Bangkok’s hottest tables have moved to chefs’ homes
If there is one city where dining out has long been a decidedly public affair, it is Bangkok. Here, oil-splashed kitchens spill out onto sidewalks, food courts take over entire floors of the mall and mobile restaurants edges of sidewalks around town serving noodles, curries and stir-fries for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even the best tables in town, often set up in stately villas or upscale hotels, tend to be a high-profile rendezvous for local society.
But when the pandemic took its toll Bangkok’s food scene (longtime favorites like Bo.Lan and Soul Food Mahanakon have closed their doors forever), a breed of restaurants has thrived by offering the opposite of public space: a private dining experience in a chef’s own home. . In the wake of job losses and failed business plans, a slew of savvy chefs and home cooks have turned their kitchens and living rooms into one-table restaurants, and they’re booming.
Private dining isn’t new to the city, but the pandemic has pushed the scene in a different direction. “It’s become more accessible and affordable,” says Pruepat Songtieng, a Bangkok-based food writer. For years, private chef tables have come mostly from traditional restaurants and leaned toward the more refined side of dining, with long tasting menus, top wines, and matching prices (like the $ 275 -a permanently reserved – Omakase Beef Head at Chef Pam’s table). But home restaurant dinners cost a fraction of that price and come with a BYOB policy to sweeten the deal, without sacrificing quality or chef’s attention.
Reducing contact with other guests is an obvious part of increased appeal, but there’s more to it, Songtieng says. “Thanks to cooking contests on TV and cooking shows on Netflix, more and more people want to know the stories behind the plates in front of them,” she says. “The chef’s tables are exciting because guests can learn about the ingredients and see cooking techniques in action up close. The kitchen has now become a theater.
For Thai-Malaysian chef Vishanu ‘Bank’ Prempuk, it was one of the reasons to open his restaurant to a table Aromkwan, an Asian-influenced smokehouse and grill located on the ground floor of his house in a residential alley in the Phrom Phong district. “I always tell my staff: we’re not a restaurant, we’re a rock band,” says Prempuk. “We create experiences and memories for our customers, which I couldn’t do in a traditional restaurant.” So it’s no surprise that he’s been known to pull out his guitar to play Malaysian songs for his guests after dessert.
Aromkwan started out as a side business; with a mobile smoker Prempuk Izakaya-style grilled meat skewers infused with spicy flavors of northeast Thailand at pop-up events. When the pandemic hit, he quit his main job as a chef at a Laotian restaurant and eventually opened Aromkwan in April 2021. Feasibility studies have shown that a private restaurant would help him cut costs, a safer bet in these perilous times. “Now I only have one table to fill,” he said. “If I screw up, I’ll be the worst boss in the world.”
With a waiting list ranging from two weeks to two months, he clearly struck a chord. The unique Aromkwan table can seat up to 12 people and can only be reserved by one party at a time. The four-course menu, priced at 2,350 Baht (about $ 70) per person, is served on banana leaves and without cutlery in homage to Prempuk’s Indo-Malay grandmother. The dishes merge his recipes with Prempuk’s grilling skills, resulting in dishes like goat curry and flavored biryani with pork knuckle brined, braised and smoked for 30 hours.
Haawm is another pandemic-induced opening, located deep within the On Nut residential area. When Thai-American chef Dylan Eitharong moved to Bangkok from Orlando (where he ran a temporary restaurant Bangrak Thai Street Food) at the end of 2019, he planned to transform his house, which belongs to his aunt, into an Airbnb where he would run cooking classes. But, then, of course, the pandemic happened and tourism stopped.
Instead, he’s transformed his dining room into a one-table restaurant where he now creates family-style meals, delivered via a serving hatch in the kitchen. With space for just six guests (a single group or a few smaller), he wears the host, chef and waiter hats at the same time. “I like being able to cook what I want and how I want,” he says. “I love to interact with my guests, and this format gives me the chance to do so on an intimate level.”
His dishes change weekly, but all of them have their roots in classic Thai cuisine. Drawing inspiration from cookbooks from the 1970s and 1980s, the seven-course evening share menus for 1,500 THB ($ 45) per person could include a Massaman curry with smoked shoulder of lamb, a tangy Thai-style salad. with grilled duck and ginger, or house-made chili relish.
“[Opening Haawm as a chef’s table] was the best choice given the blockages and restrictions we had, “Eitharong said.” I’d like to stretch out somehow when things seem a little more normal, but I’m patient until then. “
For the team behind the private dining room Chef next door, the opportunity to grow presented itself long before any sense of normalcy returned. After the pandemic forced Piriya Boonprasan to quit his job at the Michelin-starred kitchen in Saawaan, he co-founded a private restaurant in a small condo in the suburban Lad Phrao neighborhood in July of last year. As reservations poured in, the team that operated the restaurant managed to move to a larger house in another corner of Lad Phrao and has since opened three private dining rooms in an informal restaurant attached to a house. .
Despite the change in location, the menu continues what they do best: Thai classics made from local and seasonal ingredients (think red curry with candied pork ribs and khanom jeen scallop-fermented rice noodles), served in eight- or nine-course tasting menus for 1,800 THB ($ 54) per person.
Whether they’re a stepping stone to a full-fledged restaurant or a low-engagement platform for chefs to hone their craft, these private in-home tables add an exciting new flavor to Bangkok’s dining scene. The format brings the guests closer to the chefs, but also the reverse. “A lot of my clients have become very good friends,” says Prempuk. “This is the best result of this whole business.”
Originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler