Remember Nahm? If you came to Bangkok five years ago for authentic and fiery but fancy-plated Thai food, you called in favors for a table there. The dining scene has steadily expanded since, but the arrival of Michelin in 2017 shifted the focus on nouveau-Thai fare to high gear. On the following pages, in no particular order, are some fantastic next-gen chefs more deeply flexing their creative muscles. From haute to hip, whether reviving old recipes, ginning up new fusions, smoking, fermenting or sustainably sourcing, one thing is sure: you’ll find joy in every locavore bite.
A bouquet of seasonal herbs and greens.
IF YOU WANT TO SEE how the sausage gets made, visit 80/20. Executive chef Napol “Joe” Jantraget and pastry chef Saki Hoshino source their ingredients locally and seasonally, in ways that elevate their suppliers, and employ pickling and fermenting to create experimental Thai fare that looks fancy but isn’t daunting, in a relaxed wrought-iron space where you can hang out and watch the chill chefs joshing around in the open kitchen. Quickly after opening in late 2015, they became a darling of Bangkok’s creative trend-set who were remaking the riverlands around old Chinatown. You couldn’t get a walk-in table even on Monday night. Michelin gave them a Plate. Just before shutting down for renovations last year, Joe and Saki popped off to Japan to get married. Eighty-twenty 2.0, with its expanded kitchen, dining room and staff, represents new unions. A partnership with Choti Leenutaphong and Debby Tang, the couple behind several popular Bangkok restaurants and Vesper, which is on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, brings a ramped-up cocktail menu, and a wine list heavy on artisanal, biodynamic bottles. (The soft, pear-tinged Christoph Hoch pét-nat Kalkspritz will transport you to a gauzy afternoon garden.)
Chefs Joe Jantraget and Saki Hoshino, with a new 80/20 mural by a royal palace painter.
The other big change is that they’ve gone tasting-menu-only. Standouts on the 10-course menu they just relaunched with include the goat tartare, and the dry-aged smoked duck breast with duck-offal sausage. Textures are a priority; witness the single-clove garlic sliced razor-thin and fermented in honey for two months, or the “edible sand” made from the dried insides of tiger-prawn heads. I mention surprise at the small size of the grilled oysters in seepweed butter (this is a slightly nutty, crunchy bowl of delight), and Joe says it’s because they’re local, of course. “They might have less intrinsic flavor,” he says. “You just need to find a way to use it."
This is their overarching philosophy. “I had a guest who said the beef seemed a little tough. I said, ‘Yes, that’s Thai beef,’ and he looked at me like, Oh, I feel sorry for you. But he missed the point. That’s just what it is. It’s my job to learn to enhance it. You can’t expect Thai beef to be Japanese beef.” Lingering at the counter after dinner, I note the line chefs gathering, laughing and rolling what turns out to be the duck sausage; hilarious—it’s a sausage party. “Before we were just playing,” Saki says. “Now it’s working together to build something solid.” Happily, though, they’re also still playing. 8020bkk.com; tasting menu Bt3,000.
The Forest Meets the Sea: southern herbs with toasted rice and fish innards dressing.
NAKHON SI THAMMARAT faces the Gulf of Thailand, with its back to the hills, making the city militarily defensible, and bequeathing on the region a cuisine that blends seafood, wild animals and herbs. Put another way, says Supaksorn “Ice” Jongsiri, who comes from there: “It’s soldier food. A lot of rice, and small portions, and intense in flavor partly because it needed to be preserved with lots of salt or sugar to be carried for duty.”
It’s rare that an haute Thai eatery can get the society set in a tizzy, but Sorn Fine Southern Cuisine has been booked out months in advance, Noma-style, practically since it opened last June. Exactly no one was surprised when they, serving hyperlocal common-folk food from villages in 14 southern provinces, won a Michelin star just five months in. Executive chef Ice, head chef Yodkwan “Yod” U-Prumpruk who hails from Surat Thani, and their mostly southern-born team take diners on a spicy, smoky, layered tour through the country’s hottest region. Pop some deep-fried, garlic-andchili-powdered Phuket sand crabs in your mouth and listen up, because the stories that accompany each dish are worth the price of admission.
Lunch is the lovelier seating in this garden-ensconsed restored villa.
“When I was young and my grandma made beef curry, she’d tell me to go to the Muslim village. Halal beef is really good,” Ice says. Sorn buys eight-year-old former milking cows from a Muslim community in Pattalung. “It’s not grass-fed or grain-fed. It’s whatever-they-had-fed. But when the cow is old its beef has more flavor and a soft texture with a milk taste left over. It’s very Thai, the breed is very mixed, but it sure tastes good, right?” Beyond right. The milk marinated strips grilled in a date sweetened curry sauce make for the best meat-on-a-stick I’ve ever eaten.
This dish is, on my visit, the last of a parade of majority-seafood small plates (lobster claw and head with coconut cream, turmeric and lemongrass on a rice cracker, for example) that precedes a table-takeover of shared dishes—curries and soups and rich meats galore. It’s a pleasant process, moving from the omakaselike individual portions to an avalanche of a family-style feast. You get to ooh and ahh for a bit, then sit back, discuss the flavors, and admire the stunning renovation of this Edenic villa, where there are handcrafted dishware created for each course, claypot stoves in the garden, and Art Deco light fixtures overhead.
Head chef Yod U-pumpruk (left) and executive chef Ice Jongsiri.
Pickled young mangosteen with palm sugar and fish sauce.
It’s a far cry from the backstory of southern staple khua kling, which recurs on the menu. Soldiers packed fermented shrimp paste with them when they went to camp in the forest, Ice says, and stir-fried it with stinky beans they foraged from the woods. Last month the restaurant shut for 10 days (despite the waiting list) for its own foraging trip: the entire staff went south to source ingredients. “Everyone takes part in crafting the menu,” Ice says, “with me as leader.” Or, should we say, general? instagram.com/sornfinesouthern; tasting menu Bt2,700.
Chef Som Theantae.
Cult scent purveyor Karmakamet knows pretty. Having built their “diner” in a sun-dappled industrial-chic greenhouse, they’ve opened their second eatery in Lhong 1919, a riverfront restoration project whose walls are adorned by new street art and century-old moss. But it isn’t just the romantic location of Karmakamet Conveyance that’s transportive; the finedining restaurant is a journey throughout Asia via the memories of chef Jutaman “Som” Theantae.
The Thai dishes come in hot, whether it’s the sashimiesque, emotionally titled Humid Morning by Prachuab Khiri Khan Bay that leads off, or the hunka-meaty spicedcoconut crab claw with curried corn patty and yellow rice. Her take on Hainanese chicken rice is a salve for the soul, a rich broth that will cure any hangover, and that is paired with a shot of an even richer broth made of threedays’ boiled bones and herbs—a delicious update of my Cantonese grandmother’s nose-repelling tonics.
Hainan braised chicken thigh with tao si lime dip, and a threedays' boiled bone-broth chaser.
Indeed, Som admits to taking inspiration from some foods she didn’t even like in their original form, making for culinary acrobatics that back up the restaurant’s theme, “allow things to happen the way they are”—an adage you’ll find all the easier to follow powered by the smart wine pairing from small-producer specialist-importer Fin. The progression from bubbles to white to red and back to white is a path surely less taken on tasting menus, but one deeply appreciated by the end of a
long meal. Who wants a soporific tannins denouement when you can have an uplifting Galician Godello? karmakametconveyance.com; tasting menu Bt2,500.
Local wild mushrooms and smoked pumpkin in a fish broth.
Chef Ton Tassanakajohn.
Koi pla—a cevichelike blend of raw amberjack fish with rice powder and kaffir lime—tableside.
Chef Aom Pongmorn.
SOME 300 YEARS ago, Laos was partitioned into the competing Kingdoms of Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champasak. They were all ruled by descendants of the same king, and through eras of war, annexation, encroachment and colonization by the Siamese, Vietnamese, Chinese and French, their lines endured such that in the two stormy decades after the country’s 1953 independence, the heir to one house, Prince Souvanna Phouma, held the title Prime Minister frequently, trading for a time with the heir to another, his cousin Prince Boun Oum. The chairman of the Pathet Lao, Prince Souphanouvong, was Phouma’s half-brother, and, in a way, thank goodness for that because when the communists took over and he became president, he ensured safe passage out of the country for many of his royal relatives... And that, class, is an important reason why today the Bangkok nightlife scene is so awesome.
Saya Na Champasak (left) and Sanya Souvannaphouma.
Roast chicken, clams and meatballs, Isan sausage, duck larb, and beef jerky.
Chef Chalee Kader.
I CONSIDERED making this section just two words: goat ribs. Because I will cross town regularly (which is saying a lot in Bangkok) for chef Chalee Kader’s umami-filled, char-grilled, tender, tasty goat ribs. Sourced from a halal butcher in Ratchaburi, they are lollipops of perfection.
Bone marrow (center) amid a carnivore's dream.
Eggplant sorbet with mulberries and caramel.
In the new Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, past an orderly open kitchen, is an airy atrium whose floorto-high-ceiling windows face fairy-lit greenery. It is a most apropos place to go on a continent-hopping culinary perambulation with spritely and spirited chef Rungthiwa “Fae” Chummongkhon.
Chef Fae Chummongkhon finishes a dish.