One of the rising forces in Bangkok dining, 80/20’s culinary team of Napol Jantraget, 33, Saki Hoshino, 30, and Andrew Martin, 31 (see Top Tables’ Best Young Chef), have forged a whole new genre of Thai food utilizing local ingredients. Here, they invite us into their small but larger-than-life kitchen.
Top Tables 2017 lists Bangkok's 100 best restaurants. Read online or pick up your copy in the Mar 31 issue of BK Magazine available at over 400 venues around Bangkok.
What drove you to open 80/20?
Napol: When we looked at the market two years ago, we saw that most of the pickles and jams were actually imported. So we thought, why not try to come up with something similar and supply to places like hotels? We found this space and eventually the business turned into a restaurant. We try to focus on what’s local. We use cucumbers and onions that are really cheap, like B10 for a kilo. We always feel great when people ask us, “What is this?” in dishes we’ve created. Then I met Andrew and asked him to join.
What inspired you to become chefs?
Saki: I grew up watching my mom and grandma cook. I went to Canada to study hospitality and restaurant management and culinary school. I later switched to study at George Brown College for pastry in 2012 before working at Creme Brasserie, a French Bistro where I later became pastry sous chef and met Napol.
Napol: After I finished school in Thailand, I went to Liaison College to get my Chef de Cuisine diploma and Niagara College for my hospitality management degree and hotel and restaurant management diploma.
Andrew: My Japanese mom’s family are farmers and fishermen and my Canadian dad’s family were also farmers. So I grew up hunting and fishing and eating a lot of Japanese food. So it was really natural. I went to a small culinary program and worked a bunch of jobs moving around from Canada to Japan to Europe. A lot of places that I liked are nature-focused. But I found that all the food I was eating outside of my home was never the food I ate growing up, such as salmon which we would eat with a Japanese sauce that used maple syrup and sake instead of sugar. That’s the dish I would choose to eat before I die.
How do you see Bangkok’s restaurant scene?
Napol: It has doubled up in the last two years. I remember when I first came back here, I saw restaurants selling mixed things from pad Thai to fettucine. They were just thinking what will sell. But in the last two years I have seen more identity and bigger players, internationally. I believe that within the next five years you will be able to compare Bangkok to Singapore, if not Tokyo.
With Michelin coming to Thailand, do you think we’re ready?
Napol: No. I don’t believe that the majority of Thai people fully understand the taste profile of Michelin-level cuisine yet. That’s why they stick too much to what they are familiar with. In Japan they understand the sense of tasting. But it is slowly changing. Maybe give it another 2-3 years. I do think that Michelin will benefit Bangkok. It will be another push for the local food scene.
Andrew: I have interned in some Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe [Indewulf] and Japan [Narisawa], and do feel like Michelin’s arrival here is too soon, especially if you compare restaurants here to Michelin stars in Tokyo. If you were going to give a star to a place in Bangkok, you would think Nahm. But you cannot compare a Michelin star given here to France or Tokyo, where the standard of food is so elevated. One thing I have realized over this past year: a Michelin star in one country is not the same thing in another country.
Can you tell us your favorite little-known places in Bangkok?
Napol: Jack’s Bar. We probably go there 3-4 times a week. It’s really good. It isn’t fine dining, but it’s fantastic. It’s a little bar on the river where the owner brings food from his hometown of Nakhon Si Thammarat to prepare.
Andrew: Their goong pad sator is the best in Bangkok. I also like Laab Ubon [near BTS Surasak]. Their grilled pork breast is superb.
How do you feel about Charoenkrung’s transformation into a hip neighborhood?
Saki: There are so many positive things happening here. We fell in love with this place. But we would like to also see the small mom-and-pop stores survive. We do not want to push them out and kill their businesses. You know, they have lived here way longer than us. We also look to work with other shop owners, not just restaurants, like a tattoo parlor next to us, which painted our wall.
80/20, 1052-1054 Charoenkrung Rd., 02-639-1135