Quick Thoughts on Bangkok

19 Oct

I’ve recently spent quite a bit of time in Bangkok. Without a Michelin guide to guide me to the best places in Bangkok, I initially used the Asia’s 50 Best restaurants guide to eat around Bangkok, and then Bangkok.com’s Best restaurants list. I’ve now eaten at all of Bangkok’s restaurants in the top 50, and here are my quick thoughts and ratings on them, as well as a few others places (rankings on the 2014 Asia’s 50 Best in brackets):

  1. (#1) Nahm – one of the best and most precise restaurants I’ve eaten in, though it is not perhaps designed to give you a best-meal-in-my-life experience due to its family-style service. Desserts here are the best thing, save space for them. I’ve been here 3 times now and the quality has been consistent. (Rating: 18/20)
    • a fuller write-up can be found here
  2. (#3) Gaggan – shock-and-awe molecular techniques applied to Indian food. Most of the dishes are just luxury proteins in an Indian sauce. This lack of imagination in pairing luxury proteins with Indian sauces is a turnoff, especially since Gaggan is a supposedly a cutting-edge molecular restaurant. I also feel cooking here is imprecise – part of it may be that the boldness of Indian saucing (which I enjoy more outside of the molecular realm) sits uncomfortably with molecular techniques, which I enjoy most when paired with precise taste-profiles. Flavors at Gaggan were relatively uncomplicated, like sledgehammers. (Rating: 14.5/20)
    • I see molecular food as a precise art. The eye sees an empirical fact about ingredients, and exploits that to create a great dish – for example, Daniel Boulud saw that “[American scallops] had a natural sort of collagen so the scallops sticked at each other.  [His team] could slice them, put things in between and reconstitute the scallops and they would hold up perfectly together” and thus the chef could come up with his signature dish black-tie sea-scallop. At its best, molecular technique is about clarifying and emphasising those precise effects. That is why I found my meal at modernist Mugaritz so congenial – serendipity is represented through the dish “linking”, the wooliness of tempeh Rhizopus fungi being mischievously contrasted with lamb. Modernist cuisine, it seems to me, only really shines when practiced by chefs with a very precise palate, and are willing to put in the time to perfect their dishes.
    • On one hand, we have the Fat Duck, which exemplifies precision. Every dish takes at least half a year to R&D, and there are multiple merits to each dish – for example, the “Sound of the Sea”, has exotic seaweeds, and fresh sashimi, but is only completed by the most banal-seeming element, the delicious tapioca-sardine sand. It really is a more of French restaurant (in the grand tradition of legendary dishes) in spirit than it lets on. Another case in precision: the meditative Mugaritz, which is a study in the unseen possibilities of the nearest ingredients – hake cheek AKA “kokotxas” being used to create a one-ingredient dish, both “bread” and “filling”.
    • On the other hand there are restaurants that are less precise, where the recipe for success is seen as an easy marriage of bold flavors and a molecular gimmick. The tell-tale sign of such a restaurant is superfluity. To questions such as “Why do you have a foam of X instead of a sauce of X? Why did you spherify this liquid?”, the kitchen will not have good answers.  This is molecular gastronomy as trope, influenced by the parable of the “el Bulli olive” – a one-effect-wonder, a pleasing small bite impossible to eat in large quantities, is greeted as the pinnacle of modern cuisine. At these restaurants molecular techniques are less to enhance precise and fleeting taste/textural effects; and more to serve as the vehicle of a bold flavor profile (which easily slides into imprecision) and as a textural spectacle. At Gaggan I had a spherified yoghurt chaat right at the start of the meal which seemed superfluous. I also had Norwegian diver scallops that were neither particularly Indian nor eye-opening. Most of the cooking was just luxury protein in an Indian sauce. It was not particularly innovative nor interesting.
    • Many of the “arriviste” molecular restaurants in developing restaurant markets are not precise enough in their tastes – Tippling Club in Singapore, Gaggan in Bangkok. Given that Gaggan ranks (#3), and Tippling Club ranks (#23) I think the food media in Asia is rewarding these restaurants because of the hype around their modernist approach, not because of the tastes on the plate.
  3. (#21) Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin – Molecular techniques applied to Thai food. Good, though the mains were not eye-opening – the memorable dishes for me were the desserts (jackfruit with coconut milk, and coconut cake), and the main dish of beef stew with rice. (Rating: 15.5/20)
  4. (#28) Bo.Lan – Serves food family-style (like Nahm). Unfortunately, as much as I liked the location, the food was not particularly interesting or memorable. (Rating: 12.5/20)
  5. (#31) Issaya Siamese Club – The desserts are good, but the mains are average and there’s a strange bitter aftertaste for many meat dishes. The best savory dish by far is the savory creme brulee, which is a brilliant cross between a traditional Thai coconut milk soup and a traditional Thai pressed-cupcake. The Mekong Baba (a rum baba) is a great dessert. (Rating: 13.5/20)
  6. (#37) Eat Me – Good bistro food. A delicious lamb rack. Interesting black chicken salad. The flourless chocolate cake is good, the pavlova average, but I haven’t tried their signature sticky date pudding yet. (Rating: 4.25/5)
  7. Yamazato (Lunch sushi rating: 4/5, Dinner kaiseki rating: 12/20): Located in the Okura hotel, Yamazato is a good standard bearer for lunch sushi, but the Hana kaiseki was disappointing to me, because I didn’t have a single eye-opening dish that bore the mark of a creative artisan. The kaiseki dinner was standard hotel fare, but I expected more from the flagship Japanese restaurant in the Okura hotel.
  8. Water Library Chamchuri – (Rating 17.5/20) Highly accomplished food, strong one to two-Michelin-starred standard anywhere. Write-up to come. You are guaranteed an eye-opening meal and very strong mains. Recommended.
  9. Supanniga Eating Room (Rating 4.75/5): Emphasis on Isaan food. Salak (snakefruit) in syrup, roast pork/beef with grilled sticky rice, and cabbage in fish sauce were my favorite dishes.
  10. Nara [Erawan branch] (Rating: 4.25/5): You should not miss the prawn carpaccio, which is delightful.
  11. Krua Apsorn [Samsen Road Branch] (Rating 4.75/5): Don’t miss the curry fried crab with egg, and the very well-calibrated lemongrass-mango salad that comes with fried kingfish.
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2 Responses to “Quick Thoughts on Bangkok”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. the world of food in 2014 (part 1): overview… from Santiago to Tokyo | Kenneth Tiong eats - December 27, 2014

    […] Bangkok, Thailand. From August to November, I had occasion to be in Bangkok for work. I found Nahm very good, though not in the fine-dining sense – the dishes are served family style – and desserts are the best thing there. My two favorite fancier restaurants were Nahm and Water Library Chamchurri (which serves French at the high one star level). Gaggan I thought way overhyped. My favorite memories of the place though were of the Somtum at the Bangkok Baking Company at the JW Marriott – and the overflowing prawn guts in the heads of Ayuthaya prawns. (Here is a summary on Bangkok) […]

  2. Thoughts on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list | Kenneth Tiong eats - March 15, 2015

    […] I reviewed the Bangkok dining scene in October last year. […]

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