ฺBangkok is on a roll. For the second year in a row, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards, sponsored by S. Pellegrino-Aqua Panna, bestowed top honours to an outlet from the Big Mango. Last year it was David Thompson’s legendary Nahm. This year, progressive Indian restaurant Gaggan was voted no.1 in the region, notching another major victory for the city’s growing fine dining scene.
Held at the Capella Singapore in early March, the awards ceremony brought together a who’s who of the continent’s culinary stars. As in past years, Thailand was well-represented. Not only was Gaggan named Best Restaurant in Asia, the cutting-edge eatery was also recognised as the S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Thailand. Hot on its heels were last year’s winner, Nahm, at number 7; Eat Me at 25; Bo.lan at 37; and Chef Ian Kittichai’s Issaya Siamese Club at 39.
Chef Gaggan Anand was understandably emotional about his win. “The first thing I did when I heard my name called out was to ring my mother!” he said. Later, while answering questions about his plans for the future, he remained humble. He thanked his team first and then reaffirmed his commitment to learning, putting in hard work, and celebrating food. His gratitude was only topped by the daring he displayed in preparing exquisite plates during a live cooking demonstration, the same kind of flair that saw his flagship restaurant rise to the top rank.
At this year’s awards, a slight change in the voting process yielded a greater diversity of results within the top 50, and in my estimation this was a good thing. New entries from the Philippines (Antonio’s, 48) and Cambodia (Cuisine Wat Damnak, 50) should encourage restaurateurs in the region to keep pushing boundaries in technique, taste, and style, because they will be recognised for it. The same old song and dance will not be enough to distinguish a restaurant — there are so many places producing interesting cuisine and providing memorable dining experiences that a new venture must approach food with passion and brio to truly excel.
There were a couple of other key points that I took away from the ceremony. First of all, the Top 50 list, once released, causes an uptick in reservations and press inquiries for the named restaurants. It also provides a snapshot of the culinary scene at any given moment, working like a weathervane to give direction to potential diners. This, I think, is the true value of the rankings. Some entries may be included year after year, building a solid reputation in the process, whilst others may come on strong and then fade. The S. Pellegrino-Aqua Panna Top 50 allows us to analyse the trends that emerge.
The second development I noted was the evolution of Bangkok’s culinary community. Our chefs have become a congenial bunch, willing to share and educate in a slightly more formal manner than has been the case in years past — for example, through large, industry-only private dinners.
They are putting the word out and celebrating good food together, rather than clawing tooth and nail to top one another. When the community nucleus has a chance to unify, grow, and flourish, great things happen: fine dining in Bangkok will look radically different down the road, thanks to the maturation of the restaurateurs as well as the heightened sophistication and expectations of local diners.
After decades in the dark, Bangkok is at long last gaining much-deserved critical attention among foodies around the world. The five fantastic restaurants in the 2015 Asia’s 50 Best list prove that point. What is most exciting, however, is the city’s rising role as a culinary hub. Already a top international destination for exotic holidays, it is also fast becoming a hot spot for fine dining.