something for everyone
Diners in the Thai capital enjoy some of the best food in the world at dismissively low prices, writes Mark Armsden
The restaurant scene in Bangkok is, in many ways, a microcosm of the city - there is something for everyone. In keeping with Bangkok's metamorphosis into one of Asia's premier cities, the capital's dining experiences are now comparable with the best destinations in the region.
Sure, the ridiculously cheap street restaurants serving ridiculously good Thai food are still everywhere. But now the city is home to some of the best-known restaurant brands in the world - and the list is getting longer each year.
The industry has come of age. Dinners are no longer starved of choice. The diversity of food and venues now available is in keeping with the capital's growing status.
Fancy some California cuisine? Counting calories has never tasted so good since KOI, the famous United States brand, synonymous with the rich and famous in LaLa Land, opened a restaurant in Bangkok a couple of years back.
Want foie gras and caviar like they serve it in Europe, no problem: world-class French cuisine is everywhere. The latest - and welcome - addition to the French restaurant fraternity is Le Beaulieu, located at the Sofitel Residence on Sukhumvit Road.
Although Le Beaulieu is considered a standalone business, many of the top French restaurants - or any leading restaurant, for that matter - are found in Bangkok hotels.
One of the most popular French restaurants is a reasonably new entry to Bangkok, D'Sens, at the Dusit Thani in Bangkok. Serving modern French cuisine in the luxury of a five-star hotel, D'Sens is an example of the rich and diverse tapestry which is Bangkok's dining scene in 2007.
But perhaps the best example of this evolution is The Dome, a collection of award-winning restaurants and bars housed in Thailand's tallest building, the Empire Tower. The Dome's Sirocco, an alfresco Mediterranean restaurant, Mezzaluna, which serves authentic Italian cuisine, and seafood restaurant Breeze have collected a sackful of honours over the past few years. The venue even has an annual event called Epicurean Masters of the World, in which some the world's leading chefs prepare meals at the three restaurants.
An explosion of five-star hotels in the city has breathed life into the upper echelon of the industry. And with a myriad new deluxe properties under construction, fuelled by the city's frightening potential as a tourist destination, the competition for your money will only intensify.
Running an upmarket restaurant in Bangkok has turned into a highly competitive beast over the past decade, with consumers ultimately the winner. There are some cultures where food takes on an almost religious fervour - Thailand is one such place. Italy is another. Little wonder then that Italian restaurants have such a prominent position on Bangkok's restaurant landscape.
Given that their own food is so good, Thais have a great appreciation for other leading cuisines - and Italian is arguably their favourite. The Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel and Towers on the Chao Phraya River recently responded to the increased competition, which includes last year's launch of the imposing 543-room Millennium Hilton on the other side of the river (its signature steakhouse, Prime, is a knockout), by renovating its Italian restaurant, Giorgio's.
Just like the city's hotels, what separates Bangkok restaurants from those in Singapore and Hong Kong is better value for money. Whether it is food from a street stall or dim sum at Shang Palace at the Shangri-La, the common thread linking most of the city's eateries is good food for good prices.
Unless you are sampling local products, the only part of the dining experience which is universally on the high price side is wine. High taxes on imported wine in Thailand means a lot of people opt to bring their own bottle to dinner, hitting restaurants where it hurts most - in the pocket. The overall affordability of the dining experience in Bangkok has turned dining out into a ritual for the inhabitants of this sprawling metropolis.
Unlike a lot of countries where eating out is a costly affair and therefore limited to the odd occasion, Bangkokians are afforded some of the best food in the world at dismissively low prices - whether it be Thai cuisine, Vietnamese spring rolls, Chinese dim sum or Indian curries. Just like Bangkok's multicultural demographic, the international flavour of the city's culinary soup is stronger than ever - and the city is better for it. There may be a time when the breaks are applied to the restaurant boom, but not any time soon by the looks if it.
D'Sens Dusit Thani, 946 RamaIV Rd +66 22369999. Sirocco 63/F The Dome, State Tower +66 26249555. Mezzaluna 65/F The Dome +66 26249555. Breeze 51-52/F The Dome +66 2 6249555 Prime Millennium Hilton, 123 Charoennakorn Rd, Klongsan, Bangkok, +66 24422000. Giorgio's Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel, 2 Captain Bush Lane, Siphaya Rd, +66 22370022. Shang Palace Shangri-La Hotel +66 22367777
This official Fashion TV restaurant (above) has duplicated the success of its sister restaurants in Los Angeles and New York and become a hangout for the A-list crowd. It serves 'Californian' cuisine in a super-cool environment. Koi is set in a lush garden, which also features a glass-walled Italian restaurant for those not into its signature American dishes. 12/1 Sukhumvit Soi 20, Sukhumvit Road, +66 22581590
Arguably the best pizza in town. There are more 20 classic choices of these thin-and-crispy delights, naturally scented by a eucalyptus wood-fire oven set in the middle of the restaurant. Always full, but strangely easy to get a table. The ambience is cheerful - a two-storey house with bright yellow walls and white-and-yellow checked tablecloths (above). 13 Sukhumvit Soi 11, Sukhumvit Road, +66 26510707
Le Beaulieu - Soi 19
A chic, intimate restaurant serving classic French cuisine by celebrated chef Herve Frerard. Le Beaulieu prides itself on using only the freshest produce. Into each dish might go seafood from Scotland or meats from the best of Europe, New Zealand and Australia. Balance is the key to chef Frerard's dishes, while the restaurant has an extensive wine cellar. Sofitel Residence, Sukhumvit Soi 19, Sukhumvit Road, +66 22042004
Located at the Four Seasons Hotel, it is one of the city's best Thai restaurants (above). The menu includes a wide variety of fish, pork, beef and chicken dishes, and Thai fresh fruits and exotic desserts. Favourite selections include kao tang natang (crispy rice crackers with minced pork dip) and tom yum kung (the famous spicy prawn soup with lemongrass). Four Seasons Hotel, 155 Rajadamri Road, +66 22501000
Crepes & Co
One of Bangkok's most famous restaurants (below). Offers more than 350 dishes with fillings which cover the entire Mediterranean region - from Morocco to Greece to Spain. Still the only creperie in Bangkok with more than 50 savoury and 40 sweet crepes. The ambience is relaxed, especially if you decide to sit outside on the deck. 18/1 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Sukhumvit Road, +66 26533990/1
Henry J. Bean's
Situated at the Amari Watergate Hotel & Spa, this great Tex-Mex restaurant (right) is a fun place to party. The all-American bar and grill is famous for its well-made drinks, cocktails and food served from an open grill. Among the best hamburgers and dogs in town. Amari Watergate Hotel & Spa 847 Petchburi Road, +66 2 6539000
Tsu Japanese Restaurant and Nami Teppanyaki Steakhouse
Tsu-Nami is located on the underground floor of the JW Marriott hotel. Tsu (left above) serves both traditional and inventive sushi and sashimi, while Nami (left below) is the teppanyaki bar, frequented by high-powered suits during the day and young, upward types in the evening. Really one of the better Japanese restaurants in town - not just because the food is so good, but because the of spectacular interior design. JW Marriott hotel, Sukhumvit soi 2, Sukhumvit Rd, +66 2 6567709 / 6567700 ext 4359
Inspired by 1930s Shanghai art deco, the China House (left) - located at The Oriental hotel - has been redesigned and revived into an avant-garde eatery which serves classic yet contemporary cuisine in a refined atmosphere. It is one of Bangkok's most popular Chinese restaurants. Menu highlights include slow-cooked shark's fin in golden broth and slow-cooked whole fresh Mexican abalone traditional style. The Oriental Bangkok, Charoen Krung Rd, +66 2 6599000 ext 7650/1
One of the city's most popular Italian restaurants (below). The cooking is typically southern Italian, the emphasis on the fresh taste of the produce - delivered daily and cooked in Colavita olive oil from the owner's home town in Italy. Virtually no cream or butter is used in the sauces. The taste is 100 per cent authentic Italian, although a special chilli sauce is used to cater for locals and foreigners who like the spice factor. 59 Langsuan Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, +66 22528108/9
Perhaps the hippest dining experience in the capital (below). Best described as an upscale restaurant, club, art gallery, theatre and stage merged into one. Serving fusion food in a custom-built building featuring a modern, futuristic all-white environment. Once inside, you take your shoes off and simply lay down. On weekends, a weekly changing four-course meal is served and there is one sitting. 26 Sukhumvit Soi 11, Sukhumvit Road, +66 26513537