EPICURE

Southern and sophisticated

Southern Thai food has been elevated to new and refined heights at two of Bangkok’s coolest restaurants

 

 

Southern comfort: Escape into the cool interior of Saawaan

 

March 2020

The mere mention of Southern Thai food may cause some people’s stomachs to start churning, but not all of such cuisine will make you reach for the Pepto-Bismol.

Until now, Southern Thai food is commonly associated with the fiery and down-to-earth fare found from Chumphon province down to the Malaysian border. It is unapologetically spicy from the liberal use of chilli and curry paste, making it distinct from Northern Thai food which is often milder with wet curries and glutinous rice to soak them up.

But lately, there has been a wave of Southern Thai fine-dining restaurants serving such refined cuisine that you may not notice the heat until it’s too late.

Here are two of the best upscale options in Bangkok currently.

Saawaan’s Stir-Fried crab

 

Saawaan

Not far off that stretch of traffic mayhem more commonly known as Sathorn Road is a cool, dark temple to street food.

Saawaan is the Thai word for heaven and its dining room is a divine escape from the noise and heat outside.

This one Michelin-starred restaurant offers a nine-course set menu that reinterprets Thai street food in creative and aesthetic ways.

Chef Sujira “Aom” Pongmorn combines traditional and modern cooking techniques, including molecular methods, but always retaining the original flavour of the dishes which are categorised by cooking style. For example, the Stir-Fried course is inspired by the stinky bean or “sator”.

Stir-fried with spicy “kua kling” paste, mud crab fat and cashew nuts, it is served with mud crab from Samut Songkhram, and finished at the table with the dehydrated roe from Thai blue swimmer crab.

Saawaan emphasises the use of seasonal ingredients which are locally sourced. But there are also exotic touches, like the Raw dish.

This is a traditional “pla” style salad made with Hokkaido sea urchin, “madan” fruit and homemade chili jam, with the sour madan and its crunchy texture adding acidity and crunch to the rich sea urchin.

Delightful flavours and modern presentations, together with either a wine or tea pairing, make Saawaan a unique Southern Thai restaurant.

Saawaan, 39/19 Soi Suanplu, Sathorn Road, Bangkok

Sorn’s Gems on Crab Stick

 

Sorn

Chef Supaksorn “Ice” Jongsiri had already tasted success with his chain of Baan Ice casual restaurants. But he was driven by a deep conviction to raise the culinary bar with a sumptuously scrumptious tribute to Southern Thai cuisine. Thus, Sorn was born.

The two Michelin-starred restaurant is housed in a stylish colonial bungalow in a quiet cul-de-sac off busy Sukhumvit Soi 26, just one soi from the Emporium mall. Blink, or look away from Google maps for a second, and you may miss the turn-off.

Inside, the opulent home-like layout has only a handful of  tables – one in the “dining room’’ with a map of Thailand on the wall denoting its regions (if you’re lucky, Chef Ice will arrive to point out his home province of Nakhon Si Thammarat), and a couple more in the “conservatory” with a clear view of the semi-outdoor hot section of the kitchen.

According to Chef Ice, there are many ingredients yet to be discovered in the south of Thailand and he wants to cook them before they disappear. And not just any old cooking method but the ancient way, where much time is required to prepare the food – like squeezing the coconut milk and pounding the chilli by hand – with the sustainably sourced produce from a trusted network of farmers and fishermen.

The result is a lovingly presented 22-course menu, such as raw Phuket lobster slathered with an eye-watering chilli paste, and deep-fried sand mole crabs that are crisp and full of briny flavour.

But while each dish is beautifully intricate and so very yummy, Chef Ice insists that it is not modern Thai cuisine. Instead, they are derived from long-lost recipes and prepared with very old cooking methods.

But old or new, there is no dispute over how special the food and ambience are.

Sorn, 56 Soi Sukhumvit 26, Khlong Toei, Bangkok

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