B angkok’s culinary scene is commended by all who visit, often exceeding the expectations of even the most seasoned epicureans. Thais have an innate love for food as an important social aspect of their culture and this magical city is awash with restaurants that appeal to people from all walks of life.
The abundance of trendy new places serving gourmet food makes Bangkok unique in Thailand. Soul Food Mahanakorn, or simply “Soul Food”, is a staple neighbourhood haunt for locals and expats alike. Helmed by ex-Atlantic Monthly food critic Jarrettt Wrisley, Soul Food’s unconventional “comfort” food is reminiscent of a home-cooked meal and come with a warning label for their spiciness. Signature dishes such as “Smoked Duck Larb” and “Crispy Sea bass with Thai Basil and Peppercorn” all pack a punch, but the fieriness of each dish is always nicely balanced with a welcome splash of cool. Regulars at Soul Food know to order the “Sticky Tamarind Ribs”, their unofficial signature dish featuring tender pork ribs braised to perfection in a tamarind marinade with delicate caramelized pineapples on the side.
Those looking for regional Thai cuisine will enjoy Supanigga Eating Room just a few doors down. The extensive menu is owner-chef Thanaruek “Eh” Laoraowirodge’s way of showcasing the recipes his grandmother left behind. Familiar Thai dishes come to life with a personalised twist, mimicking the essence and style of a Thai family home. Their “Moo Chamuang”, a stew of tender pork meat, Thai herbs, and chamuang leaves is a great alternative
to the classic Thai curry, while the spicy “Yum Crispy Leaf Fish” is almost like Japanese tempura. Another wonderful thing about Bangkok’s cosmopolitan status is the attraction it holds to many budding chefs and restaurateurs at the start of their career, who arrive eager to showcase their taste and talents. As such, Western eateries are fast becoming popular staples amongst locals as well as expat residents. Quince just happens to be one such place, with Chef Blair Mathieson cooking up bite-sized Mediterranean wonders like croquetas from Spain, burrata from Italy and hummus from Lebanon. The pappardelle pasta with slow-cooked duck and portobello mushroom ragu is arguably one of the best Italian dishes in the city.
A number of Bangkok’s hipper restaurants have stood the test of time thanks to their impressive food. Gaggan has won over the city’s diners with its progressive Indian cuisine, and is often cited as one of Asia’s best restaurants. The cheekily named Eat Me offers favourites from all corners of the world with their modern fusion menu. While many of the city’s more popular dining experiences veer towards the cool and trendy category, there are several fine dining establishments considered favourites amongst the city’s foodies. Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel is one example, ranked “Best Restaurant in Asia” by the prestigious San Pellegrino World’s Best 50.
Inspired by ancient temples found in Thailand’s former capital of Ayutthaya, this dining room is adorned with rugged brick pillars, exquisite wooden tables, and clean white tones. With a spartan feel unlike most traditional Thai restaurants, which tend to play up the more obvious cultures of Thailand, simplicity in the dining room allows the dishes of Australian born chef David Thompson to take center stage. Priding himself on his commitment to authenticity, the integrity of Thompson’s cooking is seen through his incorporation of sour, sweet, salt, and spice – the pillars of traditional Thai cooking. Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab is deliciously highlighted against the sourness of the calamansi, while the creatively executed “coconut cupcakes” will satisfy sweet toothed diners.
Where Nahm thrives in understated elegance, Issaya Siamese Club is all about immersing foodies in a sensory indulgence of Thai culture. This comes as no surprise, as its internationally known chef, Ian Kittichai, began his culinary career in the streets of Bangkok manning a food cart selling curry made by his mother. As such, Issaya is famous for their Mussuman Gae, a tender lamb shank curry paying homage to his roots whilst elevating the dish with high-end ingredients. For those who enjoy their food with a touch of panache, Chef Kittichai is not shy in showcasing his culinary skills acquired from working in Europe and Australia, exemplified in dishes like Moo Manow (spicy pork salad) and Kanom Dok Mali (jasmine flower flan).
Though dishes might be sophisticated, Issaya’s interior reflects Chef Kittichai’s humble upbringing- housed in a two-story colonial-style home, the place is designed to feel like a relative’s living room, complete with old-school wallpaper and vibrant green walls. We recommend taking advantage of the chic cushions scattered in Issaya’s private garden while enjoying the restaurant’s signature cocktail, the Issaya Mojito.
Other exquisite international dining options can be found at Zuma in the St. Regis Hotel, offering contemporary Japanese fare in an avant-garde indoor-outdoor setting. Those looking for colonial European flavours will delight in sampling French cuisine at Le Normandie in the Mandarin Oriental, overlooking the famous Chao Praya River. Medici at the boutique Hotel Muse is known for their burrata salad and selection of hearty Italian fare, while Aldo’s at the Ascott Sathorn is a go-to spot for Mediterranean food.
Mixology and Gastronomy
One unique aspect about Bangkok is that the city’s popular watering holes are as much reputed for the food they serve as they are for their mixology skills. Hyde & Seek is an example of a beautiful collision between creative libations and cleverly paired food. Housed in the heart of Bangkok, this sleek eatery has been at the forefront of Thailand’s gastro cuisine movement since 2010, remaining a firm favourite thanks to deliciously potent cocktails (some of which are made with absinthe), augmented by a well-designed classic menu with a pinch of molecular gastronomy. Why not try the amusingly titled ‘LAMB is another LIFE’, a roasted double-rack thoughtfully paired with cauliflower, stone fruits & lavender.
Revolving around a bizarre but slightly wonderful theme is speakeasy bar Iron Fairies, designed to look like an ironsmith’s factory manufacturing tiny iron fairies. This intimate setting is perfect for music lovers, featuring live jazz on the weekends amongst its maze of secret doors and shadowy alcoves, all of which lend this bar an eccentric charm. Enjoy a perfectly executed daiquiri or a simple glass of wine, but whatever you drink, don’t pass up the chance to compliment it with one of their delicious selection of burgers.
For the perfect energetic bar-come-restaurant vibe, visit Opposite Mess Hall. Jess Barnes, one of Bangkok’s most talented chefs, mans its chic open kitchen while seasoned bartenders churn out refreshing drinks like clockwork. The James Bond inspired “Inside Out Vesper Martini” is perfect for the sophisticate, while their “Hibiscus Punch” and “Pomelo Margarita” are perfect for Bangkok’s tropical setting. Ensuring their potent cocktails don’t get to your head, Opposite Mess Hall’s international menu will keep your stomach satisfied. A frequent haunt of multitudes of fashionistas and trendsetters, Long Table is a chic restaurant and bar plucked straight out of Manhattan, the pièce de résistance of which is a 25 meter long communal table surrounded by sunken cushioned booths, a transparent floor-to-ceiling wine display case, and a beautiful view of central Bangkok. Catering to Western palates, the food consists of dishes that Thailand is best known for; think pomelo salad, spring rolls, and Pad Thai. Those willing to brave the wind and humidity in the outdoor portion of the restaurant will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city as they dine.