Scattered throughout Bangkok's moneyed neighborhoods, Vanilla outlets act as sanctuaries of domestic charm. Step in from the pavement or the crowded mall, and be treated to creamy lattes and decadent baked goods. Every aspect of Vanilla is perfectly styled, from the rich-as-chocolate interiors to the flour-dusted uniforms of the wait staff, making it the ideal setting for an afternoon escape. Vanilla Garden takes the idea of a retreat one step further. Located some distance down Ekkamai Soi 12, it's the most obscure branch, and the only one not designed to be approached by foot traffic. But step in through the garden gate, and you'll quickly forget the cab fare it took to get there.
Vanilla Garden is actually a complex, uniting three distinct shops in one lush garden. Where other Vanilla locations reflect European tastes, the offerings at Vanilla Garden are distinctly East Asian. There's Royal Vanilla, a retro dim sum and tea house; Vanilla Cafe, a midcentury Japanese style coffee house; and Sauce, a sleek two-floor bookstore. We arrived for a late lunch, and found the grounds buzzing, but not busy. Though the bento boxes and living-room style setting of Vanilla Cafe looked inviting, we were tempted instead by the menu at Royal Vanilla. With dark furnishings and carved wooden screens, the small interior of Royal Vanilla is meant to evoke 1920s China. The large glass windows facing onto the garden make it a particularly attractive setting. The selection of dim sum was good, if not overly extensive- we opted for several dishes, including red bean sesame balls, steamed pork buns, and Shanghai style dumplings. Though all of the dishes were brilliant, the highlights were a wrapped noodle filled with flavorful duck meat, and the lotus steamed sticky rice. Refreshments were just as interesting as the food, and included not only tea, but drinks like plum soda and soy-milk with ginger.
After lunch, we leafed through hardcovers in Sauce. Though there are a fair number of cookbooks among the dark wooden shelves, the store seems to concentrate on style and architecture-- in fact, it has one of the best selections of design books in Bangkok. We found books on California interiors, Calcutta cooking, and Chinese product design. In addition, it offers a small rane of Vanilla brand products, like funky aprons, stylish shopping bags, and dessert-scented handwash.
By the time we'd browsed through a dozen books on Vietnamese cuisine and tropical Asian architecture, we were ready for a latte at Vanilla Cafe. Housed in a refurbished 1960s home, Vanilla Cafe serves as the focal point of the garden complex. As attractive as the house itself is, the interior is even more striking, with mod Japanese furnishings, and bookshelves stacked with brightly colored comics books and plastic toys. The coffee menu is similar to other Vanilla outlets, but it also includes a long list smoothies and shakes, like red bean or nutella frappes. The dessert menu also covers a mix of Vanilla standards and Japanese treats, with banoffee cakes sharing shelf-spaces with dorayaki and mochi. After ordering a the counter, we took our lattes and brownie out onto the front porch, where two wooden benches were positioned to face the garden and the splashing fountain. It was the ideal spot to sit back, sip our lattes, and appreciate the escapist haven that is Vanilla Garden.
Why: It's worth the trip for delicious dim sum, tasty bento boxes, or decadent desserts in a relaxing and flawlessly-styled garden setting.
Where: #53 Ekkamai Soi 12. It's a fair distance from the Ekkamai BTS terminal, so it's advisable to either take a bus to Soi 12, or a taxi from the BTS terminal.
When: Officially open 11:00 to 23:00, but they may actually close at 22:00.
How much: Prices are moderately high for Bangkok, but well worth it. Dim sum plates from 50B, main dishes at both restaurants range from about 180-300B. Coffee drinks average 80-90B, smoothies and shakes are roughly double that. Desserts range from about 40B for a peanut-butter brownie to 90B for more elaborate cakes.