Now in its seventh year and sponsored by Citibank for the first time, Top Tables has grown into Bangkok’s most trusted guide for discerning foodies. Top Tables is compiled by a completely independent panel of 45 foodies, bloggers, journalists and F&B professionals who vote on the guide’s Official Selection (86 restaurants) and Top 30. (See How is Top Tables made?)
L'atelier de Joel Robuchon remains at the number 1 spot in the Top 30 for the second year in a row, rewarding the refined cooking of France’s most esteemed chef. The second position went to Gaggan, now globally recognized for his molecular take on Indian cuisine. The Top 10 also has a distinctly Thai flavor this year, with Nahm (#3), Paste (#8), Bo.lan (#9) and Le Du (#10) all getting high marks. Eat Me (#7), Water Library Chamchuri (#5) and Ginza Sushi Ichi (#4) round out the guide’s Top 10’s international credentials with an American, a German and a Japanese chef respectively.
“It’s an important year for fine dining because we’re seeing a lot of familiar faces at the very top. It shows there’s a growing consensus as to what Bangkok’s Top Tables are,” says editor in chief Gregoire Glachant. “That means we’re also increasingly confident with the value of the Top Tables ranking. The restaurants in the guide are really the top spots in town. It’s also the first year we’ve had this many Thai restaurants in the Top 10.”
This year, the guide also welcomed a number of newcomers including Upstairs at Mikkeller, Seed, Uno Mas, The Dining Room and Theo Mio. The full list is available as a free booklet inserted in BK Magazine issue number 633 (Mar 25) and a downloadable PDF version: bit.ly/toptables2016.
Top Tables Bangkok 2016 Top 30:
The chef: Olivier Limousin heads Robuchon’s Bangkok atelier. He has worked for the brand for 12 years now, both in Paris and London, personally accounting for four of the stars in Joel Robuchon’s total of 25 across 20 restaurants. The French national’s other credits include guest judging the UK’s MasterChef semi-finals and gaining a Michelin star at Paris’s Le Bellecour. Then there’s the man behind the restaurant, Joel Robuchon, possibly the most important French chef since Escoffier codified haute cuisine, and a recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France title at 31—the highest honor for an artisan.
The place: Taking the Top Tables top spot for its second year running, L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is so much more than a fine-dining chain restaurant. The space evokes the feel of an upscale sushi bar while serving up impeccably-executed versions of French favorites. The Bangkok branch offers a red and black-accented dining space where guests get the chance to see their food being made, while the menu is studded by L’Atelier standouts like free-range quail stuffed with foie gras and potato puree.
The chef: Gaggan Anand is as much a part of eating at Gaggan as the bite-size flavor jolts that come pouring out of his kitchen course after course. Equipped with lessons learned at El Bulli, the Spanish birthplace of what’s now known as molecular gastronomy, Gaggan drew on his Kolkata heritage to create a cuisine entirely of his own in which memories of India merge with flavors and ingredients drawn from a growing love of Japan and other food cultures.
The place: Each night, in a classically restored house on Langsuan Road, the chef’s team offers a tasting menu where diners’ expectations of Indian food are first thrown overboard and then blown out of the water by Gaggan’s El Bulli-influenced creativity. From the simplest fish curry with naan bread to cocktails made from lamb consomme, the restaurant delights and challenges in equal measure. Gaggan is now in such demand that even David Beckham popped in for dinner at the end of last year—the rest of us can be assured of at least a one-week wait for a table.
The chef: David Thompson might be the name people know around the world (he just won a lifetime achievement award at Asia’s 50 Best 2016), but head chef Prin Polsuk is the one who has ensured Thompson’s Bangkok flagship has remained right at the top of its game. Ask the people who’ve worked for him and they’ll tell you Prin is fanatical about three things: authenticity, balance of flavor, and using the right ingredients at the right time of year.
The place: Still considered the “must-go” destination of every aspiring foodie in Bangkok, Nahm does Thai food made with the very finest ingredients using the most traditional methods. The most popular offerings at Nahm are the set menus, which usually feature dishes like blue swimmer crab curry with fermented rice noodles and the salad of fresh river prawns and Asian pennywort served in communal, Thai-style fashion.
The chef: The executive chef here is the same man who led Tokyo’s original Sushi Ichi to a Michelin star. Masakazu Ishibashi was born into a family of sushi chefs before traveling to southern California where he refined his taste for dramatic, colorful presentation. His restaurant’s arrival in Bangkok sparked a shake-up on the city’s sushi scene that redefined what diners expect from a top-tier Japanese restaurant.
The place: Bangkok’s version of the acclaimed Ginza Sushi Ichi in Tokyo came to town promising an unmatched dedication to freshness—and it has delivered. Each day the restaurant flies ingredients in from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, even closing when Japanese holidays will delay the next shipment of fresh goods. Sushi lovers, grab a seat and get your Instagram ready for fresh-from-market omakase, or order a la carte and marvel as the chefs prepare each course in front of you.
The chef: German chef Mirco Keller cut his teeth in Berlin’s Michelin-lauded kitchens of Tim Raue (two stars), Uma (formerly one star, now closed) and Restaurant 44 (formerly one star). He puts his classical European training to inventive new purposes at Water Library, not shying away from his Asian surroundings both in terms of terroir and seasonality.
The place: At the flagship restaurant of Water Library’s ever-expanding empire, Keller dishes out contemporary fine dining in a venue more reminiscent of a five-star hotel than a shopping mall on the outskirts of Chinatown. While there are nice a la carte choices like seared Canadian scallop with green apple and Bresse chicken in a barbecue sauce, the tasting menus are especially well-regarded, with diners able to choose between “classic” and “seasonal” options.
The chef: Paolo Vitaletti became one of the city’s favorite chefs in record timing when he broke the fussily plated norm of Bangkok’s hotel-dominated Italian food scene and drove it down the simple, rustic, home-style path of Appia. In the years since, he’s perhaps become better associated with the pizzeria sensation that is Peppina (now officially certified by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana), but still claims head chef rights to the menu of fuss-free pastas, rotisserie meats and unctuous stews at Appia.
The place: This permanent staple in the Top Tables Top 10 once again makes an appearance thanks to its deliciously juicy rotisserie chicken, flavorful porchetta with apple sauce and some of the best homemade pasta in the city. Also drawing in diners are the efficient, friendly service; discerning wine list; rich desserts and charmingly rustic decor, which combines wood paneling with turn-of-the-century bistro chairs.
The chef: The kitchens of Daniel and Aquavit in New York provided Culinary Institute of America-graduate Tim Butler with the foundation he needed to go it alone with his own Bangkok catering company. Heading the kitchen at Eat Me since 2010, he’s been responsible for ensuring the restaurant stalwart has never slipped from the minds of discerning diners thanks to his truly globally-inspired recipes that manage to still keep flavors comforting.
The place: Ranked 23rd among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants this year, this romantic and minimalist restaurant shows creativity both on the walls (it doubles as an art gallery) and on the plate in Butler’s bold and memorable creations. Dishes like the spicy wagyu tartare with a fried quail egg come packed with Northeastern Thai flair, while desserts such as the goat cheese ice cream with red wine poached pear and honeycomb are an equal delight.
The chefs: The chefs behind Sukhumvit Soi 49’s Paste (now closed), Bongkoch Satongun and Jason Bailey, have relocated to their follow-up Gaysorn branch turning out recipes drawn from the aristocratic Sanitwong family, descendants of Rama II. While the setting for Bongkoch and Bailey’s food has grown more elaborate, the chefs have maintained the incredibly diverse, fresh flavors that always made Paste a hit with those in the know.
The place: As becoming as Paste’s wonderful flavors and elegant, muted dining room is the plating: relaxed and effortless despite a painterly attention to color. But these are so much more than pretty plates of food. The vibrant multitude of ingredients makes for complex, lively dishes in which every flavor and texture somehow remains distinct. Just as importantly, you can really feel husband and wife chefs Bailey and Satongun’s creativity and personality in their food, which is not always the case at other traditionalist kitchens.
The chefs: When chef couple Duangporn Songvisava and Dylan Jones opened Bo.lan in 2009, they gave Bangkok its first devotedly authentic fine-dining Thai restaurant. Today, the pair not only continue to drive Bo.lan down increasingly uncompromising roots, waving goodbye to the a la carte menu altogether last year, but they’ve also expanded with the street-food-and-cocktails focused Err, near the river.
The place: Featuring fine Thai cuisine made using traditional methods and the best ingredients, Bo.lan—an amalgam of the chef-couple’s names—has made a splash in the global dining world with its aromatic curries, beautifully plated salads and artfully conceived menu. Adding to the allure is a striking dining room, set in an old house replete with tropical garden and close to hipster thoroughfare Soi Thonglor. Try the “Bo.lan balance,” a menu that changes along with the seasons.
The chef: Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn, 29, was the toast of Bangkok’s restaurant scene in 2015 when Le Du scooped third place in Top Tables in its opening year. Since then the Culinary Institute of America graduate has gone on to open three more restaurants: Taper (brunch staples and Asian breakfast dishes); Baan (home-style Thai dishes); and Baagadin (deconstructed Thai street food). But Le Du and its contemporary reconstructions of Thai classics remain where the chef’s heart lies.
The place: Once in a while, a Thai restaurant comes around that manages to fuse classic Thai food with modern Western techniques in a manner that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced. Such is the case with Le Du, where Thitid turns out an unerringly contemporary menu that changes seasonally. The wine is an equal highlight (Thitid is himself a certified sommelier) thanks to bottles sourced solely from organic or boutique outfits.
11. Chef Man
The full list is available as a free booklet inserted in BK Magazine
issue number 634 (Apr 1) and a downloadable PDF version: bit.ly/toptables2016
BK Magazine announced the awards at an event that welcomed over 200 guests comprised of chefs, restaurateurs, food industry professionals and partners. Event Sponsor: Citibank. Supported by Sing Sing Theatre, Quince Eatery & Bar, Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino, Chivas Regal, G Four Fine Wine, Grey Goose Vodka, and Singha Corporation.