Bangkok owes its blue ribbon as the Asian city with the highest-ranked restaurant on the recently published World’s 50 Best Restaurant list to a failed marriage.
Ten years ago, Chef Gaggan Anand left his wife, along with his house, car and a job he found deeply unsatisfying in his native Kolkata. The then 27 year-old packed a suitcase and flew to Thailand. What the current world’s No. 7 ranked chef calls “the best decision of his life,” was also the start of a gastronomic journey which coincides with Bangkok’s own transformation into a city worthy of its own Michelin guide, which will be published by the venerable culinary authority later this year.
While Thai food boasts a worldwide following, the Bangkok which Gaggan encountered on arrival in 2007 was mostly known for its spicy street food. A night on the town would often end with a heaping plate of pad Thai at somewhere like the neon-lit food stalls along Sukhumvit Road Soi 38. Restaurants which merited any attention beyond Bangkok mostly operated inside the city’s hotels, many of them stuffy, traditional affairs. Thais favoured Italian food over their own cuisine when they dined out, saving native flavours for nights at home.
When the World’s 50 Best Restaurants were announced in Melbourne, Australia on April 5th, Gaggan’s ground-breaking, eponymous eatery (located fifteen minutes in an Uber from Pullman Bangkok Hotel G) was praised for its uniquely creative and continually reinvented menu. Among the many palate-pleasing dishes, the panel cited some of our favourites including Indian sushi and sea urchin ice cream. Without giving too much away, we are also partial to his menu mainstay known as Yogurt Explosion, a spherified yogurt concoction and to the deconstructed, fennel infused Samosa, a dish which arrives in the form of a bird’s nest. This dish alone took the Indian culinary guru one year to create.
Credit for pioneering Bangkok’s exciting contemporary dining scene goes to the Australian chef who currently holds the Thai capital’s other spot on the seminal list, coming in at No. 28 for his Thai restaurant Nahm. David Thompson’s life took a detour in 1986 when he unexpectedly found himself alone in Bangkok. “Everything changed,” says Thompson, “the moment I discovered how remarkable real Thai food could taste.” Studying the cooking, Thompson discovered forgotten recipes in Thai books of the dead. These small traditional volumes contain stories about the deceased. As food is central to Thai culture, many included beloved dishes. Thompson went on to introduce this haut Thai cuisine to Anglo palates in Sydney and London before doing the audacious in 2010, bringing his Michelin starred Nahm to Bangkok. “Damn,” Thompson recounts one of his first Thai customers saying. “I came intending to complain about an Australian cooking our food, but I can’t.”
Gaggan and Thompson represent Bangkok well on the international rankings. They are joined on the also prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list by seven other stellar chefs currently helming kitchens in Thailand’s City of Angels. Luckily for us, Hotel G strategically sits among all these winners: Sühring (No. 13), Bo.Lan (No. 19), Issaya Siamese Club (No. 21), Eat Me (No. 31), The Dining Room at the House on Sathorn (No. 36), Le Du (No. 37) and L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon which rounds out the list at No. 40. For a city long considered a culinary backwater to Singapore which holds an equal number of spots on this year’s list, Tokyo where eight chefs garnered places in 2017 and Hong Kong where only six culinary gurus made the cut, Bangkok has firmly staked its claim at the delectable vanguard of cutting edge global cuisine.