Bangkok, the buzzing capital of Thailand found its way into my heart almost 20 years ago. Back then I was a low-budget backpacker who haggled with tuk tuk drivers for a cheaper ride and went out of my way to find the cheapest and hottest curries in shopping mall food courts. In those days it took some time to get anywhere, you would look at the gridlocked lanes of traffic wondering how on earth you'd ever get across a road or sit in a non-aircon bus enduring that real "traveller" incredibly hot experience! But only a couple of years since that first visit and Bangkok had built itself a world class public transport system that Sydneysiders could only dream of and each station of the BTS (Skytrain) system in the centre of the city sits adjacent to at least one major shopping mall or department store.
Fast forward to today and Bangkok is still the sprawling city of contrasts it always was. Plastic stools in front of street food stalls can be found close to some of the world's most luxurious hotels; you could have your breath taken away by the iconic Reclining Buddha at Wat Po during the day or be shocked by the seediness of the Patpong district at night.
If it's shopping that you're there for you can be wandering through what has to be one of the hottest places on earth that is Chatuchak Weekend Market or for a complete contrast hop on the BTS and arrive at the hip Terminal 21 Shopping Mall, themed as an international airport with each floor a different world city.
Since that first visit Bangkok has changed dramatically though, it's now a modern metropolis much easier to navigate than it was then. One of the greatest changes has been in the food scene - you can eat any cuisine in Bangkok and the Thais will most probably cook it better than the country from where it had originated. I understand that statement could land me in a bit of trouble! But moreover the innovation and respect to local ingredients and their own cuisine shown by some of the top Bangkok chefs puts Bangkok up there with the best foodie cities in the world.
At the beginning of April 2016 during a 3 day visit to Bangkok, I was lucky enough to eat in 3 of Bangkok's most amazing restaurants, all with their own take on modern Thai cuisine. Merely 2 hours after landing I was at Le Du led by Chef Ton Tassanakajohn who earned his stripes in New York. Le Du comes from a Thai word which is a synonym for "season" and the incredibly talented team transforms seasonal ingredients from local farmers into extraordinary modern Thai dishes. They offer a choice of a 4 course a la carte menu or a tasting menu for 2,300baht. Although having gone off tasting menus in recent years as they can be too long and overbearing we did opt for the tasting menu here. There wasn't too much food at all, just a series of stunning small dishes where each ingredient stood out and took our tastebuds through a journey of the 5 Thai Tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter andhot. Each taste is subtle, each texture pronounced and any spice hits at the end of each mouthful. Le Du is a small understated eatery that can be hard to find as it's down a back street, although it is quite central. Show your taxi driver the address in Thai and there'll be no problem. The staff were beautifully attentive without being in your face. They described each dish with pride and instructed us on the order with which to eat each ingredient of the dishes and were eager to know what we thought.
Chef Ton came out of the kitchen for a welcoming chat. This talented young chef and owner is one of a few chefs in Bangkok who are reinventing how we think of Thai cuisine but at the same time respecting the traditional styles that he learnt growing up.
The second of the 3 amazing meals was a return visit to Sra Bua, an exquisitely decorated restaurant complete with lotus pond and resplendent in teak, ornate Thai antiques and royal purple and gold fabrics.
The restaurant is located on the ground floor of the ornate Siam Kempinski Hotel which forms part of the high end Siam Paragon Shopping Mall. I was so enamoured by Sra Bua on my last visit to Bangkok I was eager to return, this time for lunch. Here food and art become one. Chef Henrik Yde-Andersen designed the menu but has relocated back to renowned Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen returning regularly to check on his baby. The cutting edge dishes have their origins in Molecular Cuisine but this is Bangkok and Thai flavours are the overriding factor here. If this restaurant was anywhere else in the world there would likely be a feeling of stuffiness but at Sra Bua menus are presented on Ipads and the front of house staff are warm and eager to please. Most diners had a camera at the ready and it's no wonder - the food is just so photogenic! The plates and bowls play their part in creating the gallery of gorgeousness that reaches the table. We ate:
And so to the final meal of this most recent short stay in Bangkok. Had a recommendation to try out Issaya Siamese Club which recently came in at No.16 on Asia's Top 50 Restaurants and so glad we did. This day will probably go down in history as one of the most gluttonous having had that lunch at Sra Bua but when in Thailand - EAT!
Again the restaurant is tucked away down a small side street so have the Thai address ready to show your taxi driver. It was only about 10-15 minutes drive from Siam Square however. Hard not to be immediately awestruck by the Colonial Style two storey building that houses Issaya. Set in picturesque tropical gardens there are outdoor cushions to laze on if you so wish but this was April, the hottest month of the year so we headed indoors. The brightly painted interior has been lovingly designed giving a respectful nod to days gone by.
Out of the 3 restaurants in this article the cuisine at Issaya is the one that keeps closest to its Thai roots. Chef Ian Kittichai is said to have come from pushing a foodcart around the Bangkok streets in his young days to being known as one of Thailand's most famous celebrity chefs. The restaurant's name Isaaya is an old Thai word for rainy season and it's the rain which helps the gardens flourish; in those gardens Chef Kittichai grows many of the restaurant's herbs, fruits and vegetables and he is known as a pioneer of 'farm to table' dining.
Not surprisingly Issaya's menu changes regularly according to what's available and is pretty extensive. Absolutely loved each of the dishes and only wish I'd gone with a bigger appetite.
Having already over-indulged that day we weren't going to choose a dessert and luckily we hadn't as the waitress came to the table and asked if we knew what a 'broken bucket dessert' was. Of course we didn't but were about to find out. I assume, but am not sure if, each table is given this complimentary end to their meal and I only wish I had the video at the ready but I had no idea what was to occur. A mix of meringue, passion fruit and coconut was dropped onto a banana leaf and a chocolate bucket shell complete with dry ice is thrown over those ingredients. The chocolate breaks into small pieces which are used to pick up each mouthful. It was a great piece of entertainment performed by the front of house staff and the dessert was incredibly delicious. The photo definitely doesn't do it justice - it looked messy but was divine. Couldn't help but be amused at having eaten two different dishes served with dry ice in two different restaurants on the same day. Gotta love Bangkok.
LEDU - 399/3 Silom soi7 Silom Bangrak Bangkok. Nearest BTS Chong Nonsi Exit 4 Ph (092) 919-9969
SRA BUA - 991 Rama 1 Road, Bangkok. Nearest BTS Siam. Ph: 2 162 9000
ISAAYA SIAMESE CLUB - 4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Road, Sathorn. Ph: 2 672 9040-1
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