The team from Issaya proves Thai tasting menus still have room for manoeuvre.
Saawaan is the missing link in Thai fine dining. While Nahm has the authenticity, Le Du the French technique and Sra Bua the molecular stuff, this new spot from Team Issaya pitches itself somewhere between the three: 10-course tasting menus of Thai dishes your average tourist has never heard of.
Head chef Sujira "Aom" Pongmorn steps away from Baan Padthai to reinvent fermented beef salads, crab fat dips, grilled pork neck and spicy-sour soups as delicate tasting portions that we’re confident compete with the top tier of Bangkok fine dining.
For the fixed price of B1,950 , it’s also a moodily-lit, glamorously appointed, genuinely-special-feeling steal.
Teetotales will find a local tea pairing (B680), though the wine list is also superb.
The buzz: A former Sra Bua understudy (Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn) gets backing from one of the most creative restaurateurs in Bangkok (Fred Meyer of Issaya and Pizza Massilia)—that’s the Saawaan story in a nutshell. But Aom’s reinvented Thai tasting menus also manage to carve a new niche for Thai fine dining.
The decor: The Suan Phlu space that used to be Kom Ba Wa (another Meyer baby currently relocating to Thonglor) remains as richly adorned in antiques, wallpapers and sculptural modern hardwoods as always. The changes are subtle but impactful—a silver cloud motif here, a statement black wall there—and utterly high-end feeling. Though there are two stories, the buzzy downstairs dining room (bar at the back of house, well-groomed, wine-swilling clientele in front) is where you really want to be.
The food: Your 10-course menu (B1,950) comes divided by cooking technique and service style—Raw is a tartare of amberjack dressed like laab (rice powder, chili, lime) with the kick of somsaa sauce; Dip is a deep-orange blend of crab fat and curry paste mopped up with sticky rice; Fermented is a tangy, seared beef brisket rice ball with pickled cucumber. While the produce is requisitely imported and premium, flavors never veer too far from authentic. Iberian secreto pork gets marinated in a light nam jim jaew, while Normandie oyster pairs with roasted herb tom-style soup. Issaya Group pastry chef Arisara “Paper” Chongphanitkul finishes it all off with a pandan, coconut and pumpkin pudding and Thai-inspired petit four.
The drinks: For B680, you can pair all this with a special menu of Thai tea—not the pastel orange kind, rather wild and natural flavors (sometimes cultivated, sometimes foraged) from the north. At B2,500, the wine pairing is extravagant but justified (seven labels selected by French national and oenophile Meyer) albeit not essential to enjoy dinner. A bottle of the Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Turckheim (Alsace, 2015) at B2,150 would also go down nicely.
Why we’d come back: Eating at Saawaan feels like stumbling on a hit. The format is creative but still really Thai, never so deconstructed you lose what’s special about the original. And the space—well, anyone who knows Kom Ba Wa knows that the dining room was never a problem. Oliver Irvine