Standout eateries of 2020

Even amid the pandemic, Life reviewed over 60 dining establishments this year. Here are some of the restaurants that especially stood out

Aksorn

  • Central: The Original Store, 5th floor 1266 Charoen Krung Road
  • Call 02-116-8662
  • Open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner, 6-11pm.
  • Park at O.P. Place.
  • Most credit card accepted.

The newest brainchild of Australian-born Thai cuisine master David Thompson, Aksorn is truly a one-of-a-kind restaurant.

A meal there promises to be an astounding revelation of bygone kitchen creativity and finesse. Moreover, it also makes you realise how precious it is to be able to connect with your past.

The 40-seater occupies the top floor of a renovated old shophouse store founded in 1950 by the Central Retail Group family.

Its menu takes cues from some of Bangkok's most famous culinary texts -- hence the name Aksorn which in Thai means "written character" -- penned by prominent cooks between the late 1940s and early 1970s. The food in that period, according to Thompson, reflected how Western civilisation and modernity emerged and blended with culturally-rich Siam.

Being an intimate restaurant with dining tables a few feet away from the open kitchen, the restaurant offers one set of family-styled five-course dinners, priced at 2,800 baht per person every night.

Basically, it is comprised of three hor d'oeuvre plates, a starter, a selection of five shared main dishes with rice, and two desserts.

Additionally, every two months, Thompson pulls out recipes from his vast collection of antique Thai cookbooks.

In the current menu, which pays tribute to Thanphuying Kleeb Mahidhorn (1876-1961), diners can expect to find moo jang or spiced pork galantine prepared with meat from pork head and ears and Chinese spices and khanom khrok nah moo or coconut cupcake with pork filling and roasted peanuts.

There's also goong naem, an upper-class rendition of the street-food classic pla naem seasoned with the leaf, juice and zest of kaffir lime and som saa (Asian citron).

The selection of main dishes include lhon taohu yee, or fermented bean curd relish with minced pork and prawn; yum kaysorn chomphu or sour and spicy salad of pomelo, rose apple blossoms, prawns, pork with chilli jam and peanuts; hard-to-find hor mok moo, or steamed pork curry with jackfruit seeds; smoked fish and bamboo with Thai herbs soup; and marble goby with golden galangal.

Desserts are represented by a very distinctive glacéd pineapple with coconut cream; steamed coconut candies; sweet and spiced Thai pretzels; and ancestor biscuits.

Reservations are highly recommended.


Bull & Bear

  • Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, 55th floor 151 Ratchadamri Road
  • Call 02-846-8888
  • Open for lunch and dinner.
  • Park at the hotel's car park.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

Bull & Bear's popular cuisine is directed by Australian chef de cuisine Daniel Masters. The New South Wales native's career impressively includes stints as chef de partie at the three Michelin-star The French Laundry in Napa Valley, US, and executive chef at award-winning Rockpool Bar & Grill in Perth, Australia.

Since February, Masters has brought to Bull & Bear's already solid menu his aspiration of produce-driven cooking and more remarkably, his kitchen dexterity and adroit sense of taste.

As a grill-centric restaurant, Bull & Bear offers prime cuts of meat and high-quality seafood, mostly from Australia and France, which is prepared around the fire from charcoal-broiled, slow-roasted, and baked to smoked.

The lunch set menu, which is super popular, is offered in a three-course style, comprising of a starter, a main course and a dessert. Depending on your choice of the main course, the whole meal ranges from 900 baht to 1,800 baht.

All lunch guests are treated to a welcome cocktail and complimentary bread accompanied by smoked butter.

The selection of starters lists Caesar salad with flame-grilled romaine lettuce; caramelised celeriac soup with thyme brown butter and amaretti crumble; flavours & textures of fennel; bull & bear salad with truffle-hazelnut dressing; and beef tartare.

In the main course section, highly recommended are wagyu short rib burger (1,000 baht); grilled Norwegian halibut with saffron-braised baby squid, tiger prawn, heirloom carrot and snap peas (1,200 baht); Joselito Iberico pluma spice marinade with confit shallot (1,200 baht); grilled Western Australian lamb rack with caramelised celeriac and apple gratin (1,500 baht); and 150g wagyu tenderloin MB5 with Cafe de Paris butter sauce and thick-cut chips (1,800 baht).

The dessert option includes exotic pavlova with roasted pineapple; smoked Michter's bourbon cheesecake with spiced orange, burnt caramel and chocolate ice cream; chocolate pecan brittle with dacquoise and brik leaves; mango and passion fruit cream Chantilly; and S'more with popcorn ice cream, charred marshmallow and chocolate biscuit.

Although the lunchtime vibe was laid-back, service is top-notch and personalised.


Kuro House

  • 217/8 Sukhumvit 63
  • Call 094-446-6269 or Line @kurohouse
  • Open for lunch and dinner upon reservations.
  • Park on the premises.

The eight-seat chef's table-style dining establishment is currently one of Bangkok's best-treasured omakase restaurants.

There are two types of cuisines on offer: the sushi omakase and yakiniku omakase. The latter, which is the focus here, centres almost entirely on top-of-the-line Japanese beef.

Even though beef and omakase dining -- two separate culinary genres -- are all the rage in Bangkok's food scene, the idea behind this restaurant was developed from the owner's profound passion for beef. In fact, his interest has led him to a series of beef-eating expeditions across Japan over the years.

Different characters of his favourite yakiniku restaurants, from the no-nonsense hardcore and exquisite fine dining to fancifully elaborate, are all blended into the style of Kuro House with masterful approval and advice from the Michelin-rated chef Seiji Sudo.

Diners at the yakiniku omakase, priced at 4,800 baht per person, are treated to a 15-course meal showcasing champion-grade wagyu from Hokkaido's Furano basin. There is also seasonal selections of prime Japanese seafood as well as other fine ingredients from the world's best sources.

One by one, the wagyu is cooked with longan wood fire at the built-in countertop grill for guests by the host and his black-uniformed kitchen crew. The vibe was very folksy yet exclusive and humble -- never at all ostentatious.

Signature starter of Iberico pork sandwich with mozzarella and truffle oil is one of the highlights.

What follows it is a parade of beef, including A4 tenderloin cubed steak with fresh wasabi; Japanese beef tartare seasoned with soy sauce and raw yolk; and a flame-charred rib-eye steak with creamy sweet premium-grade sea urchin roe.

There's also flash-cooked striploin with a pungent sweet and citrusy touch from minced onion and yuzu zest.

Meanwhile, connoisseurs of beef tongue will cry tears of joy for the delicacy that comes in two styles: charred and roll with truffle and caviar; striploin sukiyaki; oxtail curry rice; and risotto pancake with wagyu tenderloin are among the latter courses.

An additional five-course sake pairing package costs 1,850 baht.

Kuro House is located on the upper floor of DND club (the same owner) near Ekamai Soi 12. Seating is limited and thus reservations are a must.


Igniv Bangkok

  • St. Regis, 1st floor Ratchadamri Road
  • Call 02-207-7822
  • Open noon to 3pm and 6-11pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
  • Park at the hotel's car park.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

Whether it be the ambience, the food, the service or the prices, the three-month-old Igniv Bangkok is guaranteed to impress even the most discerning and scrupulous epicures.

A brainchild of globally-acclaimed, three Michelin-starred Swiss chef Andreas Caminada, this fine-dining restaurant offers modern European cuisine through a shared meal experience.

Caminada, a perfectionist, is treasured for his extraordinary culinary creations that stem from exciting artistic elements. There's no wonder then why every detail exhibited at his restaurants from the visual impression to the flavours and vibe is always fascinating.

His meticulousness has earned him seven Michelin stars, three for the Schloss Schauenstein restaurant in Fürstenau and two each from IgnivSt Moritz and Igniv Bad Ragaz in the Swiss Alps.

Igniv Bangkok is Caminada's first-ever venture outside Switzerland.

Leading the Bangkok branch is Swiss head chef David Hartwig, a longtime friend of Caminada from Schloss Schauenstein and German pastry chef Arne Riehn. Both Hartwig and Riehn spent almost a year perfecting the restaurant's menu before today's grand opening, so you can say they are more than ready and very confident.

Modern European cuisine is what they label their craft. Dishes are presented in an imaginative fine dining style but they can be enjoyed by guests in their own comfort, sometimes even using their hands.

Although à la carte dishes are available, the restaurant highly recommends that diners opt for the "sharing experience" tasting menu.

This menu is a well-curated gastronomic journey that features parades of snacks and starters, followed by the main course, dessert and ends with a visit to the "candy store".

Prices are 1,900 baht per person for a three-course lunch (a total of 12 small-portioned dishes) and 3,800 baht per person for a four-course dinner (15 small-portioned dishes) plus a bag of takeaway confectionery of your choice.

Expect to find dishes such as duck liver terrine with Mandarin and yoghurt foam; sea bass ceviche with radish and dill; beef tartare with hazelnuts; and smoked hamachi with sweet cured celery.

There is also barbecue pork shoulder with fresh plum and prune sauce; truffle-glazed cauliflower with brown butter sauce; butternut squash with a Hollandaise espuma; and beef short rib with celeriac and caramelised onion.

Heavenly desserts include chocolate tart with mango cream; basil-lime sorbet with white chocolate crumbles; and a sundae of milk custard, shaved ice and milk foam meringue.

At the candy store, expect to be tantalised by chocolate bark, fruit jellies, macarons, Madelines, Caneles, salted caramel and a wide variety of chocolate-coated nuts.

Service was an impressive balance between flawless professionalism and heartfelt cordiality. Reservations are highly recommended.


In-Suite Dining by Le Normandie

  • Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok 48 Charoen Krung 40
  • Call 02-659-9000 Open upon reservations.
  • Park at the hotel's car park.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

Le Normandie in-suite dining is a spin-off concept to answer the new normal gastronomy and hygiene-conscious lifestyle.

While it provides diners with the luxury of social distancing, it also allows guests to have a fine-dining moment while being accompanied by kids. Normally, children below 12 are prohibited at the restaurant.

Although the meal, offered by the illustrious two Michelin-starred culinary team, is labelled as intimate and exclusive, the experience can be as homely as how you would find in your own home.

The meal is offered in the privacy of a Chao Phraya Suite residence through a seven-course degustation menu. Price is 6,700 baht, the exact amount you would pay eating in the restaurant one floor above.

Adding a familiar warmth to the room is an ever-smiling face and heartfelt geniality -- a distinctive characteristic of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok's service staff.

The menu is designed with the best seasonal ingredients and prepared by the stellar French chef Arnaud Dunand-Sauthier.

Ingredients have been carefully sourced from the world's best origins while ensured with utmost high-sanitation in logistics and handling, so guests can dine with maximum pleasure and confidence.

Featured dishes may include caviar et pomme de terre with sea urchin mousse, a signature dish believed to have earned chef Arnaud Michelin stars; a zucchini trumpet with smoked eel and shiso on a bed of smoked fish jelly; carabineros prawn with raspberry, baked turnips and prawn bisque sauce; a fillet of line-caught sea bass with celery and bottarga; and Hokkaido black abalone seasoned with beetroot and citrusy bitter gentian sauce.

Basically, there are two options for the main course: the Bresse Mieral pigeon and the milk-fed veal.

The pigeon comes with baby corn and black garlic while the medium-well veal is accompanied by honey-infused veal juice reduction, artichoke fritter and bee pollen granules.

Delightful desserts include chocolate Guanaja and Fraise Gariguette. The first is a chocolate sphere that reveals itself inside a coffee ice cream and small pieces of coffee meringue complemented by a warm chocolate-cardamom sauce. The latter is a supper luscious delicacy made with strawberry and tea as if by the goddess of fragrance.

Food is delivered under silver cloches to secure proper temperature and hygiene.

The in-suite dining experience is for a group of two to four diners per suite. It's ideal for a romantic dinner, a small celebration, a worry-free night out for new parents or simply an absolute five-star meal in front of a TV.


Makan Makan

  • Sukhumvit 16
  • Call 02-077-5543
  • Open 11am–10pm, Monday-Saturday.
  • Park at Shama Lakeview hotel across the street.
  • Cash only.

Makan Makan (Malay for "let's go eat"), which opened a year ago, is Bangkok's very first representative of Penang-style Eurasian cuisine.

The restaurant's marketing motto is "dine with an open mind". It may sound like a warning but you will not need it while dining there unless you are averse to tasty and comforting home-cooked meals.

The lovely little eatery is owned and operated by Tania, Scott and Troy Da Silva from Penang, the Malaysian Peninsular island famous for its rich culinary tradition and agricultural abundance.

The three siblings, who share a profound passion for food and drink, aim to bring to Bangkok the flavourful food heritage of their hometown through their Portuguese-Eurasian family recipes, which they say are "contemporary, vital and inspiring".

Products such as prawn paste, coconut palm sugar, sauces and some spices are imported from original sources or house-made to ensure a true taste profile of each dish.

As folksy as the restaurant's name suggests, the food served here is simple, heartfelt and truly approachable.

The menu lists more than 50 dishes, in categories of tapas, salads and starters, noodle and rice dishes, pasta, burgers and Eurasian specialities, which makes it look like a modern-day repertoire of East-meets-West cuisine.

Its best-seller, char koay teow (145 baht) is a unification of flat rice noodles, prawn, Chinese lap cheong sweet pork sausage, egg, bean sprouts, chives and special soy sauce mix, all stir-fried over a high flame to develop a smoky wok-charred fragrance and subtle comfort of taste. There is also chicken meatball vindaloo (165 baht); devil roti roll with pork curry and house-made salted egg mayonnaise (165 baht); and devil pork curry with basmati rice (255 baht).

Also very worth having is the nasi lemak rice platter with chicken sambal (145 baht).

There are also house specials like barbecue pork ribs; masala fish and chips; sambal prawn quesadilla; and boneless chicken leg with gravy and fries.

Last but not least, end your meal with Penang's styled chee choeng fun, or steamed rice noodle rolls with a thick sweet brown sauce made with prawn paste infused with peanut butter (145 baht).

Beverage options include smoothies, milkshakes, soft drinks, coffee and tea as well as cider, wine, beer and cocktails.

The clientele is mostly local foodies and international expats who come in groups or as happy lone diners.


Met Cafe

  • 918 Sukhumvit 55 (Thong Lor)
  • Call 088-964-1989
  • Open daily 11.30am-10.30pm.
  • Park on the premises.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

The eatery -- which opened over two years ago on the ground floor of Metta, a well-loved fashion house -- might seem nothing more than just a pastime speciality of another fashion designer, however, the food here is delicious and comforting. It truly proves that people in fashion do have a taste for the finer things in life, including cooking.

The cafe's 50-item menu is built around homestyle recipes crafted from the owners' favourite dishes. None of the items are an afterthought or simply there to beautify the selection.

Worth having starters include French onion soup prepared with beef broth (320 baht); organic rocket cream soup (250 baht); crab cake Benedict salad with Hollandaise sauce (390 baht); and fritto misto di mare, an assortment of deep-fried seafood (550 baht) which takes cues from the owners' favourite dish during their trips to Italy's Amalfi Coast.

The beer-braised oxtail (650 baht) is among Bangkok's best. Meanwhile, African rhapsody grilled chicken (590 baht), prepared to a well-preserved Parisian recipe, is also not-to-be-missed.

There is also spicy angel hair pasta with crabmeat and bird's eye chilli (390 baht) and penne pad sa-taw with stink beans and grilled prawn (390 baht) that I recommend for pasta fans.

Met Cafe is also a paradise for Western-styled dessert. Highly satisfying are peach crumble (350 baht) and banana butterscotch upside-down tart with ice cream (350 baht) and homemade ice cream (120-150 baht per scoop).

A dozen more sweet options worth sampling include English sticky toffee pudding, macadamia salted caramel cheesecake, lavender crème brûlée, apple croustade and toffee mousse cake.

Met Cafe's homemade ice cream (120-150 baht) is so good that it alone is worth opening a gourmet ice cream bar.

The repertoire also includes salted caramel, rum raisin, devil's dark chocolate, fleur de sel caramel and diva sorbet, a concoction of raspberry, rose and lychee.

The clientele is a lovely mix of young professionals and families in the Sukhumvit neighbourhood. Quality of service is well above standard.


Sushi Cyu Ryo

  • Helix Sky Dining EmQuartier, 7th floor
  • Call 065-716-0450
  • Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
  • Park at EmQuartier's car park.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

Taking the helm of Sushi Cyu Ryo's small kitchen is chef Yamakawa Chikara, a Japanese culinary genius who speaks little Thai and no English.

The fine-dining omakase dinner at this 8-seater showcases the chef's creations, prepared with prime-quality seasonal produce imported from Japan's best sources that are spot on and original without any superfluous frill.

Lunch, comprising of 15 courses, is priced at 2,900 baht per person while dinner, which consists of 19 courses, costs 4,900 baht per person. The selection of dishes is adjusted based on the season as well as the day's best produce.

The current autumn menu is masterfully curated.

In the current menu, you may expect to find dishes crafted with persimmon from Wakayama; kegani crab and scallop from Hokkaido; kombu-cured right-eye flounder; black throat rockfish with salt-cured sakura leaf; sakura-smoked skipjack tuna; sweet orient clam from Chiba; and Japanese tiger prawn with artisan French seaweed butter.

Lean akami tuna, medium fat chutoro tuna and fatty otoro tuna also feature in the menu.

There is also the super sweet and creamy and sunny-bright bafun uni; anago conger sea eel from Saga; and sujiko, or immature salmon roe, which is available only in autumn.

Complementing the meal is a free flow of tea (590 baht). The restaurant uses green tea from a boutique farm in Fukuoka and it is the only green tea authorised by the Japanese government with a Geographical Indication Authentication.

Service by an attentive and knowledgeable staff also deserves a score of perfect 10.

Reservations are highly recommended.


Thong Lor Thai cuisine

  • Staybridge Suites Hotel 101 Thong Lor Road
  • Call 02-000-4701
  • Open daily 10.30am-8.30pm.
  • Park at the hotel's car park.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

Thong Lor Thai Cuisine, which opened a year ago, is the first fine-dining restaurant under the umbrella of the Impact megacorporation.

Although well-funded, the restaurant has remained humble when it comes to advertising and publicity. The clientele of this restaurant is mainly families from the local neighbourhood and foodies following word of mouth.

The amiable and highly-talented chef Vorapol Itthikhanesorn is the mastermind behind the restaurant's culinary finesse.

The 34-year-old might be a new face on Bangkok's restaurant scene but his well-documented experiences -- as a cooking instructor, cookbook author, university lecturer and food stylist -- as well as various international awards are a guarantee of his expertise.

As the restaurant's head chef, Vorapol combines his love for home-cooked local recipes passed on from old grandmas in his hometown in Phetchaburi province with the utmost respect paid to prime seasonal ingredients and aesthetic details.

The menu offers more than 60 dishes, many of which are old recipes rarely found nowadays.

Highly recommended starters include deep-fried thong phlu pastry with savoury filling (250 baht); and kruay kari, or chicken curry in crispy cone-shape crepes (190 baht).

The first features golden pastry balls made with rice flour dough deep-fried in fresh pork lard and stuffed with a mild-tasting mixture of sweet potato, chicken and fresh yellow curry.

The latter comprises of a small portion of thick chicken curry and five pieces of crispy deep-fried cone-shape crepes.

Yum phak plang, or a spicy salad of Ceylon spinach with house-made roasted chilli jam (220 baht), is another dish truly worth ordering.

Gaeng som pu kai or a sour and spicy curry with she-crab and pickled bamboo shoot (570 baht) is an all-time best-seller and a guaranteed pleasure.

Also, try the beef massaman curry (250 baht); tom kathi nuea thod or fried sun-dried beef with coconut shoots in sweet and sour coconut cream soup (270 baht); nam phrik mak mad or salty-sweet relish prepared with salt-cured mackerel, dried prawn, roasted fish, toddy palm sugar and prickly ash (265 baht).

Keep room for a caramelised banana with coconut cream (90 baht) and house-made pineapple sorbet (120 baht).

The restaurant also has an extensive line of gourmet takeaways and delivery services. Reservations are recommended.


Wah Lok Cantonese restaurant

  • Carlton Hotel Bangkok, 2nd floor Sukhumvit Road
  • Call 02-090-7888
  • Open 11.30am-2.30pm and 6-10.30pm, Wednesday-Sunday.
  • Park at the hotel's car park.
  • Most credit cards accepted.

Wah Lok, established in 1989 at Carlton Hotel Singapore, first opened its doors in Bangkok in March, just two weeks before a nationwide shutdown.

Over the past three decades, the Singapore Wah Lok has garnered numerous culinary awards and is treasured by Cantonese cuisine connoisseurs across the region. As soon as news about its arrival in Bangkok spread, fans were quick to respond.

Located on the 2nd floor of Carlton Sukhumvit hotel, the 194-seater resumed its dine-in operation in mid-July. Since then, crowds have promptly poured in and business has never been slow.

One of the reasons for its fame is its long-running reputation of being an original establishment. However, there's also another key factor which has helped it draw customers and keep them coming back for more -- culinary perfection by executive Chinese chef Lam Kok Weng.

Originally from China's Guangdong province, chef Lam is not a new face in Bangkok's food scene. Over the past 15 years, he has managed the kitchen of various 5-star hotel restaurants and accumulated a number of awards, including Iron Chef Thailand.

His dexterity in his Cantonese cuisine plus the fact that he was -- 30 years ago -- part of Wah Lok Singapore's opening team made him ideal to lead the new outlet.

The restaurant's menu is a unification of the brand's signature dishes and chef Lam's creations.

Dishes are housed in various categories such as roasted meat and barbecued items; abalone and bird's nest; live seafood; meat and poultry; rice and noodle dishes; vegetarian and desserts.

Of the dim sum selection, not-to-be-missed are steamed lobster and scallop dumplings (180 baht); steamed vegetarian dumpling with mushroom and bamboo pith in truffle oil (120 baht); deep-fried taro with seafood filling (120 baht); and golden-skin baked barbecued pork bun (120 baht).

Crispy prawns with wasabi dressing (580 baht); crispy fish skin with salted egg yolk (240 baht); sautéed Australian beef tenderloin cubes with garlic and black pepper sauce (780 baht); and Peking duck (1,600 baht) are best-sellers.

If you're a fan of tofu, deep-fried homemade bean curd and spinach in XO chilli sauce (360 baht), one of the restaurant's highlights, will surely satisfy.

Crispy durian ice-cream (180 baht); and chilled lemongrass jelly with fresh fruit and aloe vera (150 baht) prove a heavenly dessert.

The restaurant has four private rooms with each able to accommodate up to 10 guests.

Whether it be weekday or weekend, the restaurant is always packed. Reservations are therefore highly recommended.

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