Independent high-end Thai restaurants don’t get the credit they deserve in Bangkok, a city best known for its cheap, delicious street eats.
Of course, for a special splurge, five-star hotels like the Dusit Thani and the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok give guests a chance to indulge in top Thai fare made with high-quality ingredients just an elevator ride from their room.
More on CNNGo: Bangkok’s top 20 executive chefs talk street food
Particularly remarkable cuisine flows from the kitchens of world-class restaurants like Nahm at the Metropolitan Hotel, which elevates Thai gastronomy to new global heights. At Sra Bua at the Siam Kempinski Hotel, innovative translations feature molecular gastronomy combined with traditional Thai ingredients.
But positioned comfortably between the roadside cart and the five-star feast, these stand-alone high-end Thai restaurants, scattered through the city’s sois, offer home-style hospitality and authentic flavors cushioned in a leafy retreat.
Lan Na Thai
Open briefly for lunches, the almost-mythical decor really comes to life at night, with halogen lights bouncing off the high vaulted ceilings and mustard yellow walls, highlighting ornate khon masks, with a mythical Garuda perched on a wall and a serene Buddha statue sitting cross-legged in one corner.
The menu is conveniently categorized by preparation methods, making it easy to cap your dishes to just one, or two, deep-fried items to suit the perpetual diet.
Appetizers start from 290 baht and go up to 650 baht for main seafood courses. A range of curries — massaman, penang, red, green, yellow — are priced according to the protein of choice (380 baht for chicken, 470 baht for shrimp), with a handful of vegetable dishes such as the eye-closingly tasty makua yao pad dao jiow (eggplant in yellow bean sauce, 220 baht) waving the banner for other food groups.
Guests can order from Indian and Japanese menus as well, perfect to appease finicky dining companions and famished variety seeking souls.
Ornate chic doesn’t come cheap so drinks are steep (195 baht for a Singha, 270 baht for cocktail).
The tom yum standard: A 290 baht zesty take on the traditional soup with a generous serving of tiger prawns to complement the signature herbs.
Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 6-11 p.m. 29 Soi Sukhumvit 38. +66 (0) 2713 6048. www.facebars.com
With both chefs at Bo.lan coming from the original Nahm restaurant in London, the creative flair on offer here matches Bangkok’s best.
Thai design elements — woven rice trays hang down from the ceiling, fish ornaments made from palm leaves to hold the napkins — complement the contemporary decor.
The menu changes quarterly to take advantage of seasonal produce and the chefs adopt a slow food philosophy, ever curious and adventurous with the complex mixture of flavors therein.
The result is a menu whose dishes look and sound unfamiliar, but which have surprisingly familiar tastes.
“Bo.lan Before” (295 baht) is an assortment of bite-sized morsels, each packing a powerful hit of Thai flavor, while “gang muu tapab nahm” (red curry of pork hock, 460 baht) has the pork knuckle practically melting into an authentic curry paste.
Should the two-page menu overwhelm, opt for the all encompassing 11-course “Bo.lan Balance” set menu (1,680 baht per person).
To soak up any sauce lagging on the plate, organic gaba rice is complimentary, while jasmine rice is 30 baht because, as the waitress explains, “jasmine rice costs more for the environment.”
Prices are on par with hotel rates, with à la carte dishes ranging from 210-580 baht, and a glass of Singha beer for 185 baht.
The tom yum standard: Far too ubiquitous, this dish isn’t even on Bo.Lan’s innovative menu. But judging by the use of herbs and spices in other dishes, expectations for the would’ve-been are high.
42 Soi Pichai Ronnarong Songkram, Soi Sukhumvit 26. Open 6 p.m. till late, Tuesday – Sunday. +66 (0)2260 2962. www.bolan.co.th
A liberal use of wood, vaulted ceilings, terra-cotta tiled floors and faded pink napkins gives this 18-year old establishment a Thai country house ambiance.
At first glance, the menu seems uninspiring, full of classics like “nuea pad nam mun hoi” (beef stir-fried in oyster sauce, 190 baht) and “sai ua” (northern style sausage, 165 baht), but Baan Khanitha doesn’t skimp when it comes to quality ingredients.
The meal begins with a delicate plate of complimentary “miang kham” (a traditional leaf-wrapped appetizer).
A small selection of traditional desserts includes “bua loi nam king” (sweet sesame dumplings in ginger syrup, 95 baht) and the perennial Thai favorite “kao niow mamuang” (mango and sticky rice, 195 baht).
Diners have a choice of seating: multiple indoor sections, al fresco under the shade of red parasols or in the Thai sala (pavilion).
Cocktails are 210 baht, and include the standard range from margarita to mai tai. The majority of wines — from France, New Zealand, California, Chile, Argentina — are around 2,500 baht per bottle, and the list includes some surprisingly rare vintages.
The tom yum standard: 240 baht for a “small” portion big enough to share between two, includes two large whole river prawns floating in a thick flavorsome soup.
36/1 Soi Sukhumvit 23, Sukhumvit Road. +66 (0) 2258 4181. Open daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. www.baan-khanitha.com
Herbs and spice may entice, but if you can’t tell galangal from lemongrass, much less state their medicinal properties, then Ruen Mallika is your best bet.
The menu features colorful A4-sized images, with herbal ingredients and their health advantages listed for every dish.
The two-story restaurant is housed in an 180-year-old traditional teak Thai house, with al fresco seating on the wooden deck and air conditioned seating upstairs, the latter on floor cushions.
The higgledy-piggledy walls are adorned with framed newspaper clippings and Thai miniatures, while to take your mind off your gnarled knees random signs offer timeless wisdom like “A dead man can take not a cent. It is needless to be stingy”.
All the Thai classics are served, with appetizers starting from 120 baht and main courses from 250 baht. Thai desserts include the nostalgic coconut ice cream served inside a bread roll with sticky rice, as well as custard apple ice cream.
Traditional Thai music is played a few decibels too loud, but adds to the traditional ambiance.
The tom yum standard: 250 baht for a mushroom variation, and 570 baht for a minimum 300 grams of river prawns. The soup was medium spicy and sour, without too many diced and sliced herbs floating around.
189 Soi Sukhumvit 20, Sukhumvit Road. Open daily, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. +66 (0) 2663 3211. www.ruenmallika.com
Patara’s recommended offerings are proof that the chef knows best. Evidence? A heavenly “palo kai kem” (five spice pork stewed with salted eggs, 280 baht).
The menu here is extensive, with an entire section dedicated to vegetarians. Appetizers start from 190 baht, and main courses from 280 baht.
Crunch your way through yummy salted homemade taro chips while waiting to be served in seductively dim-lit surroundings furnished with contemporary Asian designs in red and teak tones. French doors look out onto the garden where chilled out al fresco seating is set up during the dry months.
A choice of New and Old World wines falls mainly within the 2-4,000 baht a bottle range. Innovative cocktails (170-200 baht) draw influence from Thai ingredients, such as the “Bangkok Martini” (lemongrass, gin, vermouth, kaffir lime).
Illy coffee and all the Thai herbal drinks you can think of go well with the Thai-inspired desserts (120-180 baht), including the “Pandan Crème Brûlée with Passion Fruit Meringue” (120 baht).
If a dish catches your fancy, sign up for their cooking class.
The tom yum standard: 190 baht for a single portion with bite-sized pieces of river prawn. The soup is tamed for Western palates but decent by local standards.
75 Soi Thonglor 19, Sukhumvit 55 Road. +66 (0) 2185 2960. Open daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6-11 p.m. www.patarathailand.com