The Mandarin Oriental machine is in its element when it comes to service. From the tailored-and-starched outfits of every waiter (it’s hard to count exactly how many) to maitre d’ Rahman Bousnina’s encyclopedic introduction to each course, Le Normandie’s service is on a level that feels archaically perfect—and with a good portion of the front-of-house team having worked there for over two decades, this really is service born from another era. The experience of a Le Normandie waiter rolling the straight-from dessert trolley to your table in order to draw a perfect fleur de-lis in your creme Anglaise is worth visiting for alone.
Mandarin Oriental, 48 Soi Burapha, Charoenkrung Rd., 02-659-0399 or 02-659-9000 ext. 7399. Open Mon-Sat noon-2pm, 7-10pm. Best Wine List
Best Wine List
The three sommeliers at Gaggan—one French, one Japanese and one Scottish—have grabbed hold of the wine menu and driven it down a natural, biodynamic route that’s as unconventional as Gaggan’s dishes. They have a cellar of some 5,000 bottles to play with, and shake up the wine pairing menu on a nightly basis. One course you might get is an Australian Semillon that’s been undergoing six months’ malolactic conversion in the bottle, while another might spotlight the rustic, cider-like flavors of an orange Chardonnay. If all this sounds like hard work, they’ll also offer a more “classic” pairing for those who want it. Gaggan operates a strict no-corkage policy, so don’t expect to turn up looking the big shot with a bottle of Petrus.
68/1 Lang Suan Rd., 02-652-1700. Open daily 6pm-midnight.
Best Young Chef
Pongcharn “Top” Russell
At 27 years of age, Top Russell isn’t just one of Bangkok’s youngest head chefs; he’s one of its most exciting. Top is the reason why Freebird’s cuisine has moved from clever but challenging to comforting and familiar; why your leafy Phrom Phong brunches now feature the best fries in Bangkok; why Freebird’s seafood risotto is alone reason worth booking. A Thai national who lived in the UK for 12 years, Top learned his trade in the London Michelin-starred kitchens of Alexis Gauthier, Jun Tanaka and Pierre Gagnaire. You can taste those foundations in his perfectly seared duck breast with carrot caramel or the lamb ragu pasta, but don’t expect high-wire levels of invention. “I want flavors that are approachable,” says Top. “No more than three or four ingredients on the plate. That way it’s easy to be consistent.” Read our full interview
Executive chef at Freebird, 28 Sukhumvit Soi 47, 02-662-4936. Open daily 5:30-11pm; Sat-Sun 11am-3pm. BTS Phrom Phong.
Best Hotel Sunday Brunch
Free-flow real Champagne, check; proper pasteurized cheeses, check; an oyster station that gets refilled regularly, check; breads and pastries worthy of the food coma, check; flooded with natural light and views over leafy garden terraces, check. When you go through the five-star Sunday brunch essentials, it’s amazing how many places fall short of the mark, but not this one. The Sukhothai was one of Bangkok’s first hotels to offer a no-holds-barred Sunday smorgasbords, and to this day remains a hard package to beat. Put it down to the elegant, city-resort setting, or put it down to the succulently pink center of that wagyu prime rib, but this is one of the few hotel brunches that justifies both the calories and the price tag.
Colonnade, 13/3 Sathorn Rd., 02-344-8888. Brunch served every Sunday noon-3pm.
Best Chef’s Table
The cries of “it’ll never work” when Korean-American chef Dan Bark decided to serve chef’s table-style tasting menus above a beer bar have been well and truly silenced. The flavors are creative but always work. The execution is exceptional. And the setting conjures that chef’s table essential of being both convivial and inviting while also serving as a culinary amphitheater for Bark’s work. While “table” might not strictly be true—the dining room at Upstairs in fact has five tables—the sense of being invited into the chef’s personal space still remains, with the kitchen positioned so there’s no separation between staff and diners. And in perhaps the most surprising move of all, here is a fine-dining beer pairing that actually works. Something we’re still waiting to encounter elsewhere.
26 Ekkamai Soi 10, 091-713-9034. Open Wed-Sat 6-10pm.
Best Pastry Chef
Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul
Executive chef at Issaya La Patisserie
Classical French pastry technique meets the flavors of Thailand in chef Paper’s delicate jasmine-infused macarons, moist-yet-crumbly kaffir lime madeleines, and perfectly light mango-and-pandanus choux buns. After her formal training at France’s Gastronomicom pastry school—followed by stints in the kitchens of Sadaharu Aoki and Hugues Pouget in Paris—Paper moved back to Bangkok where she joined prolific chef-restaurateur Ian Kittichai for the opening of Issaya Siamese Club. Since then, she’s been making sure our lazy Sunday afternoons in Central Embassy are catered to with gloriously indulgent eclairs (the Thai-style caramelized banana flavor is to die for) and a comforting taste of the tropics. Chef Paper’s cooking proves that, in the right hands, cultural culinary- mashups can work superbly.
5/F, Central Embassy, 1031 Phloen Chit Rd., 02-160-5636. Open daily 10am-10pm.
Best Debut Restaurant
When it opened last March, Gaa made headlines as a natural sibling to Gaggan. It was run by his former sous-chef, the Mumbai-born Garima Arora. It sat directly opposite Gaggan. And it too specialized in fine-dining tasting courses that employ high-wire culinary techniques. Since then, Arora has emerged from the master’s shadow to walk her own path—one dedicated to indigenous Southeast Asian ingredients that she employs to create dishes that are creative and often rooted in her Indian upbringing. Her stint in the kitchens of new-Nordic pioneer Noma dictates a produce-first approach to 10-14-course tasting menus that, justifiably, are making plenty of other chefs in this town talk.
68/3 Lang Suan Rd., 091-419-2424. Open daily 6-11:30pm.
Best Thai Fine Dining
Once the underdog of Thai fine dining, caught between the pioneers (Bo.lan) and the Michelin affiliate (Nahm), Paste proved in 2017-18 that it’s every bit as relevant as its contemporaries. Michelin star: check. Asia’s 50 Best nod: check. And now, it’s highest ever position in BK’s Top Tables, where it sits above every other Thai restaurant that made this year’s guide. Chalk it up to chefs Bongkoch “Bee” Satongun and Jason Bailey’s creative interpretations of antiquated recipes, about which they are fanatical, as well as a beautifully muted dining space that shuns Thai restaurant cliches. “When we first opened in Sukhumvit Soi 49, we were empty for almost three months,” says Bee. “We would turn on some music and still nobody would come, but we just kept going”. The fruits of that perseverance have most definitely ripened.
3/F, Gaysorn Plaza, 999 Phloen Chit Rd., 02-656-1003. Open daily noon-2pm, 6:30-11pm.
Top Table's 2018, BK Magazine's guide to Bangkok's 100 best restaurants, is available as a free booklet inserted in BK Magazine issue number 731 (Mar 23) and a downloadable PDF version.