Travel: Eating at three Michelin starred restaurants in two days in Bangkok!
How we scored a table, ate to our heart’s content and lived to Instagram the pics!Updated: Dec 23, 2018 17:28 IST
Last month, tired of frequenting popular tourist hangouts during my past trips to Bangkok, I embarked on a unique culinary journey: to eat at three Michelin-starred restaurants over a single weekend.
Having lived in Singapore, my exposure to the deep food culture helped develop a taste for experimental dining. Inspired by the Netflix show Chef’s Table, a Michelin food trail had been on my mind for a couple of years. I researched the restaurants online before I decided on Bangkok (led primarily by the draw of Gaggan who is closing his restaurant in 2020).
According to the Michelin Guide, there are 217 Michelin restaurants in Bangkok and I wanted to experience first-hand, the culinary fantasy that the chefs had created at their tables and the aesthetic that led them to be handpicked as the best in the world. The hustle to get a seat was a big part of the adventure.
I sent emails to all restaurants for reservations and coordinated with guest services.
For Gaggan, you need to make a reservation six months in advance, but for the other two, Paste and Sühring, write to them about three weeks in advance.
Read on for my ambitious attempt to uncover the food under the fancy.
Gaggan: Explosive tastes of childhood
After a frustrating two-year wait, during which I incessantly emailed the restaurant for a reservation, I finally decided to hustle my way through another Michelin-starred chef from Singapore, whom I knew reasonably well. Voila! We had a table blessed by master chef Gaggan Anand himself, although he was in Argentina at the appointed date.
As we entered Gaggan, the credenza overflowing with awards that greeted us at the entrance of the colonial shophouse created an anticipation that was well rewarded over 25 inspiring courses of molecular gastronomy.
There is only one menu at Gaggan: the oft-praised emoji list that is presented right at the start, eliciting emotions depicted in normal text communication, but interpreted in the most creative ways to showcase regional Indian cuisine. Ingredients are only revealed at the end of the meal, with another sheer menu overlay explaining in two words the base element of the amuse-bouche (literally mouth-amuser) sized dish. Seating is either at the ground floor (fine dining) or a level up at the mezzanine – Chef’s Table – with live cooking counters that resemble a laboratory in its variety of gadgets and glassware. Fourteen diners are handpicked for this table at the start of every evening, encouraging community eating and conversations amongst strangers from across the world.
Somehow through a strange alchemy, this journey took us back to memories of meals eaten at our grandparents. Gajak. Mustard. Vindaloo. Ghewar. Idli. Puchka. Pav. Samosa. Channa. Can you imagine these as chief flavours concentrated into a bite of myriad textures and temperatures? The menu is an explosion of tastes that makes you marvel at the thought process and imagination of its creator. The tableware is quirky, to say the least. One item was served with a mini JBL speaker attached to an iPod shuffle that played a Foo Fighters track and depicted Gaggan’s love for the band, and another had the Star Wars theme on full blast accompanying a three-tier mini Death Star globe (it came apart to reveal a porcini and rice dish). Genius!
A crowd favourite was Lick It Up, where you were required to lick the plate clean from the bottom to the top, tasting overlapping swipes of a mushroom and pea concoction in a pre-decided order, each hitting the right spot on your tongue. The mosaic of oddly shaped platters served at consecutive courses formed a map of India at the end of the meal – a moment that immediately enchanted imagination and connected its regions in the mind’s eye.
One item [at Gaggan] was served with a mini JBL speaker attached to an iPod shuffle that played a Foo Fighters track and depicted the chef’s love for the band
I must mention the warmth and hospitality of the extremely tuned-in staff who have been with Gaggan since the restaurant’s inception. The flair of the restaurant manager Vibhi (half Indian, half Thai) and his rich stories (Gaggan once refused a huge group of high profile visitors because they didn’t reserve beforehand) made this meal even more memorable. And then there was the stewardess who refused to let anyone leave the table whilst a course was being presented (that, if anything, is considered blasphemous at Gaggan).
In 2018, Gaggan is on top of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for the fourth consecutive year in San Pellegrino’s prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants lists, ranking seventh overall worldwide with a two-Michelin star rating.
What we paid: THB 45,420 (Rs. 97,802) for 4 people with pairings and alcohol included for dinner.
Sühring: Perfection with a price
It was easier to score reservations at Sühring, where we went the next night. A simple email did the trick. The Sühring twins are famous for their spin on German food, playing on the traditional flavours of the region in tandem with contemporary Central European influences.
Thomas and Mathias grew up on their grandmother’s recipes, which they have carefully documented in a booklet laced with her handwriting that the elegant restaurant manager Mathieu will proudly display at some part of the evening to explain the origin of the brand. For Chapter 1 of the courses, we chose the tasting menu Sühring Elebnis (offered apart from the classic menu) and sat in the Winter Garden, an elegant glasshouse on the verdant green property that was built in 1970. The seating areas are allocated as per the layout of an actual house with carefully appointed furnishings: there is a dining room, a living space with a garden, and one level below, the kitchen where the magic happens.
For Chapter 2, we were thrilled to be seated at the kitchen counter thanks to a no-show (it can only be booked in advance), with the twins working arduously and passionately with the multicultural staff, mingling with the guests and training the sous chefs with equal élan. Mathias and Thomas are charming identical twins with a great sense of humour: when I asked if Thomas felt a pinch administered on Mathias’ arm in the same exact place, he yelped in mock pain. It was easy to confuse one for the other (they shared that their partners were the only ones who could tell the difference), and according to one steward, creative disagreements were not rare – but never exhibited in front of guests.
“The identical Suhring twins have a great sense of humour: When I asked Thomas if he felt a pinch administered on Mathias, he yelped in mock pain!
The humility was astonishing for a duo so accomplished and celebrated in the industry. Faded photos of the previous generation lined one section of the wall, a testament to their beginnings. Equally delightful was the presentation of meat knives belonging to the twins that you could choose to eat with, thus making for a highly personalised experience. I chatted with a guest from Singapore who had come for the second time in six months to celebrate his anniversary just to taste the new menu (his first experience was ‘spectacular’).
Two small plates that stood out for me were the 7-day dry aged Hungarian Duck Breast on the bone, with a touch of pumpkin, hazelnuts, and cardamom (imagine having chef Thomas personally slice slivers for you) and the Spätzle soft egg noodles that come with white truffle shavings weighed on-site (you can have as much as you want, provided you are willing to pay for it!). The decadent item is laced with chanterelle mushrooms, Allgäuer mountain cheese, spring onion oil, and topped with grated Belper Knolle: a Swiss cheese infused with Himalayan salt and seasoned pepper. Paired with a delicate sipping vinegar (chargeable) – it was a winning combination.
The menu reflects the chefs’ philosophy of simplicity, seasonality and quality – with additional quirks of storytelling through dishes thrown in. Be prepared to spend a pretty penny especially if invited to the kitchen downstairs where the staff often upsells accompaniments – but I guarantee it is definitely worth the investment.
Sühring received its second Michelin star this year, and ranks No. 4 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Interestingly, chef Gaggan Anand is an investor and his relationship with the twins stretches back many years to their time together cooking at Lebua State Tower.
What we paid: THB 16,194 (Rs 34,870) for two people with pairings and alcohol included for dinner.
Paste: Layered flavours and textual contrasts
To shake things up on our last day, we went to Paste in Gaysorn in the Ratchaprasong district, though I am usually not in favour of fine dining in a luxury mall. This time I decided to invite my Thai girlfriend and her French fiancé to lunch, and ordered à la carte with her help so as to choose the more authentic fare. This was a truly international table of hungry diners indeed!
In layered flavours and textural contrasts, Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun revives authentic heirloom recipes of classic Thai cuisine in a modern fine-dining set up in partnership with her Australian chef-husband, Jason Bailey.
As entrée, we ordered the grilled river prawn wrapped in mulberry leaves with northern Thai Mah Kwan pepper and ant eggs. The meat was fresh, the spices mildly pungent and the eggs not very different to crisp fennel seeds in taste. Next up, Sour River Fish Soup with lemongrass, chili, monk fruit, shrimp paste and fermented fish water (pa dek), finished with sour hog plum leaves.
Most dishes on the menu come with a historic anecdote (for example the ground salmon in watermelon appetiser was served at the 1809 inauguration of the Emerald Buddha temple in the reign of King Rama I). Not to be missed is Bee’s famous smoky southern yellow curry featuring the red spanner crab from the Gulf of Thailand with hummingbird flowers, in Thai samphire and turmeric.
Again, the distinct presence of childhood memories surfaces, translated through the creative imagination of the chef. Refined versions of traditional dishes are plated with the most exotic toppings of bright, edible flowers and relishes.
Truth be told, although I enjoyed the food and Instagram-winning plating thoroughly, I was disappointed that the staff made minimal interaction with us during the meal, unlike the superlative hospitality of Gaggan and Sühring.
2018 has been a good year for Paste: the restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in the inaugural Michelin Guide Bangkok 2018 and Chef Bee has been voted as Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018.
What we paid: THB 14,608 (Rs 31,455) for 4 people over lunch without alcohol
The author is an avid traveller and plans holidays around the world in search of adventure and the perfect meal. In her day job, Anisha Oberoi heads Content and Creative for Amazon Fashion, India and is an alumnus of INSEAD
From HT Brunch, December 23, 2018
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