For Myanmar’s Well-Heeled, a Moveable Feast

By Lisa Shwe 21 October 2013

YANGON — If it weren’t for a view of Shwedagon Pagoda from the terrace outside, a stop at Agnes restaurant in Yangon might feel like an excursion to Paris for a rendezvous with the French bourgeoisie.

The restaurant, part of the high-end Kandawgyi Palace Hotel, offers French haute cuisine and a sophisticated ambiance to match—a teak walkway leads from the main hotel building to a well-lit dining space with French Renaissance-style paintings and statues, elegant blue-cushioned chairs, and tables topped with fresh flowers.

The chef, Christophe Buzaré, originally hails from the French region of Brittany and worked previously at Le Planteur—another spot in Yangon known for gourmet French cuisine. He moved to Agnes for its opening last year and says he cooks in traditional French style with an emphasis on locally grown herbs and vegetables.

His menu offers an extensive choice of dishes, all suited to epicurean tastes—a sampling includes grilled lobster medallions on green tea-scented risotto; pan-fried foie gras on caramelized pears and ginger bread; and roasted duck breast with honey and rosemary sauce. For adventurous eaters, he recommends the slow-roasted Black Forest pigeon, a plump bird imported from the France-Germany border and served with crushed violet potato, though he says the recommendation often meets some resistance. “In Myanmar, people get scared to eat it. After I explain that these aren’t the pigeons from Shwedagon Pagoda, but specially imported from France, they try,” he says with a laugh.

If that doesn’t convince you, opt for another of his specialties, the Brittany-style langoustines with risotto—a dish so rich it practically melts in the mouth.  And for dessert, don’t pass on the chocolate fondant cake, a real taste of decadence that’s filled with hot fudge, topped with icing sugar, and served with raspberry sauce and homemade star anise ice cream.

The food seems fit for royalty, but be warned, so are the prices. Appetizers range from about US $15 to $30 and entrees from about $30 to $50. For more bang for your buck, a set business lunch is offered Monday to Saturday for $25. The meal starts with a tray of bite-sized hors d’oeuvres and continues with a pre-selected appetizer, a dish of your choice from the a la carte menu and a pre-selected dessert. The more upscale “Discovery Menu,” at $75, is a six-course meal that comes with five glasses of wine.

For wine aficionados willing to spend even more, Agnes has a cellar with exclusive vintage wines not found on the regular menu. Bottle prices start at about $200 and top out at about $3,000, according to Mr. Ho Kok Fai, director of food and beverage at the hotel. He says the restaurant once imported a $64,000 bottle of Chateau Petrus, one of the world’s most expensive wines, but had to send it back after failing to find any takers in Yangon. (The regular wine list offers more affordable options, with house wines starting at $5.)

Large groups can ask to be seated in a private dining room, with butler service, a sound system and a private balcony at no extra charge. But for arguably the best seat in the house, take a table outside on the terrace, overlooking Kandawgyi Lake, and enjoy the view of Yangon’s famous Shwedagon Pagoda. “At the six o’clock sunset, a gold color comes over the lake,” says Mr. Buzare. “It’s the best view in Yangon.”

Agnes is certainly a splurge, but for a unique experience that brings together French flair with a view of Myanmar’s most sacred sight, there are few spots better suited to indulgence.

Open daily from 11 am – 2:30 pm for lunch and from 6:30 pm – 10 pm for dinner.

This story first appeared in the October 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.