Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 4 September 2014
In a city where the cost of living is increasing at an almost unfathomable pace, Yangon’s Alamanda Inn Bar and Restaurant is bucking the trend by maintaining its reputation for top quality meals at reasonable prices.
French citizen Natasha Schaffner opened the restaurant and bed and breakfast on Bahan township’s leafy Shwe Taung Gyar Road four years ago. From day one, she said, Alamanda Inn has attracted a steady stream of customers.
“When we first opened, we had a lot of guests from the American embassy: they liked our steaks very much. And, oh, the chocolate mousse: everybody loved it! I was working 16 hour days because there were just so many people,” Ms Schaffner told Mizzima Business Weekly.
She added that there’s never been a need to do any marketing whatsoever, leaving bookings up to word of mouth and websites such as Tripadvisor, where former guests and diners have posted a string of highly positive reviews. Another factor Ms Schaffner attributes to Alamanda Inn’s popularity is the reputation it’s established as being good value for money – particularly in comparison with other French restaurants in Yangon, such as Le Planteur.
Due to the absence of active marketing (you won’t even find it on a Facebook page) and the unassumingly small sign on the side of a particularly quiet street, many newcomers to Yangon may be yet to discover its charms. During the dozen or so times I’ve dined at Alamanda Inn, I’ve also found that most taxi drivers haven’t heard of it (should this happen to you, ask for Air Bagan’s head office, which is better known as a landmark and a short hop away from Alamanda Inn). During my most recent visit, however, my cab driver immediately recognised the name and said, “You are French, yes?”
The old adage of judging the authenticity of a restaurant’s cuisine on the basis of the number of nationals who choose to eat there is applicable to the high standards Alamanda Inn maintains: the drifts of conversation overheard are almost always spoken in French.
Alamanda Inn is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it isn’t a place to booze into the night because it closes at 11pm. Yet a romantic dinner it guarantees, because the atmosphere is relaxed, sophisticated and intimate.
The prompt service by local staff in attractive orange silk blouses and lungyis also makes it an ideal place for business meetings conducted over lunch. It’s also a convenient option geographically, as it’s around a 25 minute drive north of central Yangon (which is a small price to pay for the change of scenery it provides from the hustle and bustle of the downtown area).
Meal portions are generous – many main dishes are accompanied by a serving of creamy mashed potato so large it’s difficult to consume in its entirety. There are also pleasant added touches to the overall dining experience, such as the ceramic jar filled with water that arrives on the table the moment you sit down; the fact that no taxes are added to your bill, and a menu tailored specifically for children which includes a choice of a main course and dessert for just K6,500.
Happily, the mark-up on local Myanmar Beer is less than most establishments, with a draft costing K1,500 and a large bottle K2,500. In addition to a long list of aperitifs (which cost between K2,500 and K4,000) there’s also a handful of choice cocktails, as well as cider imported from Normandy.
While French classics such as tartines, crepes (sweet and savoury) are naturally prominent and the sauces accompanied with the fish, pork, beef and chicken mains are by and large French in their flavours, Alamanda Inn also serves up Myanmar fare (which is often a component of the daily specials) and local wines (in addition to French ones).
Also on offer are tajines, a North African stew of spiced meat and vegetables cooked slowly in an earthenware pot, as well as cous cous and pastas. Lighter options include a selection of 11 salads, which range in price from K2,500 to K6,500. The De Pecheur salad (K6,500) includes a refreshing assortment of shrimps, squid, pomelo, rocket lettuce, lime juice and roma tomatoes.
Ingredients are sourced from local markets whenever possible, and in the early years, when items such as cream and butter were far more difficult to obtain, Ms Schaffner would simply adjust by changing the menu. However she said that until relatively recently, the uncertainty inherent in obtaining certain ingredients was one of the biggest challenges she faced in running a French restaurant. Another major challenge was acute electricity shortages. She recalled that on some days there was no electricity whatsoever, and that she and her family would sleep in the open air restaurant when the nights were particularly hot. Due to the negative impact it was having on her business, Ms Schaffner invested in a costly generator six months after Alamanda Inn opened. Wifi is free and particularly speedy.
“Why that is so, I have no idea – but many people come here because they know our connection is good,” she said.
No doubt another means of being able to keep prices down is due to the fact that Alamanda Inn’s restaurant relies on a dozen odd large ceiling fans rather air-conditioning to keep patrons comfortable. Shade is provided by a sloping thatched roof supported by enormous wooden beams, while the open air sides are surrounded by abundant tropical foliage.
Alamanda Inn’s 10 cottage like hotel rooms lie in a secluded spot behind the restaurant. A superior single room is priced at USD$90, while a double is $100 and a family room is $140. Deluxe rooms include a bath tub and balcony and cost $120 per night. Breakfast of muesli, fruit, a baguette, omelette, juice and coffee is included.
Alamanda Inn is located on 60/B Shwe Taung Gyar Road, Bahan Township, Yangon