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!
Years of eating sub-standard Thai food everywhere other than Thailand had me conditioned to break into a state of despair any time anyone suggested we ‘go out for Thai’. I am realistic; I know that the authenticity of any of that food I was eating was dubious. However, I am also proof that after one too many gluey pad Thai noodles or watered down green curries, your faith in the real real is also somewhat watered down. In my early twenties I endured the tacky cookie-cutter Thai restaurants which were the scene of every second (alternating with Indian) BYO dinner in silence because I didn’t want to rock the boat. In my late twenties I became more sure of my distain and only very occasionally put aside my prejudices for the much-lauded Thai restaurants in London, only to be disappointed time and time again. Then I went to Bangkok.
Though there was no instant epiphany, that would have been too easy. Bangkok showcased just one teeny tiny part of this country’s food culture, but it seemed like a good place for me to start my Thai food education. My first visit made me ‘not hate Thai food so much’, my recent visit helped me understand and respect it a lot more. With all the temple-touring and must-do sightseeing out of the way on the first trip, we spent our days focused on food. Bangkok is one of those cities so food-centric that you can literally eat your way round the world by jumping on the Sky Train, but some of the best food you’ll taste will be still the local dishes. These are the places where the locals will queue, the recipes have been the unchanged for the years, and people will excitedly traverse the city for… these are the places that gave me a true taste of Thai food!
I have so many fond memories from our time in South East Asia, but there is one in particular which will forever be etched on my mind for all the wrong reasons. We were having lunch at a popular Chiang Mai restaurant, and all around us families, couples, and large groups of friends were all happily devouring the delicious food while drinking water from plastic bottles, poured into plastic cups, sipped through plastic straws. The ridiculousness of that sight is one I will never forget; what brief amusement it caused soon gave way to despair. Single-use plastic consumption is a hot topic right now. We can no longer deny the damage it is causing to our environment and I think we all have a responsibility to do something about it. A certain someone and I are slowly but surely reducing our plastic usage which means being more conscious about sustainability when it comes to making all sorts of consumer choices… and hotels are definitely one of them!
We have become those guests who leave some constructive feedback as to how a hotel might consider changing some of their habits to become more sustainable – we’re not evangelically demanding anything, merely planting the achievable seeds for change. We did, however, recently come across one hotel where no hints or suggestions were needed because they have already gone ahead and eliminated all single-use plastic from their property, the first hotel in Asia to do so. Let me introduce you to akyra TAS Sukhumvit, a five star boutique hotel which is the newest property in the akyra portfolio and the first to implement the company’s stance on being single-use plastic free…
“Come for the experience, not the hype”. That’s what Gaggan suggests his guests do when they dine at his eponymous restaurant in Bangkok. Seemingly sound advice, a reasonable request even, but my problem was that regardless of whether I came for one or the other, neither stacked up. The hype is unavoidable. Even if you don’t have a Netflix account and an unhealthy obsession with current food culture, the chances are you’ve still at least heard of the runaway hit Chef’s Table. For the viewers, it’s an insight into the lives and inner workings of some extraordinary culinary minds, and for the chefs themselves, I imagine it’s ticket to celebrity chef stardom and a guaranteed full house for the next few years.
If Chef’s Table lured me in, it was the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards who sealed the deal when they awarded Gaggan the top spot for the third year running. Upon reading that, I decided on a whim to make a booking; with only a couple of weeks until our Bangkok visit, I wasn’t holding out much hope but imagine my elation when they confirmed our table for two. So yeah, I fell for the hype; hook, line and inspirational-sob-story sinker, but after embarking on this twenty-something course journey at Gaggan, I was disappointed to say that I did not fall head over heels for the experience.