Bangkok’s very first Michelin Guide was unveiled last month at a lavish dinner celebration
The gourmet spotlight that has been shining on Bangkok for the past several years just got even brighter, to the tune of 20 stars awarded to 17 restaurants by the prestigious Michelin Guide, which launched the Bangkok edition of its fabled guidebook at an elegant black tie gala dinner at the Siam Kempinski hotel.
While many of the winners were expected results, there were several surprises and—perhaps even better—an entire category was given over to street food. The guide included a total of 98 restaurants, ensuring that Bangkok will be one of the world’s top foodie destinations for years to come.
While no restaurants here were awarded the elite three stars, progressive Indian standout Gaggan received two, as did the longstanding classy French restaurant Le Normandie (at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok). Also making the two-star grade was Mezzaluna (atop the Lebua State Tower), which features the dazzling cuisine of Japanese chef Ryuki Kawasaki.
Fourteen restaurants received a single Michelin star, including seven Thai restaurants, ranging from the traditional recipes with high quality ingredients at Paste, Bo.lan, Nahm, Saneh Jaan, and Chim by Siam Wisdom, to the innovative molecular Thai served at Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, to the biggest surprise of the evening… the street food shophouse Jay Fai, run by a 70-year-old auntie, being awarded a star. Rounding out the list’s international fare were five French and European contemporary restaurants—L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Savelberg, Elements, J’Aime by Jean Michel Lorain, and Sühring), one Japanese (Ginza Sushi Ichi), and the innovative fusion and craft beer pairing-focused Upstairs at Mikkeller.
One of the most appealing aspects of the listings throughout the guide is how much they show off Bangkok’s amazing diversity, both in cuisine and as a city. As Chef Gaggan Anand said after receiving his award, “This really is ‘Amazing Bangkok’, where an Indian restaurant and a hole-in-the-wall street food place run by a 70-year-old woman can both win Michelin stars—anything is possible here.”
Michelin International Director Michael Ellis added to this, citing Mezzaluna, “Where a Japanese chef cooks French food in Bangkok in a restaurant with an Italian name.” And even the award speeches themselves had plenty of cosmopolitan flavour, with the impeccably fluent Thai-English translator having a hard time translating a Thai proverb cited by Saneh Jaan’s winning chef, while Nahm’s David Thompson wowed the crowd by giving his entire speech in perfect Thai, and then asking if people wanted to hear it in English.
Perhaps of even more interest to local Bangkokians will be the ‘Bib Gourmand’ and ‘Michelin Plate’ listings included in the guide (as most local foodies are already well acquainted with the starred restaurants, and most of these will be booked for months on end). These alternate listings will give great exposure and direct both locals and visitors alike to some seriously delicious eats—priced more in line to what the average Bangkokian is willing to spend on dining. The ‘Bib Gourmand’, which honours “exceptionally good food at moderate prices” (meaning meals for less than B1,000) was given to spots such as Nai Mong Hoi Thod, a Chinatown shophouse that whips up the city’s best fried oysters and mussels, the longstanding congee joint Jok Prince, and famed Hainanese chicken and rice shop Go Ang Pratunam. Also included here were fancier sit down eateries like Soul Food Mahanakorn, Baannai, and The Local, all of which showcase the best of Thai diversity and flavours. Meanwhile, Michelin Plate winners included local favourites such as 80/20, Blue Elephant, Eat Me, Freebird, Il Fumo, Indus, Le Du, Sri Trat, Water Library, and The Dining Room at The House on Sathorn.
The December 6th gala dinner—honouring the winners and launching the guide—was an event in and of itself. Those not on the limited guest list had to shell out B20,000 to get a seat, and no expense was spared to lay out a lavish and visually stunning feast for those in attendance. Michelin chefs, both local and international, along with a massive team of kitchen staff, prepared a six-course meal which was served with elegant wine pairings and glasses of Moët & Chandon Brut Imperial.
Highlights of the dinner included a raw scallop and shrimp salad that came served as cotton candy, courtesy of Hendrik Yde-Andersen—the chef of the one star Thai restaurant in Copenhagen, Kiin Kiin, who conceptualized the menu at Sra Bua—and his protégé Chayawee Sutcharitchan, Sra Bua’s head chef. For another course, Chef Chan Yan Tak, of the three-starred Lung King Heen in Hong Kong, prepared his signature steamed lobster vermicelli with black bean sauce, while Chef Bee Satongun of Paste whipped up a roasted and caramelized pork cheek and Thai citron. Perhaps most intriguing and delectable was the dessert created by Belgian pastry chef Yannis Janssens of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon. His La Mangue Perroquet, which featured a mango with black sesame rocher, looked almost like a painting when served (only to collapse like an egg with heavy yolk when touched, revealing the tantalizingly sweet and creamy insides).
All this fabulous food and drink was accompanied by several short production numbers by the Royal Bangkok Ballet, along with speeches by some of the winning chefs who received their official Michelin jackets during the evening’s festivities.
Far beyond the immediate awards, the arrival of Michelin brings some longstanding benefits to Bangkok. With the guide recognizing 28 street food restaurants (unfortunately it cannot include pushcarts, as listed places must have a physical address), it pretty much squelches the foolish “crackdown on street food” that was threatened by authorities earlier in the year. Michelin director Ellis paid homage to street eats here, saying, “You can find the entire encyclopaedia of Thai food in street food. It’s omnipresent. We realized that street food in Thailand is not just a meal like lunch or dinner. It’s really all day long.” With tourists from around the world now flocking here to check out the listed street recommendations—not to mention Thai Tourism throwing plenty of money and weight behind the Michelin launch—it’s highly unlikely we’ll be hearing anything about Bangkok street food needing to be railroaded out of the city ever again.
I caught up with Michael Ellis after the awards ceremony and had a chance to get some of his positive takes on how the arrival of Michelin is a boon for Bangkok. The most obvious will be the global spotlight that will now shine on Bangkok’s culinary community. Foodies and gastro-tourists from around the globe will be putting Bangkok on their bucket list, and of course a Michelin star usually guarantees a restaurant a massive queue out its door for the rest of the year (indeed Mezzaluna reported a large spike in overseas bookings just a day after receiving its two stars).
Ellis also discussed how the entire food chain here gets lifted up, as the food supply network goes up, from locals who realize they can run a business sending avocados or truffles to restaurants, or farmers knowing there is a bigger market for their organic herbs and vegetables. Furthermore, Ellis notes that the talent pool in Bangkok will grow immeasurably, as dozens of young chefs coming up who want to have experience in Michelin-starred restaurants will now opt to come work here, with many of them eventually opening places of their own or settling here. As Chef Gaggan Anand remarked, “The arrival of Michelin makes Bangkok not just the street food capital, but now the gourmet capital of the world.”
Ellis went on to praise Thai cooking as one of the most diverse and intense cuisines on the planet, saying, “It’s the only food that mixes all the tastes on the palate, from spicy to sweet to sour, all together, which makes it totally unique.” While no Northern Thai restaurants made the guide, fiery Southern fare is represented by Khua Kling Paksod, and Isaan cuisine gets several nods, most notably at Baan Somtum, which serves up 29 varieties of spicy papaya salad.
No matter what your take on who won or who didn’t, the arrival of Michelin here has certainly spawned plenty of food talk and plenty of plans to eat. Noted Thailand blogger Richard Barrow has already embarked on a quest to eat at all 28 of the street food restaurants listed, and as Gaggan quipped towards the end of the evening, “This will be your last night to be able to get a table at Jay Fai for the next year.”
Perhaps best of all, the awards didn’t only honour the winning chefs, but all of the Thais in the restaurant industry who make all this possible. Chef Arnaud Dunand-Sauthier from Le Normandie stated that, “These stars show the world that Thais can cook French, Italian, and any cuisine they set their minds to.” Finally, David Thompson of Nahm paid homage to his staff, saying that they were the ones responsible for all of the magic in the kitchen, quipping, “All I do is come pick up awards.” With all the focus on Thai cuisine and Bangkok restaurants now, 2018 is sure to be the year of bon appetit.
NOTE: For a full list of winners, including the 33 Bib Gourmand awards, and the 76 Michelin Plate awards, visit: guide.michelin.com/th/en/bangkok/restaurants
Words by Dave Stamboulis
Photos courtesy of Michelin Guide Bangkok.