Bangkok is not a city for the faint hearted; in fact, I’ve come to realise it’s a bit of a marmite kind of town. You either love it or hate it. In our case, we love it… it wasn’t love at first sight but after three decent stints, we’re firm fans. So much so that we’ve often talked about how we could see ourselves living there for a while, to truly get under its skin. I would ecstatically devote my days to uncovering the nooks and crannies you don’t get to find when you’re just visiting, and eat my way through the side alleys and street stalls. But what really excites us about Bangkok is that on top of all that, there’s also a burgeoning contemporary restaurant scene which is dead set on catching up with its more established Western counterparts.
Right now, the food industry in Bangkok feels like a land of opportunity that everyone wants a piece of. International chefs are flocking to this fertile ground, while local chefs are upping their game to hold their place. Contemporary fine dining here doesn’t seem to have the same constraints or rules, perceived or otherwise, that may exist elsewhere and as a result, the cuisine is ambitious and creative. As a diner, this gets me salivating and hungry for more… new restaurants are popping up all over the city, some of them are serving up traditional Thai flavours in a fresh new approach, whilst others are bringing their own style and incorporating the very best of Thai ingredients!
ERR: Urban Rustic Thai, Rattanakosin
Bangkok has quite a few high-profile restaurants which have been recognised as paving the way for an influx of creative, modern Thai restaurants. Bo.Lan is undoubtedly one of these trend-setters, and from the same team comes Err, their more casual creation. The menu is generous but handily split into sections which include grilled, fried, wok-cooked, curries, and their specialities, preserved and pickled dishes. We found the service a little lacklustre when we went but otherwise, the whole experience was relaxed and tasty – our highlights were definitely the moo ping (pork skewers) and the fermented pork sausage.
Supanniga Eating Room, Thonglor and Sathorn
Supanniga Eating Room is not new to most, having been featured on many must-eat lists since the arrival of the first restaurant in Thonglor and the second in Sathorn, but I think it’s still worth a mention. The formula to their success is simple; homestyle Thai dishes done well, priced reasonably, and served in a chic, comfortable environment. The menu, a rather daunting tome, did remind me somewhat of the Thai restaurants I used to avoid in my university days, but much to my relief, the food did not. We started with classic appetisers; golf-ball sized nuggets of pork and crabmeat, deep-fried until golden brown and sinfully satisfying, balanced out by a tangy nam prik dipping sauce topped with pork crackling and served with fresh vegetables. If nibbles don’t entice you, go straight for the crowd favourite, creamy massaman curry, or the more unusual but equally delicious sour soup with crispy dried fish. That’s the beauty of Supanniga Eating Room – they’ve got all the familiar favourites mixed in with the slightly more unique, local dishes.
Baan: Thai Family Recipes, Lumphini
Another casual offering with a more famous and sophisticated older sister is Baan, from chef ThiTid Tassanakajohn of Le Du fame. We chose this spot for our first night back in Bangkok as a comforting and easy re-introduction to the cuisine, and enjoyed the unapologetically bold flavours in every mouthful. For the meat-eaters, their signature Massaman curry with lamb belly and grilled pork jowl salad are must orders alongside a classic somtum. However there’s a lot of other stuff to love here like a braised tofu dish which we devoured even though initially skeptical about the gloopy sauce, and any of the seafood offerings! We were lucky to nab a walk-in table, but you should definitely do what a London-based celebrity chef we spotted that night do, and make a reservation in advance because we did see people get turned away.
100 Mahaseth, Silom
When a fellow Instagrammer and prolific Bangkok eater recommended 100 Mahaseth, we were instantly sold on the place when we saw the words ‘nose to tail’. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the chef Chalee Kader already has a string of successful restaurants under his belt and it seems 100 Mahaseth is another he can add to that. The style is Isan from Northeastern Thailand, and the focus is one using almost everything as far as we could tell… we spent ages studying the menu and found it quite challenging narrowing it down to just over a handful of dishes because we literally wanted it all. On chef’s recommendation, we had to get the charcoal bone marrow topped with lemongrass and perilla seeds, but all of our choices were incredible… highlights included the beef entrails with drops of bile (sounds hellish, tastes heavenly), grilled hearts, a beef tartare, and the pork scratchings… a certain someone would go as far as to claim they are the best he has even eaten!
I came across Canvas when looking for something new to try in Bangkok, and was immediately drawn to its calling card of contemporary fine dining showcasing local ingredients. The fact that this made me swoon and reserve a table immediately will come as no surprise to regular readers; I love the finesse that comes with fine dining, but also the creativity around using traditional local ingredients, in an untraditional context. Seated at the bar with a full view of the sleek kitchen, we happily watched the chefs seamlessly construct the delicate dishes from either the six or nine course menus on offer. The opening gambit, a lone crayfish with its imposing head still on but shell-less on the tail, was bold and beautifully adorned with fresh lemongrass and other local herbs. This was a good start, but the hits kept coming… a heavenly toasted rice bread well deserving of being a course on its own, crab swimming in a creamy turmeric sauce with sticky rice, duck breast with peanut and santol, a local fruit. I loved all the skilfully combined flavours; some of which were familiar and comforting whilst others were a true insight into Thai produce. Canvas is elegant, progressive, fusion cuisine at its finest – well worth taking a detour for!
Bunker struck me as a good place to go with a bunch of friends who are happy to enthusiastically attack the menu and knock back the eclectic cocktails; basically it’s wreaks of cool and casualness! The dishes on offer are another jumble of East meets West, but in a good way. I like this kind of food; I don’t mind that it doesn’t have a clear identity, as long as the flavours are in harmony and it’s delivered well. The organic fried chicken was pure finger-licking comfort, but it was the starters which really impressed me. I merrily scooped up every last morsel of wagyu beef tartare, and a certain someone and I basically scraped the bone clean of the gelatinous, oozy marrow topped with crispy shallots and pickled peppers. And there were so many other things that intrigued me, hence my suggestion to bring hungry friends and hunker down for a night of munching at Bunker.
80/20 first came onto our radar when we were actually dining at Macalister Mansion in Penang; they were doing a collaboration dinner later that week and though we couldn’t attend, we perused the menu anyway and liked what we saw. The name comes from their commitment to ensuring that 80% of what they use is locally sourced or created in house, a sentiment we respected. The whimsical ‘underwater memories’ which layered textures and flavours of seafood accompanied by a tea was beautiful and delicate. We then launched into the serious stuff with the braised goat’s ribs and smoky duck breast, both intensely meaty and rich. What I can only describe as a deconstructed mochi, and an elegant combination of ‘Thai citrus’ gave simultaneously gave us a sugar rush and a sense of completion. It was a tight race but this was definitely our favourite meal in Bangkok as it sums up everything we now love about the dining scene here – a commitment to what is local and cultural, with an ambition to push boundaries.
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