Climbing the ranks
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Climbing the ranks

Chef Kannika Jitsangworn transforms a once moribund Phra Nakhon into one of Bangkok's best for authentic Thai cuisine

Climbing the ranks

Until recently, close acquaintances of mine may have heard many unfavourable remarks, from me, about Phra Nakhon, a Thai restaurant at Capella Bangkok.

The first time I dined there was when it opened in 2020. Back then, almost every dish we had was, frankly, tragic.

However, after a year, I began to hear praise about Phra Nakhon's food, and the approvals were constant.

Curious, I decided to return.

My casual weekday lunch there a few weeks ago converted me from a doubter to a real admirer.

I also learned that the restaurant has, since March, changed chefs.

Taking the helm of the kitchen is Kannika Jitsangworn, a well-versed cooking pro who I'd say is a significant addition to Bangkok's circle of great female chefs.

Her two decade career includes working in the kitchen of luxurious five-star resorts in the Turks and Caicos, Indonesia, Turkey and Bhutan. Amanpuri Phuket was her last post prior to joining Capella.

Her menu at Phra Nakhon, an ample collection of home-style recipes from various Thai regions, showcases her respect for local culinary heritage and food artisans. Several plant-based options also demonstrate her thoughtfulness towards guests with dietary preferences.

The housemade northern-style sai ua pork sausage.

You will find on the Thai section of the menu more than 50 dishes that include the likes of mhok (northeastern-style grilled meat in leaf packet), gaeng om (spicy herbal soup), buea (southern-style shrimp fritters), gaeng hung-lay (northern-styled pork curry), gaeng pa (jungle curry) and tom klong (spicy roasted-fish consomme).

Dishes are prepared with fresh sustainably-sourced ingredients from various parts of Thailand, marking the chef's long-standing relationships with small-scale farmers and fishers.

Despite being truly amiable, Kannika seems to focus more on her cooking than marketing herself.

Her dishes were simple and authentic and with a naturally vibrant charm. However, more important, they reflect the chef's good palate.

For diners who wish to enjoy a full-scale meal without the hassle of choosing the dishes, there are professionally curated set menus for sharing on offer.

Southern-style gaeng pu yellow curry with lump crabmeat and betel leaves.

Prices range from 2,800 baht for two persons for an eight-course lunch and 5,000 baht for two persons for an 11-course dinner. A nine-course vegan meal costs 1,800 baht per person.

My company of three went for an a la carte style experience.

It started off with a naturally flavoursome and addictive dish of tam zua (300 baht).

This rustic Isan-style salad, known for its homespun jumble of ingredients, was crafted into a well-balanced gourmet treat that retained a piquant authenticity.

The dish encompasses fine strips of green papaya and fermented Thai rice noodles tossed together with salted crab, pla ra emulsion, pickled mustard greens, Vietnamese sausages, string beans, eggplants, tomatoes, bird's eye chillies and lime, capped with boiled egg and pork cracklings.

The wok-fried melinjo leaves with egg and smoked dried shrimp.

Phra Nakhon's housemade rendition of sai ua, or northern-style pork sausage (450 baht), proved even more superb than some prototype classics. The fragrant and spicy sausage was served with an assortment of fresh indigenous vegetables.

Words are often that you must not miss the signature moo krob, or wok-fried roast pork belly with chillies and herb (580 baht). It was tasty, unquestionably, but perhaps a bit hyped up by those crispy pork devotees.

An alumni of Phuket five-star dining establishment, Kannika makes some of the tastiest moo hong, or Phuket-style braised kurubota pork belly in spiced gravy (600 baht), I've ever come across.

Another dish that deliciously represented the southern Thai cuisine was gaeng pu yellow curry (990 baht). The deep-heat curry, in which bathed a generous helping of jumbo sized lump crabmeat, was accompanied by rice vermicelli.

A dish of bai liang pad khai, or wok-fried melinjo leaves with egg and smoked dried shrimp (380 baht) gave to the pungent, meat-packed meal a perfect bracing balance.

The well-crafted tam zua salad pleasingly retains its piquant authenticity.

Should you wish for a plant-based dish, I highly recommend a vegan green curry (400 baht) prepared with young jackfruit. The dish is said to be among the best sellers.

There's a complimentary nam phrik (chilli relish), equivalent to an amuse bouche offered at Western fine dining restaurant, which allows the guests a sneak peek of the chef's dexterity.

That day it was a super fiery yet absolutely delicious nam phrik goong sieb.

There are 14 choices of desserts available. We were satisfied with a platter of sweet mango sticky rice with coconut ice cream (320 baht), taro chiffon cake with Thai almond and vanilla ice cream (320 baht) and Jasmine tea and oat milk panna cotta with mango and passion fruit sorbet (350 baht).

The restaurant offers a lovely, conservatory-like aircon dining room as well as a breezy dining terrace by the Chao Phraya River. Reservations are recommended.

The selection of sweet delicacies.

The crispy pork with chillis and herbs.

  • Phra Nakhon
  • Capella Bangkok
  • Charoen Krung Road
  • Call 02-098-3888
  • Open daily, noon to 3pm and 6-10pm
  • Park at the hotel’s car park
  • Most credit cards accepted
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