It must be nearly 30 years since I first stepped into Harmonique Restaurant, located on Charoenkrung Road down near the river.
Over succeeding years I have lunched there and very occasionally had dinner there. It is a well known and well regarded Thai restaurant that does a good trade from the refugees from the nearby swag of 5* hotels with their extravagant restaurant prices.
On a recent visit for dinner I had trouble locating it. On every other occasion I had approached the restaurant coming down Charoenkrung Road from the right and usually during daylight hours. On this occasion I approached from the left at 7.30 pm and the area looked entirely different to me.
I peered down the dark alley that I thought housed the restaurant but I couldn’t see its neon sign. I asked a Tuk Tuk driver at the top of alley if Harmonique was still trading and he pointed down the alley with a surprised look on his face.
Venturing into the alley by 25 metres and the restaurant came into view, its neon sign obscured by a very large Bouganvillia.
Entering the restaurant’s portal the two elderly lady owners were in their little room on the left watching TV. They smiled graciously and waved. I remember when these two ladies were running the place and the floor many years ago. I’m guessing now, but both would have to be in their 80s.
A waitress in a green uniform and same coloured apron waved her arm around to us as a gesture to sit anywhere we liked, as there were only four other diners in the restaurant.
Menus were distributed and everything on the carte looked the same as in previous visits. To start proceedings I ordered a large Heineken draught beer and for the girl a lemon iced tea. Both drinks were despatched quickly from bar and so sipping on them to slake our thirst that was engendered from the slog up the road from the Shrangri La Hotel we made our food selections.
Your correspondent placed an order for a Tom Yoong Goong soup and dish of deep fried crispy squid, while the girl opted for plate of sweet and sour pork. Additionally I ordered a som tam salad, but then cancelled it when I saw a plate of it delivered on the nearby table as it didn’t look particularly appealing.
We were situated on the terrace outside and the overhead fans were not really keeping up with the oppressive heat and humidity. I went inside the restaurant to ascertain if it was air conditioned, but it too was under the control of the overhead fans.
When I returned to our table, the girl informed me that her lemon iced tea was “undrinkable”. I ventured a sip and yep, it was overloaded with lemon juice to the degree that was indeed undrinkable. She declined another drink and instead took a few sips of my pint of Heineken lager.
The tom young goong soup arrived shortly afterwards. I had asked for it to be “mai phet” (not too spicy), as I recalled on previous occasions the concoction had almost taken my breath away such was its fiery composition.
However, this one was totally insipid to the point that I could describe it as it the worst rendition of this famous Thai classic that I have had the misfortune to slurp. There was no heat whatsoever as it appeared the chillis had been left out entirely, the prawns were of the very tiny variety that one finds in special fried rice and the liquid itself was barely warm.
The serving was also very small and it only took about 10 spoonfuls before the bowl was empty.
Then came the main courses and at that stage we were the only ones left in restaurant and it had only just gone past 8 pm.
The pork sweet and sour was unremarkable and once again, like the soup, was barely warm. My chosen dish of deep fried crispy squid was a disgrace. The squid were so small they should never have been harvested. The chef – or cook – had overcooked them to the extent they were rubbery and I gave up trying to eat it after a few mouthfuls.
The waitress didn’t ask why we had hardly touched our main courses, just removing them and coming back a few minutes later with a desserts menu. As we were both still hungry we ordered a banana and strawberry ice cream sundae each.
These were soon plonked on the table and were the best dishes of the evening. The strawberry ice cream did taste of strawberries and the sliced bananas were sweet and velvety.
We were still hungry but given that we had been grossly disappointed with our main courses we were reluctant to order anything else.
So I summoned the waitress for the bill and was presented with the following:
1 x pint of Heineken draught beer, 100 baht; 1 x lemon iced tea, 60 baht; 1 x Tom Yoong Gong soup, 75 baht; 1 x Pork Sweet and Sour, 115 baht; 1 x crispy deep fried squid 120 baht; 2 x banana and strawberry ice cream sundaes 65 baht each: TOTAL: $600 baht ($AUD20 at the time).
CONCLUSION: Harmonique has gone seriously downhill since my last visitation some five or so years ago. I did note on Tripadvisor before writing this critique that most of the posters were happy with their experience there. But for the two of us, it was a major disappointment when compared to the Harmonique that we fondly remember from years past.
Maybe the two elderly owners should spend a little bit more time on the floor because from our experience there are certainly deficiencies in the kitchen that will need to be remedied.
SCORE: Food, 4/10; ambience 4/10; service 8/10; value for money, 3/10. TOTAL: 19/40.
RECOMMENDATION: It is hard for me to recommend Harmonique based the experience we had on that night back in late May. Our memories of it go back many years. Once one could glimpse the river from the terrace, but that vista was built out some years ago. The food quality was well below that of previous visits. If you are intent on trying out this famous restaurant, then maybe you should be guided by the Tripadvisor reports as most of them appear positive in direct contrast to our experience.
We returned to the Shrangri La and rang room service for a pizza. At $A14 I could have got it cheaper in Australia, but it was terrific, it was large and it was hot, coming out of the award-winning Angelini restaurant on the ground floor and it did the trick of arresting our respective hungers.