There are a few schools of thought regarding Michelin stars in Malaysia. Some among us think it is a travesty our country does not have its own Michelin Guide while others feel Malaysia teeters between “isn’t ready for it” or “does not quite need it”. After all, we as a people and nation honestly and wholeheartedly enjoy, extol and appreciate the art of eating ... but not necessarily dining. And lest we reopen the argument, here is a small selection of the starred restaurants we most enjoy frequenting in Bangkok to give you enough fuel to argue your case.
The Chef: Supaksorn Jongsiri, better known as Khun Ice.
The Brief: Housed in a lovely bungalow down a cramped alley in Klongtoey, Sorn is not the easiest restaurant to find, let alone score a reservation for. You need foodie friends in high places to really help you out here but the lobbying/ badgering effort is well worth it if the idea of thoughtful, clever and heartfelt Southern Thai cooking appeals to you. The dining room is surrounded by greenery and the claypot burners of Sorn are all housed in an open-concept kitchen, ideal for those who like a little bit of live action.
But if you cannot bag a spot (and don’t take it to heart — many food and beverage insiders remain on the waiting list), you can at least get a taste of what is in store by heading to a Baan Ice outlet near you, also run by Sorn’s founders — Khun Ice and Yodkwan U-pumpruk. Here, feast on more casual versions of Southern Thai favourites like crab roe with chilli paste, fried melinjo leaves with egg and crab and, of course, Baan Ice’s signature ballerina-like dessert of pink snow.
The Meal: As we were seated at the chef’s table, naturally, the only way to maximise the experience would be via the full Southern Thai tasting menu — an extensive 20 course culinary journey through the rich, fertile lands of regions such as Surat Thai (famous for its oysters), Krabi and Phuket (coconuts) and Songkhla and Pattani (agar and seaweed). Having grown up in the south and been schooled in traditional and authentic southern-style cooking by his grandmother, Khun Ice’s menu for Sorn is a true tribute to Thailand’s beautiful south. If you are not accustomed to spice, be warned: Sorn’s levels are mind-numbingly fiery. It is a good idea to pair your meal with one of the wine flights available, which may include the “Bearnana” YodBeer, a local craft beer exclusive to Sorn; an aromatic arneis from the Roero region of Piedmont, Italy; and perhaps a savagnin from the French Jura, all chosen for their ability to soothe singed palates.
Everything we tried that evening, from the young mangosteen amuse bouche topped with crispy krill, shallots and coconut palm sugar to the famous 2C Lobster and sand mole crabs with seaweed powder, red corn and spice, was expertly executed, innovative and highly memorable, while dishes like the sator (petai to you and me) served with abalone and mantis shrimp and the fresh yellow curry with young mangosteen and fish roe were delicious, respectful nods to the region’s culture and produce. Even the palate cleanser of torch ginger sorbet left me swooning. Verdict? Pull every string in your Rolodex to get a booking posthaste.
56 Sukhumvit 26 Alley, Klongton, Klongtoey, 10110 Bangkok; +66 (99) 081 1119.
The Chefs: Identical twin brothers Thomas and Mathias Sühring, who first made a name for themselves in Bangkok at Mezzaluna at LeBua.
The Brief: Before you roll your eyes at the idea of frequenting a fine-dining modern German restaurant in the Asian food heaven that is Bangkok, do know that there is reason enough why the powers that be at both the Michelin Guide Bangkok and The World’s 50 Best Restaurants have given Sühring two stars and listed it at No 45 respectively. (On Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Sühring is No 4.) Having opened in February 2016, Sühring is housed in a lovely bungalow (to evoke their grandma’s garden, say the twins), you feel as if you are in a midsummer night’s dream as you make your way, guided by lamplight, into the restaurant. Tables are placed in various rooms of the house (the winter garden, the living room and the kitchen) but well spaced out enough to ensure a sense of privacy and unobtrusiveness. There are cosy sofas with cushions, shelves adorned with cookbooks and assorted bric-a-brac, and framed photographs of the chefs, some together with their investor — another of Bangkok’s famous culinary talents, Gaggan Anand.
The Meal: Divided into three distinct chapters, dinner at Sühring is an elegant yet playful affair. The maître’d and sommelier work efficiently to ensure all, from the aperitif to digestif and everything in between, is seamless. Apart from the three chapters of dinner, there are also suggested add-on dishes (the Berlin staple of currywurst, the Schwabian noodles that are spätzle and the Bavarian schweinshaxe or roast ham hock) as well as a wine pairing option. We plumped for the Erlebnis (German for “experience”) menu and were served a most palatable procession of German-inspired delights like pretzel and obatzda, that classic Bavarian biergarten cheese dip; chicken salad; the north German speciality of aal grün or boiled eel in herb sauce; Leipziger Allerlei, a regional dish of peas, carrots, beans, asparagus and morel mushrooms but served with eye-pleasing sophistication; and even miniature Schwäbishe Laugenweckle with the cutest little maß (mugs) of tipsy lemonade. Chapter Three, dedicated to desserts, is no less playful and pretty, with Oma’s Eierlikör (or Grandma’s Eggnog) and the superlative Süßigkeitenbox (Confectionery Box) deserving special praise for its taste and presentation.
10 Yen Akat Soi 3, Chongnonsi, Yannawa, 10120, Bangkok; +66 (2) 287 1799
The Chef: Bongkoch Satongun or Khun Bee, who co-owns Paste together with husband Jason Bailey and was named Best Female Chef — Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018. This year, she also opened her second restaurant, Paste at The Apsara, in Luang Prabang, specialising in Lao food, a tribute to her roots and heritage (her father is Hmong and mother from the Lao Wiang ethnic group).
The Brief: Old-school Thai with a sophisticated, refined streak running through it best describes the cuisine of this beloved Bangkok fine-dining room. Although it does not quite have the serene setting of Sorn or Sühring, its location within the upper levels of a shopping mall is forgotten the minute you step into its polished, design-conscious interiors, which were conceptualised by Soda Thailand, the same firm behind properties like the
W Bangkok, the Hilton Yala in Sri Lanka and the Anantara Khihavah Maldives. You would want to be seated near the dramatic sinuous sculpture that rises up to the ceiling, spun from silkworm cocoons, unless of course you prefer a view of what is going on down below at the Ratchaprasong intersection. Everything is done up in muted hues of beige and cream, leaving the ingredients and dishes to literally pop with colour as they are served to you one by one.
The Meal: Khun Bee’s star dish is undoubtedly her watermelon starter, served with ground salmon, fried shallots and roast galangal powder, although the old-style hot and sour soup of crispy pork leg in chicken broth with roast tomatoes and topped with chargrilled shallots and jackfruit seeds comes a close second. My recommendation would be to come for lunch, so you can enjoy your meal amid sunlit interiors yet still have plenty of time to walk it all off in the surrounding shops afterwards.
The lunch tasting menu starts with the famous watermelon and ground salmon dish, followed by roast duck with nutmeg and sawtooth coriander on rice crackers and a heavenly, comforting 26-flavoured congee with horse hair crab and garlic chive roots. The other favoured dish of hot and sour soup was also on the tasting menu when we visited, making for an appetite-whetting course before the heavyweight dishes of air-dried beef salad with cured eggplant and the chef’s stellar reinterpretation of Kalee Ped, a duck curry whose recipe stems from royal chef and master of ceremonies to the kings of Laos, Phia Sing, come out. It might sound a bit much for lunch but, believe me, you will want to find and, indeed, make stomach space for more. Such are the flavours of Paste.
3rd Floor, Gaysorn Village, 999 Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, 10330 Bangkok; +66 (2) 656 1003.
SRA BUA BY KIIN KIIN
The Chef: Henrik Yde Andersen, although Sra Bua’s kitchen in Bangkok is helmed by head chef, Chayawee.
The Brief: If you are a Nordic foodie, chances are you would already be familiar with the Kiin Kiin empire, from the mother ship in Nørrebro to the rest scattered around Copenhagen, namely the lacto-vegetarian restaurant VeVe, Sea — which is by the waterside location of Skuespilhuset and the Korean and Taiwanese-inspired Bao Bao. The Bangkok outpost, however, is named after the Thai words for lotus pond and has long come to be associated with the Kempinski hotel here, after being invited by a Thai princess to set up a restaurant in Bangkok — a rare honour, by all accounts. Sra Bua’s cuisine is best described as avant-garde, with traditional ingredients and flavours meeting all the innovation of molecular gastronomy.
The Meal: My most recent venture here was just two weeks ago and it was a timely reminder indeed that, amid all the new starry-eyed ventures in and around Bangkok, dining at Sra Bua remains an elegant yet delightful experience. The service is flawless and friendly and although it boasts a star, Sra Bua welcomes children above six years of age. With the baht not being terribly friendly to the ringgit of late, it makes sense to come for lunch as the current Mini Winter Journey menu would set you back by just THB1,850++.
Be prepared to be surprised and sated as you make quick work of the Snack and Street Food starter, chased by a perfect crispy seabass served with cotton candy and spicy cucumber salad, the restaurant’s signature dish of frozen Maine lobster salad and red curry, slow-cooked wagyu beef with homemade oyster sauce and a most pleasing pudding of banana cake served with salted ice cream and caramelised milk. If you simply must have more, opt for the full menu which comes with additional dishes of Thai ceviche scallops, tom kha cappucino, foie gras with pomelo and tamarind, among other delectables.
Siam Kempinski Hotel, Rama 1 Road 991/9, 10330 Bangkok; +66 (2) 162 9000.
RAAN JAY FAI
The Chef: Supinya Junsuta, better known as Jay Fai, which literally translates into “Big Sister Mole” for the beauty mark on her face, can always be seen slaving over a fiery wok, sporting her iconic oversized goggles and beanie. She has also become somewhat of a celebrity having been featured in Street Food, the Netflix series by the same talents behind Chef’s Table. Her Instagram account, which had 45,400 followers at press time, showed a slew of celebrities trooping in to dine recently, including the Backstreet Boys, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen and Korean-American DJ and model, Soo Joo Park.
The Brief: It is all wok and roll action at this nondescript, Bangkok hole in the wall. There is zero air conditioning to speak of and, unless someone very high up in Thai society or the food and beverage industry owes you, be prepared to queue for hours. Such is its notoriety, that TripAdvisor even has a list of things to see and do near the restaurant. Alternatively, if you are coming for dinner, you can always choose to line your stomach first with a plate of one of the city’s most famous pad thai noodles at Thipsamai, just a few doors away, washed down with a glass of its equally famous orange juice, naturally.
The Meal: There are not too many things on the menu so if you are dining in a group, we suggest ordering everything but zeroing in on the star dishes of crab omelette, drunken noodles with seafood, king prawn and glass noodles in clay pot, stir-fried crab meat with egg and onion in yellow curry and the dry congee with seafood or prawns. All you need thereafter is a bottle or three of cold beer. Oh, and do not forget to bring cash. Lots of it. That is the only way to pay at the undisputed queen of Bangkok street food’s joint. Don’t say you were not told.
27 Maha Chai Road, Samran Rat, Phra Nakh.
See the full list of this year's Michelin Guide winners here. This article first appeared on Nov 11, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.