The Buzzy Silom Sathorn District of Bangkok
Home to sunny cafés, seductive speakeasies and two of Asia’s best restaurants, the buzzy new Silom Sathorn district of Bangkok has evolved into the Thai capital’s hottest new drinking and dining neighbourhood.
Thailand’s military coup d’état of May 2014 may have kept tourists away for a time but it’s been business as usual in Bangkok where restaurants and bars remain busy and a flurry of fabulous openings has revitalized two of the oldest parts of the city.
In the backstreets of the Silom Sathorn district, two neighbouring areas – the first known for its street food, girlie bars and gay scene, the other for its galleries, tailor shops and gem stores – a lively new eating and drinking area has emerged.
Scattered along the leafy residential backstreets of Silom Sathorn, midway between riverside Bangrak, Bangkok’s oldest neighbourhood, and sprawling Lumphini Park, these buzzy spots may be within walking distance to some of Bangkok’s finest five star hotels yet they’re under the radar for many visitors.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
While not new, Silom Sathorn’s engaging galleries are worth a couple of hours of your time, including H Gallery, which shows Thai and international art in a beautiful heritage building (201 Sathorn Soi 12); Kathmandu, dedicated to local photography (87 Soi Pan/Silom Soi 13); Artery, focusing on emerging Thai art (2/2 Soi 19 Silom Rd); and Thavibu, focused on Thai, Vietnamese and Burmese art (919/1 Silom Rd). These and others feature on the Bangkok Art Map, available at all galleries and many cafés.
VISIT A TEMPLE
One of Bangkok’s busiest temples, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, or Wat Khaek or Uma Devi Temple as it’s called by Thais, is a Hindu temple, however, you’ll see people of all religions here simply to take in the colour and atmosphere. There always seems to be some sort of ritual going on, but even if there isn’t, it’s still worth a look. Located on Silom Soi 13, also called Soi Pan (where Kathmandu is located above), there are many small shops around the temple selling Indian groceries, bindies, incense, flowers etc for offerings.
SAMPLE STREET FOOD
Silom and Sathorn have long been known for their street food, as is the adjoining area of Bangrak, the city’s oldest neighbourhood. On Bangkok Food Tours’ award winning walk through the historic quarter you can try local specialties such as khao na phed, roast duck and rice, at family-owned eateries such as Mr Soong’s 50-year-old restaurant.
WHERE TO DRINK
The area is brimming with buzzy new cafés and bars.
When Rocket opened last year, this cool little neighbourhood café brought some clean-lined Scandinavian style to Sathorn Silom’s gritty backstreets. Inspired by cafes in Stockholm, Sydney and San Francisco, the owners (a trio of successful Swedish mixologists) created a very contemporary yet warm and welcoming space, with communal tables and a U-shaped bar. The big draw is their artisanal breads and pastries baked on the premises daily, great coffee that comes from small batch coffee roasters, and wholesome, healthy dishes created from organic produce. Expect anything from daily-made vegetable soups (try the carrot-cumin if you’re there on a Thursday) to Banana waffles with whipped mascarpone, strawberry-lavender preserve and fresh strawberries.
149 Sathorn Soi 12, 66 2635 0404, Sathorn www.rocketcoffeebar.com
Art gallery owner Martine Pailloux opened this airy, light-filled café last May, which she decorated with mismatched handcrafted furniture made from recycled wood, design objects, modish light fittings, and a rotating exhibition of art and photography on the walls. Fruit bowls and cookie jars on the marble counter, stacks of magazines scattered about, herb pots on tables, and friendly service ensure it’s more café than gallery. Italian chef Marco Rosato’s light, healthy mod-Med comfort food makes use of fresh seasonal organic produce from the Royal Projects, and features flavourful vegetarian options. Locals and expats appreciate the all day weekend brunches and business travellers from nearby hotels appear to prefer the delicious set breakfasts to five star hotel buffets.
71/2 Sathorn Soi 10, Sathorn 66 2635 3673
Still very much under the radar, this glam, dimly-lit cocktail bar is a speakeasy in the true sense of the term – there is no sign out front and access is via an alley beside Lady Brett and up a couple of flights of stairs behind the restaurant. While there’s a DJ some nights, the focus is on the drinks. The owners, the same team behind Rocket and longstanding gastro-bar Hyde & Seek, are three Swedish mixologists who have been making the city’s best cocktails for the best part of a decade. Expect handcrafted cocktails, including many old recipes, made with premium spirits and house-made infusions, served in fine vintage-inspired glassware.
149 Sathorn Soi 12, Sathorn www.avunculus.com
NAMSAAH BOTTLING TRUST
At Namsaah Bottling Trust, the newish gastro-pub of chef Ian Kittichai of Issaya Siamese Club, chase salmon tartar wonton ‘tacos’ with Negronis made from fresh tangerine juice and roasted mandarin. Longer review below.
401 Silom Soi 7 www.namsaah.com.
You can savour barrel-aged cocktails and infused spirits at Vesper, a lively cocktail bar and European-style bistro. See below for more info.
10/15 Convent Road, Silom
At Shanghai-inspired speakeasy Maggie Choo’s, order heady cocktails and Thai-Chinese dishes while watching live cabaret, jazz and blues. The concept is the brainchild of Australian Ashley Sutton, responsible for the design of Bangkok’s most original bars, and it’s ran by Sanya Souvanna Phouma of Bed Supper Club fame.
320 Silom Road, Sathorn. Maggie Choo’s Facebook page
WHERE TO DINE
The hottest place in the ’hood at #25 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list Eat Me isn’t new. In fact it’s 16 years old – ancient in Bangkok years – but has remained au courant thanks to a team with their fingers on the pulse. Australian Darren Hausler and food stylist sister Cherie opened this local institution when there was little in the area except food stalls. The good-looking retro space would be a grand old dame if it weren’t for frequent nips and tucks by American designer Kelly Wheatley of LUMP, whose handcrafted furniture is made from recycled wood and vintage fabric. CIA-trained chef Tim Butler (formerly of New York’s Daniel) continually tweaks his seasonal menu of fine produce-driven cuisine that Hausler calls “modern, international, regional’. Try the Australian salt bush lamb rack with broad bean, mint and charred lemon. Bangkok’s star mixologist Joseph Boroski, is responsible for the classic cocktails. A favourite with hospitality industry folks who dine and drink here late; kitchen closes at 1am.
Soi Pipat 2, off Convent Road, Silom 66 2238 0931 www.eatmerestaurant.com
Just over a year old, the unpretentious décor of this petite restaurant belies the elegance of the contemporary Thai cuisine artfully arranged on the plates. The Thai owner-chef, 28 year-old Thitid ‘Ton’ Tassanakajohn trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked at Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges in New York. Le Du means ‘the season’ in Thai and the Ton is sourcing quality seasonal produce from around Thailand to create some of Bangkok’s most intriguing and most contemporary food right now. Dishes such as local ostrich, tamarind, winged beans, sticky rice, chilli paste, and roasted rice incorporate modernist techniques without the silly tricks and gimmicks. Don’t even think about ordering anything but the tasting menu with wine pairing. Ton is also a qualified sommelier.
399/3 Silom Soi 7, Silom 92 919 9969 www.ledubkk.com
NAMSAAH BOTTLING TRUST
We love Namsaah because it’s both a fabulous cocktail sipping and snacking spot (downstairs) or an atmospheric dining space (upstairs). ‘Namsaah’ is an old Thai name for sparkling water – a nod to the former life of this crimson early 20th century villa as a soda bottling company office. It was also the residence of a royal aide-de-camp and a bank headquarters. Owners Thai chef Ian Kittichai (Issaya Siamese Club, Smith) and manager Justin Dunne (Bed Supper Club, KuDeTa) tried to capture some of that colourful history in the grand building’s latest incarnation as a fun bar and restaurant. And they succeeded. Following its July 2014 opening Namsaah quickly became a local favourite for its atmospheric décor, idiosyncratic soundtrack, whimsical cocktails, and playful Asian inspired dishes like salmon tartar wonton ‘tacos’ and a pink krapow burger (Wagyu beef in a pink peppercorn bun). Match them with a smoky Negroni created from fresh tangerine juice and roasted mandarin oranges or a Whiskey Sour made with Thai Sangsom ‘whisky’ and salted caramel.
401 Silom Soi 7, Silom 66 2636 6622 www.namsaah.com
When it opened in March last year this European-style bistro and cocktail bar injected some sophistication into a street previously distinguished by an Irish pub and Mexican joint. By day Vesper has a gentleman’s club vibe with its leather Chesterfield sofas and black and white tiled floor. After dark, when the lights are turned down and music turned up loud, things get pleasantly boisterous. Named after the Vesper martini, the drinks by London’s Fluid Movement mixologists draw a discerning crowd for the infused spirits and barrel aged cocktails, as much as the Spanish-Italian comfort food by Chef Luca Appino, where tapas introduce a menu of pizzas, grills, and handmade pastas, such as Orecchiette ‘Bocca di Lupo’ made with spicy Nduja sausage from Calabria.
10/15 Convent Road, Silom 66 2235 2777 www.versperbar.com
A year old this month, low-ceilinged Lady Brett, with its long bar and warm wood paneling, is a hip, cosy, contemporary take on the kind of relaxed New York neighbourhood tavern where you can hang out all day and comfortably dine alone with a book. And that’s exactly what Bangkok’s locals and expats are doing. The food is hearty old-fashioned comfort food with a twist. Follow the roast tomato-garlic bisque with grilled prawns, caraway cream and croutons with a braised lamb melt in your mouth lamb shank with truffle roast pumpkin and rosemary cherry sauce.
Sathorn Soi 12, Sathorn 66 2635 0405 www.ladybrett.com
WHERE TO STAY
The W’s arty vibe and clubby style reflects the character of Sathorn, a district in the city’s central-west dotted with galleries and speakeasies, and neighbouring Silom, best known for its nightlife and gay scene. Interiors by New York design firm AvroKO and Thai-based architecture and design house SODA feature playful installations by local artists such as a wall of tuk tuk lights and whimsical touches such as cushions made from satin Muay Thai boxer shorts and oversized boxing gloves on beds in the 402 rooms.
106 North Sathorn Rd, Silom www.whotelbangkok.com
METROPOLITAN BY COMO
That this minimalist boutique hotel is home to chef David Thompson’s Nahm, number 7 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, is reason enough to stay. Its location was once an inconvenience, but is now within walking distance of many of Silom’s new cafés, restaurants and bars. Or stay in for superb breakfasts and to loll about the 25-metre swimming pool.
27 South Sathorn Rd, Silom comohotels.com/metropolitanbangkok