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Eating out in Bangkok has never been as exciting as it is now. Bangkok’s best restaurants offer up everything from Thai street food with a twist and molecular Thai, to creative contemporary French and ‘progressive Indian’.
It’s often said about eating out in Bangkok that the best food is found on the streets not in the restaurants. It’s still true to a certain extent, but in recent years Bangkok’s dining scene has improved immensely. While we’d rather feast at our favourite stalls on Soi 38 than cookie-cutter Thai restaurants catering to tourists who want to play it safe, the restaurants below – the city’s must-do dining experiences, in our opinions – are ones we enthusiastically recommend and here’s why…
The Aussie master of Thai cuisine branches out in Bangkok
Terence: David Thompson was the first chef to make me think about Thai food as more than just take-away curries, fish cakes and satay – over 15 years ago when we ate at his restaurant Darley Street Thai restaurant in Sydney. Here at Nahm he’s digging into old Thai cookbooks and cooking up authentic, often long-forgotten Thai dishes, and really pushing boundaries – just try the fermented fish with prawns and pork or the smoky Chiang Mai chilli relish with pork scratchings and quail eggs. Wow. My only gripe is the room – I’ve just never warmed to this hotel and its restaurant and bar spaces. Other than that, it’s a must-do for foodies. Kudos for attempting wine matching too.
Lara: I agree about the hotel, and while I think the restaurant’s décor is clever – I like the pillars, which remind me of the Ayutthaya architecture – the surfaces, especially those polished marble floors, are too cold, and lights too bright. Regardless, this is easily one of Bangkok’s best restaurants – I’d argue that it’s the best – it’s really all about the food, which is fascinating, fresh, complex, and full of flavour. My favourite dish is the fermented fish, which David warned us was like a smelly French cheese, and it was! A yummy smelly French cheese.
Metropolitan Hotel, 27 South Sathorn Road, Sathorn. 02 625 3333.
SOUL FOOD MAHANAKORN
Super street food, killer cocktails and a soulful soundtrack
Terence: It shouldn’t work, really. A name that makes you think of American fried chicken. Thai street food taken indoors by a farang in a neighbourhood with inexpensive street food nearby on Soi 38. And a drinks menu with an emphasis on cocktails? However, the ‘street food’ here is market-fresh, organic, and cooked by local chefs, it has a funky soundtrack, the cocktails are brilliant and lethal, and the American farang, owner Jarrett Wrisley, turns out to be a food writer who loves Thailand, is passionate about Thai food, and loves it hot. (Read our interview with Jarrett about Thai street food here.) And the name isn’t so silly after all, fried chicken is soul food in Thailand! Why didn’t someone think of this before?
Lara: This Thai-style take on a Japanese izakaya is my favourite restaurant in Bangkok, for all the reasons you’ve said: funky space, cool sounds, killer cocktails, buzzy atmosphere, affable host, and, above all, fantastic, fresh Thai ‘street food’ with a twist. The fact that Jarrett is continually offering new cocktail and food specials makes it very easy to drop by every week to see what’s new! But there are some dishes I don’t want him to ever take off the menu, like the nam prik pao (chilli jam), the smoked duck larb (minced salad), and the spicy kale with crispy pork salad. Yum! I love this place!
56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thonglor. 02 714 7708.
Death to the cookie-cutter Thai restaurant
Terence: Aussie Dylan Jones and his Thai wife Bo (Duangporn Songvisava) met while working at David Thompson’s Nahm in London, and they share that same restlessness and uncompromising nature as their former mentor, really pushing boundaries with the ‘Bo.lan Balance’ tasting menu. Sure, there are curries and soups on the menu, but you’ve probably never tasted them like this – the hot and sour soup of pork ribs and pickled mustard is a revelation. The only occasional let down can be the service, which fortunately brightens up when Bo escapes the heat of the kitchen and visits tables.
Lara: Like Nahm and Soul Food, a meal at Bo.lan is one of those must-do Bangkok dining experiences, offering a different experience entirely again. I love the restaurant itself, set in one of those beautiful renovated Bangkok houses that you occasionally find tucked away in the backstreets. The décor manages to be both cosy and stylish and the striking art on the walls really sets the tone for what the place is all about. The food is uncompromising, and Bo and Dylan are the first to admit that – which means it’s some of the most fiery food we’ve eaten in Thailand, and also means that while we don’t always love everything on the 10-course tasting menu, the dishes we don’t like are nevertheless still interesting. I always love their relishes! My gripe was that the zingy ginger martini, which I loved, wasn’t served in a martini glass.
42 Soi Pichai Ronnarong Songkram, Sukhumvit 26. 02 260 2961.
Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin
Danish chef. Molecular. Thai. No, really.
Terence: I guess molecular Thai food had to happen, but I didn’t think that it would taste so good. Thankfully, it’s been tackled by the chef who currently has the only Michelin star for a Thai restaurant, Henrik Yde-Andersen of Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, and his Thai business partner, Lertchai Treetawatchaiwong. Inventive, playful, thoughtful and (mostly) authentic in flavour, it’s one of the most exciting restaurants in Bangkok.
Lara: Our meal here was delightful. ‘The Harvest’, a small flowerpot filled with ‘soil’ and green curry mousse, with a baby carrot ‘growing’ from it, set the tone for the rest of the meal, but my favourite was the dish that was probably the most talked-about plate in Bangkok last year, the frozen red curry with baby lobster salad and lychee foam. Then there was the tom ka ice cream cone, which was spicy yet refreshing. Could I eat this kind of food every week? Probably not, but definitely every few months and special occasions. And it’s a restaurant you want to dress up for. The high-ceilinged room is elegant and dramatic, yet the wood paneling, lamps, and garden features give the space a warmth and earthiness.
Siam Kempinski Hotel, 991/9 Rama 1 Rd. 02 162 9000.
The best contemporary French-Med cooking in Bangkok
Terence: A partnership with the highly regarded Pourcel brothers from Montpellier (who have three Michelin stars), D’Sens is an homage to their Le Jardin des Sens restaurant. While the Pourcels visit from time to time, Chef Julien Lavigne is in charge here, creating exquisite French fare with premium ingredients and a light touch. We’ve tried all the other highly fancied French restaurants in town, and this is the best by a fair distance. A great sommelier too!
Lara: I adore this restaurant – sorry, j’adore D’Sens! I think it’s highly underrated and misunderstood in Bangkok. The last time we ate here it was a Friday night and there were empty tables – I don’t think people realise how creative the contemporary French-Med cuisine is. The dish that still stands out for me was the cannellonis with crumbed fresh crab salad, a light liquorice jelly, ‘coral’ of sea urchin, and ‘grains’ of caviar. It was as extraordinary as it sounds. The service is outstanding and the glamorous room is romantic. And those views across Lumpini Park of the city skyline are just stunning once the sun sets. You can savour them from the restaurant bar, which also does superb cocktails. It’s another restaurant that you want to dress up for and settle into for a while. Dusit Thani Hotel, 946 Rama IV Road. Opposite Lumpini Park. 02 200 9000.
Indian. Molecular. In Bangkok?!
Terence: Indian chef Gaggan Anand was the first Indian chef to study under the pioneer of ‘molecular gastronomy’, Spain’s Ferran Adrià. (Read that story here.) Light and contemporary are not words generally used to describe Indian food, but Gaggan makes it work. He calls it ‘progressive Indian’. I’d just like him to push it further and banish the ravioli, risotto and other non-Indian dishes from the menu. After all, Indian cuisine is one of the richest and most complex in the world – plenty to explore without having to put other cuisines on the plates.
Lara: Like Sra Bua, a meal here is a really fun experience. The tasting menu we had was a delight: house-made yoghurt ‘egg’ with Indian spices; oysters with Indian lemonade; corn salad with dried corn powder and fresh coriander and chives; chicken tikka with coriander and mint foam… it was all sublime. While I still enjoyed the mushroom risotto and truffle ravioli that was on the menu when we last ate here (which Gaggan maintains has Indian influences and inspirations), I didn’t get their place on the menu. Having said that, I could eat here every week – I love the light, white, airy dining rooms in what is a truly beautiful, renovated old wooden villa, and the candlelit courtyard, the friendly staff and the down-to-earth yet professional service. And it’s fantastic value. The cocktails here too are fantastic.
68/1 Soi Langsuan, opposite Soi 3. 02 652 1700.
La Table de Tee
A talented young Thai chef makes his mark
Terence: Tee is a chef to watch. After a stint in London earning his stripes in Michelin-starred restaurant kitchens, Chatree ‘Tee’ Kachornklin returned to Thailand and opened his first restaurant in this modest little space where his cooking is anything but humble. Using Thai ingredients and French/Thai techniques, Tee makes most of the French restaurants in Bangkok look out of touch. While the food is still trying to find real focus, Tee is only 25 years old. I think he’s a great talent.
Lara: Agree! This is another restaurant I can return to often. I like the low-lit, low-key ambiance of the room, and the buzzy atmosphere when the place is full – which is most nights. It feels like a neighbourhood restaurant, with low prices to match – this must surely be Bangkok’s best value tasting menu? Based on fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients, many from Tee’s own farm, the French-Thai food is deftly prepared and prettily presented. And it’s impressive that he presents a new tasting menu every day, based on what’s fresh and available. My only complaint was that some of the portions were too large when we ate there. Pray that the peanut macarons are on when you eat here!
69/5 Saladaeng Road, Silom. 02 636 3220.