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The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: The 28 best restaurants in Bangkok, Thailand

In this week’s column, Vir Sanghvi lists his top 28 restaurants in Bangkok - from mall eateries to street food joints to Michelin-starred restaurants.

vir sanghvi Updated: Jan 10, 2018 09:07 IST
Vir Sanghvi
Vir Sanghvi
Hindustan Times
The Taste with Vir Sanghvi,Vir Sanghvi,Bangkok
This is a list of dependable places where it is hard to go wrong.

Most people who read my food and travel pieces know that Bangkok is one of my favourite cities. Inevitably this means that before friends or acquaintances go to Bangkok (and more Indians visit Bangkok than any other foreign city), I get asked for restaurant recommendations.

I’ve got so used to making lists for people over the years that I thought I’d finally put my current list in the public domain.

There are funkier, edgier places than the ones on this list. But food fashions change quickly in Bangkok so I have avoided the newly trendy or the oh-so-avant-garde restaurants. This is a list of dependable places where it is hard to go wrong.

Thai (Modern)

Nahm: David Thompson is the Australian chef who single-handedly changed the image of Thai food around the world. After Thompson opened the first Nahm (now closed) in London and won a Michelin star, his success forced critics to look at Thai as more than just a cheap and cheerful cuisine. Most Western chefs who cook Thai dishes have worked with Thompson at some stage in their careers.

His second Nahm, at the Metropolitan Hotel in Bangkok’s Sathorn district, has just won a Michelin star and routinely appears on lists of the world’s great restaurants. Thompson is rarely here now because he is busy opening new restaurants all over the world and the received wisdom among some foodies is that Nahm’s best days are behind it.

Wrong!

I ate there last week and the food was fantastic --- as good as I remember it from the early days when Thompson had just opened in Bangkok and was in the kitchen every night.

Service can be poor and the kitchen may take a while to cook your meal. But when the food arrives, each mouthful will burst with flavour.

Bo. Lan: Started by two chefs (one of them Thai) who worked with David Thompson in London, Bo. Lan opened before the Bangkok Nahm and though it has since been eclipsed by Thompson’s arrival in the city, it is a good place to try authentic Thai dishes, with its blend of modern presentation and old recipes. One Michelin star in the new list.

Sra Bua: Yet another Thompson influenced place. Sra Bua just won a Michelin star which some people treat as undeserved because they regard the food as too gimmicky. I haven’t been for years but I shot a TV show there once and I liked the ambition and imagination of the food. It is a swish (i.e. expensive) hotel restaurant at the Siam Kempinski, a hotel beloved of rich Indian visitors.

Khua Kling Pak Sod: You may be the only non-Thai there if you visit one of these Southern Thai places for the sort of home-style food you don’t often see outside Thailand.

These are family recipes, many of them created by the owner Bic Smitasiri’s 80 year old aunt who still cooks at the restaurant.

Baan Khanitha: Two branches for this tourist favourite but I like the original in Sukhumvit. Safe, reliable Thai food for foreigners who want the sort of thing they have eaten at Thai restaurants outside Thailand.

Crab at Luk Kai Thống.

Luk Kai Thong: Thai with a strong Chinese flavour. This is located at the Emquartier Mall but it is more ambitious than the mall-dining places on this list. There are some strong Chinese flavours but a lot of the food is easily accessible to Indians. I always order the Blue Crab Omelet.

Mall Dining

Nara: Not only does Thailand have very fancy malls but many of them also have excellent restaurants. The smart Nara mini-chain has branches in all the top malls and is now a favourite with Indian visitors – perhaps because of the success of the excellent Nara in Mumbai. I like the eggplant with minced pork, the curries and (especially!) the Pork Balls.

Cafe Chili: This Northern Thai place at Siam Paragon does not get many Indians but I like the food which can be strongly spiced and is more interesting than most mall food. Try the Larb and the Crispy Pork.

Greyhound: This phenomenally successful and stylish chain does all kinds of cuisine and often merges Western and Thai flavours (spicy pasta, for instance). The Elvis Burger and the Lychee Shake are classics.

Erawan Tea Room: Run by the Grand Hyatt next door, this is an elegant spot at the Erawan mall for tea, snacks and dependable (if not very ambitious) Thai food.

DinTai Fung: I find that the quality has dropped at the Bangkok branches of this Taiwanese dim sum chain but Indian visitors seem to like it and there is usually a queue at lunchtime.

Paste: This is actually quite a fancy (Michelin starred) Thai restaurant but its location at the Gaysorn Plaza mall makes it a convenient stop for shoppers who want an upmarket and more refined experience.

Street Food

Jay Fai: Bangkok has a great street food culture and you will hardly ever go wrong if you eat on the streets or at one of the many dhabhas with tables on the road. But be warned: the flavours are not meant for tourists. It helps if you like noodles, fish balls, spicy broth and other dishes that Thais love; and if you have a brave nose that can take unusual aromas.

Jay Fai is the one place that all Indians will like. It is Bangkok’s trendiest street food dhabha and just won a Michelin star. The chef, the eponymous Jay Fai, is a 72-year lady who cooks everything herself in full view of the street wearing goggles to shield her eyes from the flames of her range. The Blue Crab dishes are justly famous.

Indian

Gaggan: For three years in a row, Asia’s number one restaurant with two Michelin stars, this is the world’s best modern Indian restaurant. Plan ahead though: tables are hard to score.

Gobhi, aloo and caviar at Gaggan.

Punjab Grill: A branch of the Indian chain, this offers a dependable taste of home for Indians who long for North Indian food. Many say that the food is even better than the branches in India.

Indus: Elegant, upmarket, traditional Indian food with a few modern twists in a lovely house off Sukhumvit Road. For a nice, long evening.

Japanese/Modern Japanese

Hinata: No cuisine guide or local foodie seems to recommend this upmarket sushi place at Central Embassy but I have always had good experiences here. The sushi is consistently good.

Sushi at Hinata.

Zuma: This is the world’s least successful Zuma. I can’t work out why it is always empty but if you do like Zuma’s fabled food, then this is the branch to go to. The cuisine is up to global standards and you never have to worry about booking a table in advance: just walk in! At the St.Regis, which is owned by the famous Thai-American billionaire Bill Heinecke, who often eats here himself.

Steakhouses

The Fireplace Grill: Most Bangkok hotels have had steakhouses for as long as I can recall. Some are very good: you can’t go wrong with the Tomahawk steak at the Anantara Siam (the old Four Seasons), the U.S. Prime at the JW Marriott (New York Steak House) or the Australian steaks at the The Landmark (Rib Room).

But I have a soft spot for this one because, ages ago, I used to stay quite regularly at the hotel where it is located (when the hotel was still called The President). The restaurant is now part of The Intercontinental and standards remain high.

Meatlicious: One of Gaggan Anand’s enterprises, this casual place offers some of the best Japanese beef in Bangkok at prices that are laughably low because of the deals Gaggan has done with suppliers. Apart from the steak, the Foie Gras Crème Brulee is a classic.

My favourite Bangkok steakhouse, it gets Thais, not tourists.

Foiegras creme brûlée at Meatlicious.

European/International

Mezzaluna: I have not been since the new Japanese chef took over but my son has raved about his food. And Michelin has just given it two stars, one of only three places in Bangkok to reach that level.

Suhring: The identical twins who run this wonderful restaurant in an atmospheric and cosy old house on a backstreet in Sathorn are the most under-rated chefs in Bangkok. They were under-recognised when they cooked Italian-influenced food at Mezzaluna and now, even though they have a Michelin star, they are under-recognised because they deserve two stars.

I have been eating their food for a decade and it is easily the best European food in Thailand.

White truffles at Suhring.

Normandie: The grand-daddy of formal Bangkok dining for decades, this French restaurant at The Oriental just got two Michelin stars. Go if you are celebrating something, have lots of money, and don’t often go to Europe where you can get better food at roughly the same prices.

Gianni: Bangkok has lots of Italian restaurants but none of them is really outstanding. I like this cheerful old restaurant in Soi Tonson because it is unpretentious and the Italian food is as good as anything you will find at more expensive places.

Gaa: Garima Arora is a protégé of Noma’s Rene Redzepi and though her restaurant has the same owners as Gaggan, it is Noma she is channelling through the prism of locally-sourced Thai ingredients and her own Indian roots. My favourite is the one overtly Indian dish on the menu: her take on keema pao.

Eat Me: A nice neighbourhood restaurant in Silom, I am not sure Eat Me belongs on any list of Asia’s finest restaurants but the food is consistently good, the vibe is nice and there is wonderful art on the walls.

Hotel Dining

Sala Rim Naam: A famous restaurant at the once iconic Oriental Hotel, this has a beautiful location across the river (you go by boat from The Oriental) al fresco seating and cultural programmes. The sort of place that rich Thais will take a foreign business associate to.

Thiptara: I prefer the Peninsula’s riverside Thai restaurant to Sala Rim Naam though both are close to each other. It is less touristy and the food can be good. Michelin recommends the Red Duck Curry.

First Published: Jan 10, 2018 09:05 IST