It’s a clear and rather crisp November night in Bangkok, the kind of watershed weather that indicates the end of the city’s rainy season hibernation, effecting a mass migration to the river, rooftops, and alfresco enclaves like Mikkeller. In fact, to the garden at Mikkeller is precisely where many are headed. But I’m not. Instead of joining the T-shirt- and short-clad crowds plunked down on the craft beer mecca’s many beanbags, or even grabbing a seat on the patio, I’m going upstairs.
Forget cooler temperatures outside. The metaphorical heat gets turned up on the second floor of this airy house in Ekamai, where Chef Dan Bark, former sous chef of Chicago’s multiple-Michelin-starred Grace, has launched his first personal project, Upstairs at Mikkeller. And the heat is good.
Upstairs is an intimate affair: six small tables, platinum gray walls decorated with Keith Shore’s nimble Mikkeller artwork, and a very open kitchen in the corner of the room, where Chef Bark and his sous chef put the finishing touches on dishes before they land on white linen. On Friday and Saturday nights only, Upstairs offers 10 courses of what’s billed as Progressive American cuisine, paired impeccably with six exclusive and rotating Mikkeller beers on tap (plus a welcome beer, because, why not?) at B4900. The service is personal, the seating limited, the progression between pairings smooth and natural.
I’m here on a Saturday. In tight, minimal typeface the menu promises Roe, Roots, Crab, Potato Leek, Salmon, Duck, Wagyu Beef, Corn, and Beer Geek, each explained by a maximum of three ingredients (“WAGYU BEEF—broccoli, sesame, lime”) and underscored by a specific beer (Mikkeller: Orange Yuzu Glad I Said Porter). No matter descriptions. Roe, an amuse bouche of celery root purée topped with ikura, lemon gel, and chives—the starter paired with Mikkeller’s popular wheat beer, whose hints of fruit and spice joust wonderfully with the earthy purée—packs so much flavour and texture into such a small space as to straightaway suggest this will not be any ordinary dinner. And it isn’t.
All plates invite interaction. Crab—Alaskan king crab with sweet-and-sour kalamansi gel, coconut strings, and hydrated basil seeds—requires the aid of wait staff, such as the genial Ryan, who pours a cucumber-basil broth over the bowl, details how to best enjoy its elements (“get messy, mix it all together”), and finally puts in plain English the tasting notes of the Whenever pilsner with which it’s paired. The Duck involves consommé infused with Thai herbs and spices with the aid of a vacuum coffee maker. Then there are its ingredients: duck prosciutto, amaranth, and pearls of cranberry gel. And, perhaps most interestingly, its partner is the lip-puckering Spontanframboos, a lambic that would be hard to sip unaccompanied yet lifts the gamey fowl to great heights. Even desserts, one a trio of corn and the other a ginger tube stuffed with slushee’d Beer Geek and artfully surrounded by candied almonds, greens, and pineapple cream, gain depth of flavour from their boozy stout partner.
Pop-up pairings aside, before Upstairs, no permanent fixture in Bangkok had committed to craft beer as an integral component of dining. Branching out beyond wine pairings is just cause for celebration. But being there isn’t enough, and Chef Bark seems to know this. So he strives for more, coolly manning his drawing room kitchen upstairs, communicating with staff behind the scenes via microphone, appearing to constantly be researching ways to link cutting-edge cuisine with cutting-edge beers. This marks the dawning of an exciting new dining experience in Bangkok.
Upstairs at Mikkeller
26 Ekamai Soi 10, Yaek 2 | facebook.com/upstairsatmikkellerbkk | 0 2381 9891 | Fri-Sat 6.30pm-10.30pm