YANGON — For a sophisticated restaurant with heart and social conscience, head to Shwe Sa Bwe in Mayangon Township. You’ll find delicious nouvelle
cuisine, exceptional service and beautiful surroundings. Yes, I find no downsides here!
Dine among the chic red interiors with stylish furniture, cozy corners and cute curios or alfresco in the secluded magic garden of bamboo, palms and bougainvillea. Throughout, the ambience is cool charm. The music is contemporary, audible but unobtrusive. It all says, “Relax and enjoy.”
The set three-course menu is a thrilling challenge. Enticing selections of starters, mains and desserts each offer a choice of four tempting dishes for dinner (26,000 kyat) and two for lunch (14,000 kyat). You might choose a two-course meal (dinner 23,000 kyat, lunch 11,000 kyat), tax and service inclusive. The menu changes monthly and can be explored online beforehand.
Our group of merry diners made a point of trying them all, to great satisfaction. Starters included a creamy and delicate beetroot and goat-cheese mille-feuille with herbs and tomato salad; fresh fish and seafood salad served with pomelo dressing; and chicken-liver cake with supreme sauce; or chilled minestrone soup. Interesting creative combinations delight the palate with artfully balanced flavors.
The variety of mains included sea bass and tomato filled with ratatouille, leek compote and red wine sauce; tender, grilled long squid with chorizo risotto and saffron sauce; pot-au-feu (a French beef stew) with port, seasonal vegetables and herb sauce; and roasted veal medallion, croquette potato, snow beans, and green pepper sauce. Each was a work of art, cooked to perfection and received with joy.
Desserts included the delectable pineapple tart with pineapple sorbet, a popular strawberry bavarois with strawberry coulis, a wickedly rich chocolate charlotte with coffee sauce, and a crème brûlée with bourbon vanilla to die for. The mighty cheese platter (dinner 10,000 kyat, lunch 7,000 kyat) might also fit your bill.
Shwe Sa Bwe makes its business to nourish not only diners but also the young people of Myanmar. When Francois Stoupan came here and fell in love with the country in 1998, he saw a need and decided to create a French-style hotel and restaurant training center.
Opening at the end of 2011, Shwe Sa Bwe invites young people from all over the country to apply for scholarships to participate in the intensive full-time one-year courses in cooking and restaurant and hotel service.
Mr. Stoupan explains: “Our trainees are selected based on their willingness to learn and their commitment to stay in Myanmar at the end of the program, to be part of the country’s growth and help to develop and feed others. We don’t want to give this quality training so people leave the country or their family. We encourage respect and kindness to parents.”
The best two students from each year are retained at the center and encouraged to share and multiply the valuable learning in a “training of trainers” model. The dining room features a wall of graduate portraits, a testament to the effort by all. Today Shwe Sa Bwe is self-funding, paying for the 15-20 annual scholarships and program operation from the restaurant income.
Learning from top French chefs and service trainers, the young students get quality instruction and seem to love the opportunity. Ko Nyi Nyi, 20, from Kachin State, looks forward to finding work in a five-star hotel. “There are possibilities to head to Dubai or Qatar to get some more experience but most important is to work here in Myanmar,” he says.
Ko Salai Chit Tin from Myeik, also 20, is also excited about taking part in the program. “Part of the great thing is making new friends. We come from all different parts of the country and learn to get along, to help each other and work together. Boys and girls stay in two separate houses provided nearby. We’ve done eight months of the course by now and I’ve really enjoyed it all.”
Shwe Sa Bwe has a full bar with mixology as part of the education. It’s perfect for a night out or a peaceful afternoon meeting. There’s an eclectic selection of books and welcoming sofas, decaf coffee and herbal lime blossom and peppermint tea. Do visit the exciting bathrooms to freshen up: gentlemen’s in zebra, ladies’ in golden leopard, minus the spots. For an all-round wonderful dining experience, take yourself to Shwe Sa Bwe.
Shwe Sa Bwe
20 Malikha St., Mayangon Township
Open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Sunday (closed for Sunday lunch)
This story first appeared in the July 2014 print edition of The Irrawaddy Magazine.