While Brits are stuffed in pubs, huddling together to stay warm and dry, Belgians and other Continental types spill from cosmopolitan bars onto pavements like Toulouse Lautrec tableaux. How they get away with that, given the similar latitude, is the stuff to ponder over a pint.
There’s nothing new about hanging out al fresco in Bangkok but Le Café des Stagiaires is different in other ways. The name means “Café of Interns” and several staff are just that. In fact, internships is how it got started. Student buddies from the illustrious Hospitality School of Lausanne were so stimulated by their internships in Shanghai that they joined, and soon took over, their mentor’s business. Bringing in more interns from their alumni and other top schools, they morphed to four outlets in China and, two years ago, a first foray into Bangkok.
The key ingredients are an all-embracing student sensibility characterized by anything goes décor, no uniforms, lots of parties and superior bar and food service at reasonable rates.
Chief Bangkok instigator Alan Cogels expounds: “The idea is to create the atmosphere of a small, sociable cafe in Europe where customers form a community.”
The main action at ground level comprises two former bicycle shop units offering several seating areas, including the sidewalk, a DJ booth beside the bar and a small dance floor. The 2nd and 3rd floors open up for private parties and house parties that regularly draw 200-300 souls.
So far the menu is Mediterranean-style tapas, planchettes of cheeses, cold cuts, duck and sausage for sharing, some pasta, salads and warm sandwiches and typical French desserts. Gourmet main courses are growing.
The signature Marinière mussels (580), sautéed by a French chef in chardonnay, garlic and parsley and served with fries (see below), are blue shell French bouchots, which may be the best there are. The foie gras in the creamy rich homemade torchon, served thick on classic baguette slices with pineapple and rosemary chutney (580), is also French, naturally.
Even Belgian fries (120) – double fried at different temperatures – are raised to another level by an addictive mayonnaise blended with pickle.
Fish lovers are in luck with seabass ceviche, gravlax salmon with Ricard dill cream (280), calamari, and vongole clams in white wine sauce with tomatoes (340) with white wine. Three Spanish style croquettes stuffed with gammon ham (180) go down real easy. A couple of dishes nod to the local style, including spicy Thai-style meatballs (140) and chicken satay/peanut sauce (140).
Desserts include Chocolat Fondant (lava cake) (140), caramelized apple tatin (160), pavlova (meringue) with exotic fruit and coconut cream (220) and a definitive crème brûlée (140) with a nice thick, crunchy crust.
The beverage program features lots of Belgian beers, replicas of their labels sharing wall space with edgy prints, eclectic bric-a-brac and, in the toilets, framed CVs of the interns. There are some “quite nice” wines from France and Spain from 140 baht/glass, and at 100 baht/4.5 cL, probably the cheapest Ricard anise liquor in Bangkok. Plus large selections of whiskeys, gins, vodkas and rums and Ecole Lausanne standard cocktails.
Happy hour on Belgium draught beer is 4pm to 8pm. Every Monday is student day, Wednesday is ladies night, Friday and Saturday are party nights with live DJ or Jazz. On Sunday there’s an after brunch party with DJ till 22.00.
Open Mon-Fri 16.00-02.00. Saturday and Sunday (brunch days) 11.00-02.00. Tel. 091 869 9832.