Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants

Yeah! The list is out again – Asia’s 50 best restaurants is an annual snapshot of the opinions and experiences of almost 1,000 international restaurant industry experts. This is our bible when we plan which restaurants to visit on our trips to Asia. It has seldom let us down, except once in Singapore (Jaan), and it covers restaurants in cities that are not included in Guide Michelin. Next stop for us will be Hong Kong, so let the browsing begin. But fist, a quick look o who is the the top 10 this time. Continue reading “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants”

The Issaya Tradition

We have become, somewhat, creatures of habit: lunch Issaya Siamese Club is what really starts the annual vacation. It has become a tradition that we do not want to miss, even if the menu is already more than familiar to us. The old Thai-villa, turned into a restaurant is a wonderful experience with modern Thai cuisine and a relaxed atmosphere, colorful decor and extremely friendly service. Issaya also features Chef’s garden where guests can see aromatic Thai herbs grown year-round.  I have written about it several times (here and here), and cannot help myself writing about it again. The beautiful dishes contribute to great food-photography.  Continue reading “The Issaya Tradition”

Dinner at Asia’s #1

I must admit I came to the visit at Nahm with high expectations as it, with spot 13, is the highest ranked Asian restaurant on the top 50 restaurants in the world (and consequently also ranked number 1 on the top 50 list for Asia). Perhaps I should have known better as I am not always in agreement with the list makers at the Worlds 50 best restaurants (still cannot get that Dinner is number 5, yes a good restaurant but not really the top class to deserve such a spot).

Nahm is at the entrance floor at the Metropolitan hotel in Bangkok. The building has a distinct 70s feel to it but when walking into to the restaurant it looks very nice as the first thing I saw was the nice seats outside. We were unfortunately not seated there but if we would go again I would make sure to ask for a seat on the terrace up front. The decor inside is nice but also a bit boring, it could basically be an upscale hotel restaurant anywhere in the world. What gives away that it is either Asia or the US is the AC being cranked up so much I wish I brought more clothes. I have never really understood the need to lower temperature to 18 or so when it is 30 outside.

After being seated and handed menus we were asked about drinks. After quickly browsing the wine selection (pretty decent) and price level (as most places in Thailand a bit of a joke, for example a glass of champagne was around €35) so we opted for cocktails instead. The list was fairly extensive but surprisingly not that exciting for me or S. I opted for their twist on a Moscow Mule, a Strawberry Mule with vodka, strawberries, fresh ginger and ginger ale. Very refreshing and not sweet so would fit well with the dishes to come. S selected the ginger martini, also very fresh but they should really work on the presentation as it was just dull.

On to the main reason for the visit: the food. Australian born executive chef David Thompson together with head chef Prin Polsuk heading up this place are doing traditional Thai food with some slight twists. The menu was very extensive and split into six sections as well as a separate dessert menu. It had canapés, salads, soups, relish, curry and stir-fry/steamed/grilled. There is also a tasting menu offered for 2200 THB per person and that features a selection of canapés and a choice of one dish from each section as well as dessert.

Browsing the menu we quickly grasped that it would be a better option to just order what we wanted from the a la carte instead of taking a tasting menu. Trying to discuss the menu with the staff was however nearly pointless as their level of English was just not sufficient. We could not really get any information on how many dishes should be ordered and despite repeating several times that we did not want anything from the relish section it was repeatedly pushed by the staff.

Since we got nowhere with asking we just picked dishes that we thought sounded good and hoped it was not too much. We choose the following dishes:

– Grilled Mango Salad with Pork and Sour Leaves
– Coconut and Chicken Soup with Deep Fried Garlic,
– Green Mango and Chilli
– Wild Mushroom and Ginger Soup
– Duck Curry with Banana Peppers and Shallots
– Grilled Pork Cheek with Smoky Tomato Sauce
– Stir-fried Wagyu Beef with Charred Onions, Oyster Sauce and Thai Basil

We were informed that it would all come approximately at the same time as it is for sharing. We checked if there was an option to not have all at the dishes at once as food will go cold but not an option. I know that it is pretty typical but still prefer getting a few dishes at a time to be able to eat food while it is at least warm. The food did indeed arrive almost all of it at the same time. Only dish that took longer was the Pork Cheeks that arrived around 15 minutes later than everything else. We were served rice by a waiter walking around with a big bowl. That is of course fine but the problem is that the rice tends to need to be refilled and the waiter was not really attentive so often could be without refill of rice for 10 minutes with all the food on the table. Not a big issue but at a restaurant with ambitions that is not really good enough.

If I look at the food, all of it was good but not at all spectacular in any way. The Mango salad was decent but not really anything I would want to order again, pork was very tough to chew as well. The wild mushroom and ginger soup was also a fairly boring dish, did just have some taste of ginger and the mushrooms were barley noticeable. The other soup, coconut and chicken, was however very nice, pleasant roundness and a proper sting of spiciness. It was also good for warming me up in the cold restaurant.

It was at this point also clear that the we had way too much food, 3 or 4 dishes to share between two people would had been enough. Not sure why the staff could not manage to say anything despite asking several times. The Duck Curry had also sounded exciting but it turned out to be a very plain curry with meat that was chewy and not really tasty. The stir-fried beef was very good, nice texture of beef, good balance to the spiciness. My favorite dish was the pork cheeks or rather part of the dish. They were supposed to be grilled but only part of them appeared to be. Some were almost charcoal like while others were barely grilled at all. Lovely taste to the ones that were grilled properly but too poor execution for the full dish to be a success.

The food was in a sense pretty decent but I expect more from a restaurant that is this highly regarded and that charge well above the average Thai prices. Service was also poor, language skills were not good enough and there was a general lack of attention. The restaurant was not nearly full and there were lots of staff wandering around but still very difficult to get service. We ran out of drinks half-way through dinner but did not manage to get the attention of anyone so ended up not ordering any more drinks. When we finished the mains it was almost impossible to get anyone to bring us first the tea menu and to then take orders. It also appeared to come as a total surprise that after eating we want to pay.

Of the ‘fine dining’ restaurants we visited in Bangkok Nahm was clearly the worst. That is not saying that it was bad but I would not return while I would happily return to Issaya Siamese Club and Gaggan. Price for two was still decent, way too much food, cocktails, water and tea ended up with a bill of around 5 000 THB (approximately €130-140).

Lunching at the Club

When planning for our trip to Asia, we did not have much fine dining in mind. However, after looking at the prices for tasting menus at some of Bangkoks hot spots, we changed our mind. An eight (8) course lunch at Issaya Siamese Club set us back only 1500 bath (below €50), so it felt impossible to pass by. After a sweaty walk (45 min in the scorching mid-day heat) we arrived at Issaya Siamese Club. A beautiful green garden surrounding a colonial style Thai villa. Looking at the pictures one could almost think the building is in the middle of the field with no signs of the concrete jungle on the other side of the walls. As we were hot from the long brisk walk, we opted to sit inside. The terrace looked nice as well.

We started of by ordering some cocktails (we are on holiday after all) to cool us down. The list was several pages long with thai influenced drinks. Reading the list made me even more thirsty. I went for the Pandan Cooler with good old ginger and some pandan leaf. It looked great and tasted even greater. They even took the time to make a little origami fish for me to swim around in the glass. How cute is that! For the love of God I cannot remember what M had, but it looked as well as tasted great. I could have went through the whole list, but it was perhaps too early in the day for that. For food, we chose the set menu with 8 dishes to share. It wasn’t the traditional one dish at a time menu, but rather a real Asian meal with food arriving when it was ready, some dishes at the same time, but clearly in three steps: appetisers, main and dessert. In addition we were served a lovely three piece “greeting from the kitchen” (amuse bouche) and some (take-away) marshmallows for an extra dessert. A casual 10 course lunch, nothing out of the ordinary (LOL).

So what kind of food did we have? The amuse bouche was a lovely trio: tuna tartar with Thai spices and chili, a lightly fried and battered shrimp with tamarind and aubergine and chicken with rice omelette. For starters we had banana blossom and palm heart salad with crispy shallots and roasted peanuts, slowly cooked ribs and grilled beef with fresh herbs and vegetables in charred birds eye chili vinegarette. After the starters, we got a small raspberry sorbet to freshen us up and to cleanse the pallate. For mains we were served some lovely lamb shank with massaman curry, volcano chicken (they set the chicken on fire) and tiger prawns with house pepper mix and holy basil. As a side we were served a lovely smoky multigrain rice in hot pot. The dishes made a wonderful combination. Ok at this point I was stuffed with dessert still to come. Luckily goodies go into a separate stomach, and the jasmine pannacotta in pandan leaf was also quite light. I was able to stuff it all in.

The service was really what made the final difference when considering how to rank the restaurants we visited in Bangkok. Perhaps we got some extra attention because the restaurant was not very full that day, but regardless of that we felt very welcome from the minute we walked in. The head waiter took some extra time to chat with us about the food also taking an interest in where we were from and what our preferences were. There was nothing pretentious or overwhelming about the wide smile we encountered every time a dish arrived at our table. If something could be improved in the service it is little things, for example clearing the empty plates briskly after we were done. This felt like the only thing in the way of Issaya getting a Michelin star (can’t comment on the consistency of food though, perhaps I have to visit again). All in all, I very much enjoyed our lunch at Issaya. It was the first ‘real’ restaurant we visited in Bangkok so it has set the expectations for the coming restaurants rather high.

Wineweek 10: Bangkok Edition Vol. 2

Greetings from sunny Koh Samui! Its nice and hot here, feels much warmer than in Bangkok (temprature is actually pretty much the same). I guess it is the humidity in the air that really makes the difference, and it makes me crave for some cold, dry and sparkling even more. It was to be expected, but the selection of wine here on the island is even worse than in the Capital, obviously. However, in such a sauna, beer tastes almost as good. So we have stocked up with some local and local-ish (read: Asian) beer to keep the thirst at bay. I actually prefer to have my beer from cans. Like Coka Cola, it just tastes better from aluminum, or what do you think? But back to Bangkok for a while, the island edition is coming up next week.

We were so overly excited to find a decent wine bar in Bangkok, that we published a review immediately. You can find Ms review on the @494 at the Grand Hyatt here. We were equally offput by a Romanian sparkling wine we bought at the store, that we posted a Wine warning. A Wine warning will be issued when a wine has the look of something drinkable, but majorly disappoints when tasted. Some wines you already know will not be good, like many bag inbox, so you just have yourself to blame if you put it in your mouth. But the devious wines that manage to trick their way into my glass, they are the ones that will get a Wine warning.

What else did we do in Bangkok this week? We went to some very interesting restaurants. We had not planned for much fine dining, but it was much easier to reserve a table in the Bangkok top spots than one could have thought. We picked three interesting restaurants from the Asias To 50 -list (2015): Nahm (#1), Gaggan (#3) and Issaya Siamese Club (#31). The restaurant ranking lists are a bit tricky, and we found ourselves disaggreeing heavily (with the list, not eachother) on which one should come first. We will write some separate reviews on all of them, but I think it is worth mentioning here how we placed our votes.

Ambience:
1. Issaya Siamese Club
2. Gaggan
3. Nahm

Food:
1. Issaya Siamese Club/ Gaggan (50/50 vote)
3. Nahm

Service:
1. Issaya Siamese Club
2. Gaggan
3. Nahm

Issaya Siamese Club was a beautiful, unique and very customer oriented restaurant that was very strong in quality produce and talented cooking. The only minus could be that it was hard to find, but perhaps we can only blame ourselves trying to be very Scandinavian and walk there (google maps really let us down). Gaggan is a restaurant doing Indian fusion (or progressive Indian as they call it), a style of food that has failed me many times. With a chef who used to work at the famous El Bulli’s food lab they do a bit of hokus pocus but still with focus on flavors and that it should taste good. There is an Indian twist, but not too forceful to take the focus off the culinary experience. This is very hard to achieve, so thats why M and I disaggreed on the first spot for food in our ranking. Nahm was good, but nothing that stood out from a good hotel restaurant anywhere in the world. Service in general lacks behind Europe and the US, but perhaps it is also how we want to be served compared to what the local culture considers valuable.

As I mentioned before, the lack of wine would perhaps be compensated by some refreshing cocktails. In general, I must say I was a bit disappointed at many bars we looked at. Even the Speakeasy on the rooftop of our hotel, The Muse, that was supposed to be one of the best in town was very average. I guess they ranked it based on the view. Cocktail list consist mainly of Mojitos, Martinis and the occasional Sex on the beach. This is what I can get at the local pub, equally boring and poorly made. I guess I was hoping for some nice fruity Daiqiris and a lot of stuff with lemongrass and ginger. But the three restaurants mentioned above did not disappoint in this area either. Gaggan had several pages of drinks under the title Mixology (yes a lot of smoke and dry ice) and Issaya walked the extra mile in both fresh ingredients and look of the cocktails. So we cast aside the wine lists and had some coctails together with our food. I am not a huge fan of the concept, but especially with some spicy Thai cuisine, a fresh cocktail works better than many wines.

Thats it for Wineweek 10. Next week will bring some more beach to the picture with posts from Samui. You can also expect more on street food, reviews from London (to keep up the focus on wine) and Ms coffee reviews. Btw. Did you know that coffee has around 1500 different tastes as opposed to wine having only 200. That my friends is why coffee deserves its own reviews. It is such an interesting subject that we have taken it as permanent part of our blog.