With exciting flavors and offerings from Adelaide to Zurich, Bangkok iis the United Nations of gastronomic possibilities
By Laurence Civil.
Bangkok is the one city where you can practice the art of gastronomy from street level to the finest most elegant restaurants; the United Nations of gastronomic possibilities with exciting flavors from Adelaide to Zurich, and the culinary magnet with the ability to pull in a steady flow of visiting chefs who showcase their world-class cooking skills. Eating well is a matter of attitude here and some of the best food doesn’t have to be expensive, with so many possibilities waiting at hawker stalls in makeshift pavement cafes.
“Eating on the street is the easiest and cheapest of ways to enjoy Thai food,” says David Thompson, Michelin star chef, owner of Nahm Bangkok, and author of the highly informative cookbook, “Thai Street Food.”
“Everything is prepared fresh daily, the food stalls are packed every night. It is a vending style of time that somehow has managed to survive the test of time. I openly admit that I simply cannot compete with them in terms of taste and quality. When I feel hungry I just go downstairs from my apartment and buy what I fancy from our local vendor for a third of what it would have cost me to buy, prepare and cook the dish at home.”
“Phad Thai” means noodles cook the Thai way and is the dish that symbolizes Thai food but curiously it is of Chinese origin — something to fill the stomach of Chinese migrant laborers nearly a century ago, mostly single males living in rooms with no means of cooking.
More Thais in Bangkok eat out daily on the street rather than cook at home. Streetfood is available with the widest selection being available where large groups gather such as schools, bus and railway stations. Ironically in a country where social status is paramount the noodle stalls are a temporary social leveler patronized by all levels of society providing the taste is “aroy” or delicious. The final element of Thai streetfood, not to be missed, are the desserts, wrapped neatly and elegantly in a coconut leaf skewer cooked in a metal box atop a charcoal burner.
For the greatest collection of culinary diversity head to Nana BTS station. At the western side of the station is Soi Nana with the largest collection of Middle Eastern cuisines while at the opposite end in the village community of Sukhumvit Soi 11 where you can find an Australian pub, a German beerhouse, New Zealand fish and chips, Spanish tapas, a Mexican cantina, Italian pizza house, and a few Indian restaurants. For pub grub head to Sukhumvit Soi 33/1 with a choice of two British and one Irish pub.
Wine bar hang-outs are currently mushrooming in Thonglor. Japanese restaurants are very well represented in the Sukhumvit area between Phrom Phong and Ekkamai BTS station while some of the city’s finest and oldest Chinese restaurants can be found in Chinatown around Yaowarat and Charoenkrung roads. Or for those not adventurous to travel try Chef Man at Eastin Grand Hotel on Sathorn with a direct link from Surasak BTS station.
Bangkok is a magnet for some of the world’s finest chefs with a passion to come and cook in Bangkok. Roughly every three months, Le Normandie at Mandarin Oriental, regarded as one of the finest restaurants in Southeast Asia, hosts a three star Michelin chef such as Thomas Keller, Michel Roux, or Sophie Pix. Every five years Le Tour d’Argent serves their specialty of pressed Chalon Duck.
Since 2007, then The Regent now The Four Seasons Bangkok have hosted their weeklong “World Gourmet Festival,” where friends from around the world gather to meet and celebrate the art of culinary indulgence. One such culinary pilgrim is Canadian born Peter Green, a senior executive with Aramco in Saudi Arabia, a faithful gastro disciple for the past eight years. He dedicated his entire stay to sampling the best on offer, which is surprising as it’s better value to eat when the best are visiting than to eat in their own restaurants.
We are blessed that the city attracts new dynamic culinary players. Currently one of my favorites is L’Apart, the elegant Champagne bar and restaurant on 32nd floor of Sofitel Sukhumvit, the in-my-dreams apartment of your favorite rich uncle inspired by the 19th Century Parisian architecture of Baron Haussmann complete with lounge, library, dining room, and open kitchen from where the highly talented Jeremy Tourret passionately makes the best with the freshest ingredients available to him.
Another gastro gem is Tables on the Mezanine floor of Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok. This is the city’s first traditional European restaurant offering table-side cooking. Here the highly talented Chef Michel Eschmann offers an a la carte service, having ordered the raw ingredients of each course are presented at the table then to the bronze topped cooking table to be cooked a la minute. A menu that sufficient choice without demanding to many choices of the customer, they cook openly and transparently with the freshest highest quality ingredients, with no secrets to hide.
Gaggan was the first Indian and second Asian to study molecular gastronomy in Catalonia with Ferran Adria at El Bulli. It was there that the seeds of a new approach to Indian cuisine were planted. His temple of gastronomy is located in a 70 –year-old house on the left on the far end of dark lane opposite Langsuan Soi 3. The most popular seat is at the Chef’s Table for 10, to get that book at least two weeks ahead and you may be lucky.
Water Library Grass Thonglor is a 10-seater Chef’s table restaurant the smallest and potentially the most expensive restaurant In Bangkok. On arrival guests are offered a glass of Louis Roederer NV Champagne at the bar. When all 10 guest have arrived who could be from separate parties they proceed upstairs to the Dining Room.
The 10-seat Chef’s Table is a deep counter with space behind for the Chef Haikal Jahori and his brigade of two young chefs from Singapore, to cook plate and present each of the 10 courses with meticulous precision. Wines are poured my restaurant manager Manop Chakumrod, formerly with Le Normandie at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.
In front of each place setting a black envelope sealed by red wax. Having open the envelope they discover the season menu with two wine pairing options; on the left is the Descouverte wine pairings at Bt8,400 and Descouverte Exceptionelle Bt58, 400, which include Champagne Louis Roederer “Cristal” 2004, Griottes-Chambertin Grand Crus Joseph Roty 2007, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1998 and Chateau d’Yquen 1996. A concept where both chefs and service staff interact with the guests, it’s not just a meal but a culinary experience.
Bangkok’s dining scene gained international recognition in April 2012 when David Thompson’s Nahm at The Metropolitan was the first restaurant in Thailand ever to be listed in the San Pellegrino’s “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.” The voting is made by an Academy of 880 of the world’s leading culinary professionals.
“We are blessed with the selection of quality ingredients we can source here in Thailand,” he says. “With greater access to more ingredients sourced from specific suppliers add layers of complexity to the taste of the best Thai dining experience we are offering. I have a larger canvas on which I can paint, scribble and doodle in the quest for excellence.”
Whether your passion is for hot chilies on the street, to sip the finest Champagne before dinner, or something in between, Bangkok is the city to awaken, excite, stimulate, and satisfy your taste buds. Whether you dine on a budget or go for the best — as the Thai say, “it’s up to you!”