Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi: Eating well in Bangkok

Published on Jan 13, 2023 09:19 PM IST

I spent New Year in Bangkok

The hottest restaurant in Bangkok right now, Potong is located on four levels (Potong only has room for 35 covers and a terrace bar)
The hottest restaurant in Bangkok right now, Potong is located on four levels (Potong only has room for 35 covers and a terrace bar)

I spent New Year in Bangkok. There were many reasons for my choice of destination, the most important of which was that I love Thailand. But, there was also an economic factor at work. My wife and I calculated that if we spent eight days in one of Bangkok’s top hotels in a very large room and travelled Business Class to Thailand, the total cost of our holiday would still be less than the cost of a single return ticket to London on British Airways or Emirates.

Both, air fares and room rates, were also much lower than we would have had to pay if we went to Dubai or even to Goa. So, really, it was a no-brainer.

I guess many others made the same calculation. There were so many Indians in Bangkok over New Year that at times it did feel like we had gone to Goa after all. Certainly, there seemed to be almost as many Indians at the Grand Hyatt in Bangkok as there were at the Grand Hyatt in Goa.

Every time I was recognised at a restaurant or a hotel by Indian tourists, I was always asked the same question “can you give us some restaurant recommendations”. I tried my best to help but often I was stymied by the following question: “we are pure vegetarian so can you recommend some vegetarian restaurants? Or at least, places with lots of vegetarian dishes”.

In this day and age, almost every good restaurant will give you lots of vegetarian options. But, you may not always understand what the fuss is about if you eat only the vegetarian dishes at top restaurants.

Many Indian tourists miss out on the transformation of Bangkok into a city for global gourmets. There are great international restaurants in Bangkok now and a new generation of Thai chefs is taking Thai food—already one of the world’s great cuisines —to new heights. But you need to know where to look.

So, for all those who asked, here is a list of my favourites of the restaurants I ate at during this trip.

Potong

Chef Pam (Pichaya Utharntharm) refurbished an old building in Bangkok’s Chinatown her family had owned, to open Potong
Chef Pam (Pichaya Utharntharm) refurbished an old building in Bangkok’s Chinatown her family had owned, to open Potong

The hottest restaurant in Bangkok. It is fully booked till late March. Chef Pam (Pichaya Utharntharm), a young Thai-Chinese chef who worked with the French chef Jean-Georges in New York, came back to Thailand and took over an old building in Bangkok’s Chinatown that her family had owned for generations. It used to be a shop-cum-factory for traditional Chinese medicine but Pam worked hard to refurbish it and turn it into a restaurant, located on four levels (each of them small: Potong only has room for 35 covers and a terrace bar).

She was delayed by the pandemic, but ever since the restaurant opened in September 2021, it has been a critical favourite and it won a Michelin star within months.

I would not have got in had I not gone with Gaggan Anand and his presence meant that I also got to talk to Pam and understand her philosophy.

Roast chicken at Potong, the best modern Thai restaurant
Roast chicken at Potong, the best modern Thai restaurant

Foreigners don’t always realise this, but many wealthy and powerful Thais are of Chinese heritage and retain links with the culture and food of their ancestors. (They have all adopted Thai names so it is hard for non-Thais to be able to tell who is of Chinese ancestry, but Thais can always can tell.) Pam’s food combines her Thai-Chinese heritage with her classical training and experience.

It is a beautiful restaurant and the food is spectacular. I have had two great Thai meals in Bangkok recently. One was traditional Thai at Nusara. The other was at Potong: now the best modern Thai restaurant in the world.

Maison Dunand

Arnaud Dunand already has one Michelin star for the brand new Maison Dunand. A second star must be on its way; Le Normandie got two for his cooking when he was the chef
Arnaud Dunand already has one Michelin star for the brand new Maison Dunand. A second star must be on its way; Le Normandie got two for his cooking when he was the chef

Le Normandie at the Oriental hotel is to Bangkok what the Orient Express is to Delhi: an institution that serves classic French food. Till a year or so ago, the chef was Arnaud Dunand whose food won it two Michelin stars and a formidable reputation.

Dunand then left and started his own place, Maison Dunand, located in a lovely bungalow in the Sathorn district. But he also took a number of front-of-the-house staff with him.

Maison Dunand has what is easily the best French food in Bangkok
Maison Dunand has what is easily the best French food in Bangkok

Maison Dunand has the food that got Normandie two stars (Dumand’s new restaurant won its first star within two months of opening; a second must be on its way) though I thought that Dunand’s approach was much less classical and more contemporary at the new place. The food was outstanding and the service had the sort of restrained elegance you would find at a three Michelin star restaurant in France.

At present, this is the best French food in Bangkok. And it is half the price of Le Normandie. My guess is that he might put his prices up when the second star arrives. So, go as soon as you can!

Le Cabanon

Le Cabanon is French but its large garden is distinctively Bangkok
Le Cabanon is French but its large garden is distinctively Bangkok

When I first went to Bangkok in the 1980s, the city was full of cheerful restaurants where you sat in a garden (even in the Thai summer) and ate delicious food.

Le Cabanon is French but its large garden is distinctively Bangkok. There are no pretentions to haute cuisine: just honest to goodness French food made from the best ingredients. Go for the oysters, the escargot, the shrimp, the foie gras, the Floating Island and the steak.

Biscotti

Biscotti is a little like the old Zodiac Grill used to be in Mumbai: packed out with locals rather than hotel guests
Biscotti is a little like the old Zodiac Grill used to be in Mumbai: packed out with locals rather than hotel guests

Of all the many restaurants at the Anantara Siam hotel where I nearly always stay, my favourite is Biscotti. It has been around since the hotel was a Four Seasons and is a favourite with the Bangkok establishment. It’s a little like the old Zodiac Grill used to be in Mumbai: packed out with locals rather than hotel guests.

I spent New Year’s Eve there and the evening could not have been more elegant. A new, young Italian chef called Kevin Montorfano cooked surprisingly authentic but nevertheless, contemporary food.

Italian chef Kevin Montorfano who cooks authentic but contemporary food.
Italian chef Kevin Montorfano who cooks authentic but contemporary food.

Because Biscotti has such a dedicated clientele, the hotel does not worry too much about attracting tourists. So, it has ended up being the one restaurant that Indian tourists rarely go to.

CDGRE

CDGRE is a collaboration between the Suhrings and Gaggan
CDGRE is a collaboration between the Suhrings and Gaggan

The food here is a collaboration between the Suhring twins and Gaggan Anand but this coffee shop located at the Siam Paragon mall is very reasonably priced. The Suhrings’ food has always been excellent but Gaggan has now made more contributions to the menu, including a crab curry, an omelette toast and a Butter Chicken pasta.

If you want the food of great chefs ( the main Suhring restaurant has two Michelin stars and Gaggan is one of the world’s best chefs) without breaking the bank, this is the right place.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, January 14, 2023

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    Why hide the papers? Why keep the conspiracy theories related to Netaji Subhas Bose’s death alive? And why deny India the truth about the death of one of its great freedom fighters?

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