Exploring the heritage restaurants around Silom and Sathorn
At times there’s no need to spend a fortune in Bangkok to enjoy a delicious food experience in a tradition-rich heritage house. In fact, there are many places offering superb food in a historical atmosphere—where history and heritage match perfectly with gastronomy and good times, providing a unique Bangkok experience.
HARMONIQUE: This is the best kept secret of the staff of the nearby French Embassy, as Harmonique (22, Charoen Krung Soi 34) is located just a street away, in a miniscule soi in the vicinity of the Grand Post Office. The first impression might not be the best, as the atmosphere here is stuffy, dusty, and dark. In truth, the place looks like the hundreds of other Chinese-Thai shophouses in Chinatown that barely have changed over the last 50 years. Outside it’s adorned with plenty of dark yellow colouring, but once inside an inner courtyard welcomes visitors, and it’s suddenly more like entering into a countryside mansion. Plants are everywhere, birds are singing, and tables are disposed in around the old terraces and on the patio.
Diners who prefer to be seated inside can marvel at the original furniture pieces dating from the 1920s to the 1950s. It is like a trip back in time. Meanwhile the specialties—a lot made from pork—are never changing, and these exquisite tastes are available at extremely reasonable prices. Open Monday to Saturday, 11am to 10pm (Tel: 02 237 8175).
SATHORN MANSION: More commonly known nowadays as The House on Sathorn, this is one of the last, and one of the most exquisite, 100-year old mansions built along Sathorn Road. Constructed in 1914, in a typical neo-renaissance Italianate style, the property belonged to Thai nobleman Luang Sathorn. The magnificent mansion, with its arcade courtyard, became a hotel in the 1920s, before becoming—for almost half a century—the Embassy of the Soviet Union (and then Russia). In 1999 the Russians sold the place, and it remained abandoned until a real estate tycoon decided to restore it and make it part of a new development called Sathorn Square. It was finally integrated into the newly constructed W Hotel (106 North Sathorn Rd), and has since been used as a prestigious venue for special events as well as for being an exclusive wine and cocktail bar where friendly handsome barmen—Italian of course!—mix drinks and blend in ideally the surroundings.
Upon entering, the eye can’t help but be drawn to the architectural details, such as the elegant wooden panels, carved ceilings, chandeliers, painted walls, and the classical columns. Tea is available every afternoon around the courtyard, while lunch and dinner are also available with Chef Fatih Tutak serving “progressive Asian cuisine”. A delight which comes, however, with a suitably upscale price tag. But it is indeed a special privilege to drink or eat in the same place where the Soviet Ambassador used to stay.
Open daily from noon until midnight (Tel: 02 344 4000).
NAMSAAH BOTTLING TRUST: It’s impossible to miss this place, with its flashy façade of bright pink. The house that is home to the Namsaah Bottling Trust (401, Silom Soi 7) is almost 100 years-old and is built mixing Italian architectural details—so much appreciated by Siam’s upper class a century ago—with some typical early Art Deco geometric motifs. The house has played numerous roles: as a residence of a royal aide-de-camp; a soda company’s bottling office (giving the current name); and later being turned into the headquarters of a bank.
It’s current incarnation, a nightlife hotspot where Art Deco meets psychedelia, is the brainchild of Thai celebrity Chef Ian Kittichai, former diplomat and art gallery expert Jeremy Opritesco, music impresario Frederic Meyer, and nightlife guru Justin Dunne. The place is decorated like the grand home of an eccentric aesthete. The interior’s eye-candy mixes old furniture from the 1930s to the 1950s with contemporary pieces, old Asian antiques, and plenty of flashy colours. It’s at once decadent, weird, fun, and highly enjoyable. And, of course, there is amazing food and drink to experience, with Asian fusion dishes and incredible cocktails all showing the kitchen team’s unbridled creativity. Definitely a place not to be missed.
Open daily from 5pm to 2am (Tel: 02 636 6622).
NOTE: If you like this place, the same core team is behind the renowned Issaya Siamese Club (4 Soi Sri Aksorn), a fabulous restaurant set in a historical 1920s Thai home, offering brightly coloured interiors and tropical gardens.
BLUE ELEPHANT: All the highest honours of marrying fine gastronomy and historical preservation should go to the Blue Elephant company, the first to seamlessly blend together all these elements. Over 15 years ago the owners took over the magnificent mansion at 233 South Sathorn Rd, which used to serve in its early day as the headquarters of the British ‘Bombay Burmah Trading Company’ (mostly involved in the commerce of teak wood), and turned it into a dining establishment. The building had previously been taken over by the Chinese Thai Chamber of Commerce in the 1930s, but the Italianate neo-renaissance villa—complete with some Venetian gothic detail—needed some careful restoration before it became, in 2002, the seat of the Blue Elephant Cooking School and adjacent restaurant.
According to Sandra Chandra Steppe—daughter of Thai celebrity Chef Nooror Somany, and head of communication and marketing for the restaurant—the Blue Elephant is truly committed to preserve not only the tradition of Thai royal and haute cuisine, but also the cultural heritage of Siam. “My father collects many antiques and we just put them inside of the restaurant to show the exquisite skills of Thai craftsmen in former centuries,” she explains.
Tasting Blue Elephant’s cuisine—there is a special sample menu during lunch time which is easily affordable—gives one a chance to also admire the century-old pieces of art in an old heritage mansion setting. In many ways this is Bangkok at its best!
Open daily from 11:30am to 2:30pm, and 6pm to 10:30pm (Tel: 02 673 9353). www.blueelephant.com