Offbeat eats at The Black Hat

To the uninitiated visitor, Yangon restaurants are often said to fall into one of three categories: Not bad; not bad for the price; and downright horrific. We firmly suspected The Black Hat Burmese Tapas Wine Bar and Restaurant would be in the latter group, if only because any restaurant that tries to be so many things at once usually fails to succeed at any of them.

In truth, the place is so baffling that we’re still not sure quite what to make of it. For starters, the owners appear to have put far more effort into the décor than the menu, making it worth a visit for the spectacle alone. Stepping inside, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into a oddly curated museum: The walls are crammed with a mishmash of reproduction 1950s film posters and black-and-white photos of colonial Rangoon; kitsch images of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant beam down from the walls; and garish gold columns and art-deco features appear to be an attempt at period glamour. Next to the bar is a white grand piano, surrounded by shiny gramophones and imitation antiques. We can’t help but nosey around the place in sheer awe.

The food, meanwhile, seems completely at-odds with the ostentatious interior. If “Burmese tapas” sounded a bit suspect then do not fear: There is no actual mention of tapas anywhere on the menu. Instead, there’s a small selection of simple Myanmar-style salads, soups and curries not unlike you’d find in a local tea shop. My guest and I order a prawn curry (K12,000) and a mutton curry (K10,000), which are served in rustic tin pots with small dishes of shrimp paste, fish soup and onion salad on the side. Neither are bad exactly, but both are frustratingly bland and under-seasoned. As Nay Thway put it, “It’s just like my mum’s curry, but without the curry taste.” We finish our meals feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

The food may fail to excite, but The Black Hat’s kitsch-factor makes for an offbeat night-time jaunt, if only to enjoy the lively Sunday band over a few reasonably priced – if unimaginative – cocktails. It undoubtedly makes for a much better bar than it does a restaurant, with an expansive wine and cocktail list and daily drinks promotions – served up by cheerful bar staff sporting top hats and braces.

I go home in a state of discombobulation, still unsure what to make of my part tea-shop, part theme-park experience. There is one thing I’m sure of though: The Black Hat is a Yangon restaurant category all of its own.


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