pa-O and other ethnic minorities. Simply reaching the villages, weaving along mountain trails, is a delight.

Photo: Thomas Kean / The Myanmar TimesPhoto: Thomas Kean / The Myanmar Times

Then there’s the weather: At 1320 metres (4330 feet) above sea level, you can escape the sweltering heat of central and lower Myanmar. During water festival, the mercury only nudged 30C on a handful of days.

But a big attraction for me is the food. With a multi-ethnic population that includes Bamar, Shan, Danu and Nepali, there’s a diverse array of options. One of the best finds during my most recent trip, for example, was a no-name Rakhine mon ti shop, which had been recommended by a friend from Yangon but would be unlikely to feature in any guidebook.

There’s not a lot of Western fare, though – and if you’re spending upward of a week in the area, at one point or other you may just want a burger or pizza.

Enter Royal Kalaw Hills Resort, a boutique hotel up a steep road to the east of the downtown area that opened just a few months ago. Centred around an English-style house built in 1898, it boasts 16 rooms, grand gardens – and a stylish restaurant, with decking that looks out over the town and the surrounding hills.

Staying at a place some way out of town, as Royal Kalaw Hills Resort is, is always risky. If the food is unpalatable, you face a long walk every time you get a craving. Happily, this was not a problem – there were even non-guests driving in from downtown to sample the fare.

The restaurant itself is in a new stone building that uses large doorways and windows to make the most of the pleasant weather. The interior is for the most part tastefully decorated, if a little kitschy with all the antiques around the walls. The highlight is the deck area, which has a handful of tables and chairs and is perfect for sipping a sunset beverage. The drinks menu is serviceable, with a decent range of cocktails (the Long Island tea was US$6 well spent) and wine, particularly given it’s not Yangon.

The menu is brief – starters, salads, soups, Asian and Western mains, plus pizza and pasta – but is broad enough to satisfy most tastes. Prices were reasonable, ranging from $3-5 for smaller plates to $30 for some imported meats.

After devouring a salad of prawns on glass noodles ($5) that was so spicy it had to be eaten with copious amounts of rice, I ordered a beef burger ($10), while my wife chose the fried prawns with black pepper ($12).

The chef is obviously of the mind that bigger is better. If I said that the plate came with two prawns, you’d probably think they were being stingy. Not so – these beasts were more akin to lobsters, and one even had rather long claws. They were also delicious, with thick, creamy flesh in a simple sauce of cracked pepper and oil, with a smattering of fried vegetables.

Continuing the trend, my burger was so large that it would not have been out of place on an episode of Man vs Food – I would guess it was at least two, if not three, times the size of the largest burger on offer at Lotteria. Aside from the sheer logistical problems of fitting such a burger in one’s mouth, it came off a touch dry and crumbly, although the generous slab of melted cheese helped. I’m ashamed to say that what I left behind on my plate would probably equal the weekly protein requirement of a small child.

The chef later explained with a grin that he used to make it with “just” 200 grams of beef, but decided to, well, beef it up to 300 grams because he thought it was looking a little lean. I would have probably preferred it as two burgers – I could have taken one back to my room in a doggy bag – but I admired his enthusiasm and generosity.

Royal Kalaw Hills Resort
No 3/4, East Circular Road, Kalaw
Restaurant Rating:     
Food    8
Beverage    7
Service    8
Value    7
X-factor    9

Myanmar Times Restaurants Reviewed

Looking for someplace out of your usual routine? Let The Myanmar Times help! Find restaurants, cafes, and bars our Pulse team has reviewed.

View fullscreen

Don't see your favourite spot here? Let us know! Send tips to weekend@mmtimes.com