The first half of 2023 has flown by, the pandemic is now thankfully behind us, and tourism arrivals are back at all-time highs. Restaurant operators are optimistically whispering that this has been their best start to a year since 2019. Attempting to reserve a same day table in Sukhumvit has become an insurmountable challenge, which even the most ardent regular would struggle to overcome. Those occupying the lofty heights of uber-gastronomy, the chosen few, are now required to plan their upcoming gourmet social life, a mind numbing and previously unheard of, thirty to sixty days in advance. So, the early signs are, that 2023 will be a record-breaking year, not only in Bangkok but across Thailand.
In Phuket, hotels are full, restaurants are well patronised and yes, the dreaded traffic congestion is back. In the north, recently launched direct flights now provide access to out of the way places and despite the inevitable annoyance of the annual smog, the hospitality sector outlook is positive.
However, my current state of foodie ecstasy is not solely due to restaurants reaching capacity levels, but a combination of the sheer number of new openings and cornucopia of cuisines they offer. This exponential growth since late 2022 shows no indication of slowing down. As we continue our quest to make Thailand’s Favourite Restaurant Guide 2023/2024, the most comprehensive and best it can possibly be, our team of intrepid reviewers are not only being tasked with a lengthier list of potential inclusions to visit, but also increasingly innovative concepts, helmed by both Thai and non-Thai talent, stretching their culinary assessment skills to the absolute limit!
Over the past few years, we have been incredibly fortunate to see Thailand’s restaurant landscape flourish with what have now become some of the best and uniquely immersive experience restaurants in Asia, helmed by home-grown talent and imported “gastro-gods.” But alongside these industry icons, in perhaps less elaborate settings, new, “young gun,” talents are indeed emerging.
Phuket has always possessed high-end restaurants, many located within the plethora of luxury hotels. However, the past twelve months has seen the launch of many leading edge, stand-alone ventures, following in the footsteps of Acqua, now with an uber-glam outpost in Bangkok. Long-time pioneering PRU, now has a younger sister, JAMPA, joining Montara Hospitality’s sustainable green wave. Another recent highlight, is L'Arome by the sea, who have certainly upped the fine dining game, their setting, truly idyllic, their contemporary French cuisine by chef Yannick Hollenstein, a triumph. His foie gras au torchon with pear and Chalong bay rum, fast becoming a classic. French parent company, L’Arome Group have just opened nearby, a sibling, Bon Pan-Asian Tapas, a vibrant restaurant and bar with a casual vibe, celebrating diverse global cuisines offering unique bites of complementing fusion flavours, already making waves.
Bon Pan-Asian Tapas
Bon Pan-Asian Tapas
Most Phuket aficionados will agree that The InterContinental Phuket, was an eagerly awaited addition to the hotel scene that exceeds initially high expectations. Restaurants they have launched have already garnered accolades, and their Japanese newcomer, Tengoku, a tribute to Osaka traditions, in a super short space of time, now requires timely decisions, to secure a sought-after reservation. Their signature ramen, fast becoming, “if you know, you know.” And the journey continues; my local team of informants, have recently advised me that the InterContinental Phuket Italian/Dutch culinary duo, of Executive Chef Marco and director of food and beverage, Frederik, will soon launch a fermentation restaurant named HOM which promises much. Homegrown and internationally renowned, Chef Ton, has also expanded his burgeoning epicurean empire with the launch of Samut, or “Ocean”, a modern Thai seafood focused concept located in Nai Harn, helmed by Chef Banky. Their commitment to sustainability, using locally caught seafood, truly admirable.
Tengoku: Tengoku Ramen
Tengoku: Miyasaki A5 Wagyu
Tengoku: Matcha Ice Cream & Red Bean
And whilst the seafood dishes are a wonder, their signature Phuket dessert of Tu Bo, an intriguing combination of red bean ice-cream, sweet potato puree and salted coconut cream, is a memorable finale. One to watch must also be Semi di Tsubu, bringing the unique concept of Itameshi to Thailand. For those not in the know, Itameshi translates from Japanese, to “Italian food.” Semi di Tsubu offers an incredibly thoughtful marriage of contemporary Japanese and Italian cuisine, representing the rich history of both. The stunning interior, reflects the elegant and vividly striking cherry blossom with a nod to Roman architecture, cleverly authentic to concept.
The menu features many exceptional local artisanal and imported ingredients, delicately combined, showcasing both in genius creations, such as Tajima wagyu ravioli, ricotta cheese, shio miso butter, mushroom confit and aged parmesan, decadently rich but perfectly balanced. Thailand’s Favourite Restaurants award winning, Culinary Scientist, Chef Luca Mascolo’s Smokaccia Laboratory has just introduced a truly noteworthy signature menu featuring zero-waste bites to compliment his stellar smokaccias. More magic is on the way with Professor Luca, fine-tuning an extra special tasting menu to really raise the stakes.
During their industrious travels, my reviewers also uncovered the epitomy of a premium burger restaurant; whilst not strictly a new concept, the quality of product and meticulous attention to detail is definitely worth a detour. Pan Burger is a hidden gem, the burger, a genius and closely guarded secret combination of three cuts of Khao Yai wagyu beef to maximise flavour, fat and juiciness smashed, but cleverly not super thinly, and placed within a cold-fermented brioche with a sourdough and yeast starter. For those not in the know, the results of this, leading to an easier to digest product jam packed with flavour. My reviewer tip – the gorgonzola burger.
Chiang Mai has always been a hot-spot for authentic Thai restaurants at a friendly price point. Now a handful of newcomers are popping up to rival the landmark Blackitch, Aquila, RedBox and L’Elephant. The recently opened Melia hotel boasts a rooftop restaurant, Mai serving Thai cuisine with Mediterranean influences, a real first for me; a dish of Khao Soi with pappardelle deserves a mention.
Melia Chiang Mai: Signature Dish Pla Salmon Nham Prik Oung
Melia Chiang Mai: Signature Dish Mai's Samplers
Melia Chiang Mai: Signature Dish Phak Ob Samun Prai
A group of local restaurateurs have launched Sryth Bodi, a premium Mandarin chicken rice restaurant. A few months ago, James Noble and James Duncan, both well known within the restaurant community, opened Ikigai, a tribute to local ingredients grown across Thailand, with a menu of dishes inspired by so called blue zone regions with records in longevity and happiness. If your interest is piqued, the five are, Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece and Loma Linda in California, USA. The excitement continues with the welcome return to the fray, of the acclaimed, yet charmingly understated restaurant operator, David Gordon, with a May opening of Twist by David; bearing in mind his pedigree, anticipation will be huge.
Such is the volume of new openings in Bangkok, it would be impossible for me to comment on them all here. Please forgive the plug, but they will all be featured in our upcoming restaurant guide, revealing even more must-visits than before. Whilst ardently awaiting this missal, I highlight some of those you may not yet have had the opportunity to experience.
Beginning in Langsuan, at the end of an alley, all Bangkokian gourmets will undoubtedly fondly recall lies Bisou, a very French gastro restaurant and wine bar owned and run by Theo and Antoine. Both are stalwarts of the local culinary fraternity who are already, somewhat unsurprisingly, making their mark with French classics given a modern touch and an enviable wine offering. Chef Antoine’s pigeon stuffed with mushrooms, foie gras and eel is already a foodie talking point, whilst Theo’s encyclopedic knowledge enables him to source and present rarely seen wines from a continually evolving selection.
Their next-door neighbour promises to be one of the most eagerly anticipated openings of the year with expectations super-high. Inddee will serve up an unforgettable and never seen in Bangkok, Indian culinary experience. Tables will be in high demand and reservations essential.
2022 saw the arrival of Nordic cuisine to Bangkok with the globally renowned and accoladed, Bjorn Frantzen’s, Villa Frantzen, appropriately housed in a stunning villa in Yenakat in immaculately manicured gardens, a veritable vision at night. The kitchen, led by Swedish-Dane, Chef Nilas Corneliussen working within a chef’s dream kitchen has created what has rapidly become the Bangkok benchmark in both oysters and waffles. The former, served with spicy pumpkin condiment, smoked cream, finger lime and sea buckthorn oil is quite simply, “to perish for,” and the latter, a genius combo of jackfruit and coconut waffles, accompanied by sour cream, dried nori, beurre noisette and the piece de resistance, a 30g tin of Villa Frantzen caviar. I could quite possibly enjoy this achievement, as part of my daily diet. A recently introduced signature Frantzen French toast of vendace roe with pickled onions and Vasterbotten cheese is an elegant, multilayered textural structure and inevitable flavour bomb.
Nordic cuisine has also arrived in the locally grown Loyrom, where couple Chef Bass and Chef Natt relocated their Chiang Rai outpost to Soi 26. Their restaurant is contemporary in style, unique artwork adorning the walls and a soundtrack which perfectly enhances the concept. Both chefs have worked in several highly rated venues in Thailand and have created a stellar signature tasting menu which delivers on every level. Their upgraded bread course with lightly charred, sticky white rice sourdough, a velvet quenelle of Sichuan pepper miso butter, trout roe, pickled cucumber and a truly wondrous organic coppa ham will remain in one’s memory long after departing. I could also wax lyrical about their smoked fish beurre blanc sauce, surrounding a perfectly executed skrei cod or the saga matcha terrine to finish, but will stop there so you may experience their many surprises.
We are incredibly fortunate to have many talented Thai chefs offering us lucky diners their take on Thai cuisine.
Loyrom: Brown Butter Ice Cream
AdHoc, located in a super stylish townhouse just off Sukhumvit 39 is now led by Chef Pop, well known to many in the culinary world. She is quietly using her globally acquired techniques to elevate Thai fine dining. A truly stunning farm to fork modern Thai dining experience awaits with authentic heirloom classic recipes given a modern twist. Without sharing too much, their, signature burned coconut husk ice-cream, drizzled with charcoal powder and accompanied by black leum pua sticky rice, is indescribably moreish.
Rern focuses on reinventing southern Thai cuisine. Chef Boss leads the kitchen in an idyllic location with four attractive dining villas surrounding an oasis like pool. The tasting menu has many highlights including an extremely special elevated kanom jeen poo with accompaniments including prawn in prawn head sauce and crunchy chicken wings which for some inexplicable reason, when dipped in the curry mysteriously become much more than the sum of all parts.
Late 2022 also saw the opening of Vilas, chef/owner, Prin Polsuk’s, stylishly simply yet elegantly furnished, new venture with Spanish head chef Pepe Dasi Jimenez. Located within the Mahanakhon cube, in their own words, they have created a concept where two different cooking styles collide; Thai cuisine and modern European techniques, focusing on exclusive ingredients from Thailand, Japan and Europe. As one would expect, considering the pedigree of both chefs, the experience will not disappoint.
I must mention the long-awaited opening of chef Arnaud’s, Maison Dunand and Alpea. The former, needs little explanation, continuing his culinary legacy with perhaps a tad more freedom and finally in a place of his own. The latter with classic bistro recipes reflecting his childhood, growing up in the French Alps surrounding the Savoie. A beautifully rustic dining room, successfully recreating the ambience and warmth of an Alpine home. His signature hand-cut wagyu tartare with creamy, fat and salty Utah beach oysters, a testament to his talent. We have also seen the opening of a first for Bangkok; a fine dining Korean restaurant, Juksunchae where in an open kitchen with comfortable counter seating, Korean born Chef Henry serves up a deliciously memorable tasting menu of exquisite bites. A final arrival to mention, the uber-innovative Larder, a collaboration between Chef Radek and Chef Adrian, the former ex-Gaggan, the latter, ex-Gaa. Both cooking up a storm in an industrial space off Sukhumvit 39, with world class charcuterie, stellar sandwiches and dinners of simple yet wonderfully comforting flavours, accompanied by a phenomenal selection of natural wines, all available by glass.
Thailand has perhaps finally become a true food nirvana, in spite of the ever more acute country-wide staff shortage, let’s all encourage this unrivalled diversity by vowing to dine out more frequently in both new ventures and familiar favourites, supporting Thailand’s wave of talent.