With the publication in December 2017 of the first Michelin guide to the Thai capital, Bangkok’s culinary scene – already known for its street food – has acquired its lettres de noblesse. At the same time, the City of Angels earns the title of the most affordable Red Guide city in the world. A lunch at one-star Savelberg costs 1600 baht (around £36, plus tax and service) and two-star Le Normandie serves a business lunch for £35 – astonishing value for an impeccable meal.
There is no need to spend even that much in a city known for cheap eats, so Bangkok opens up a world of affordable possibilities. Never has a single Michelin destination offered so many choices for those on a budget. Beyond the stars, the guide lists 35 moderately priced Bib Gourmands and introduced the Michelin Plate category to acknowledge excellent value and high quality. And 28 street food businesses have also been singled out for their importance to the city’s dining scene.
The shop is called Guay Jab Mr Joe for the rolled rice noodles in broth that are the signature dish of this shop-house. But really, everyone comes for the moo krob (crispy pork belly) that garnishes the soup. The crunch of the crackling is the perfect foil for the soft noodles in peppery broth; but it’s hard to resist an extra plate of delectable meat on the side. A sprinkle of vinegar and a pinch of fried chilli flakes are addictive condiments.
• Soup from £1.40, additional plates of meat from £1.30, on Facebook
Chef Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn has been honing his creative interpretations of Thai cuisine at his fine-dining restaurant Le Du, but he hasn’t forgotten the everyday Bangkok food he grew up with. He serves homestyle dishes at Baan (“home” in Thai) in upmarket Witthayu Road, opposite Lumphini Park. Diners can order shared curries, fresh salads, stir-fries such as aged-beef pad ga pao (Thai basil) or glazed grilled lamb chops, without breaking the bank.
• Individual rice plates £6; à la carte dishes from £4, baanbkk.com
Too many cooks do not spoil the broth; quite the contrary. In this collaborative kitchen, four young chefs turn out some of the most innovative food in one of the city’s hottest neighbourhoods, Talad Noi. The look is post-industrial, but this is no ordinary hipster joint. A beef tartare with roasted chilli is one of the highlights of the new menu, while a tender lamb heart salad is moreish. An ambitious cocktail list mixes Thai spirits with tastes such as sour tamarind and other native aromatics.
• Dishes from £6, on Facebook
Be prepared to take a number and wait for an hour or more at this popular nighttime student hangout on the edges of Chulalongkorn University. What do people come for? Duck dishes, fried fish, stir fries and shared bubbling tureens of spicy tom yum soup. The garnish of choice? Instant “Mama” noodles, unlike anything you could produce with a kettle in student digs. Go for mama moo sab (minced pork balls) or mama talay ruam (mixed seafood). Michelin-rated instant noodles? You heard it here first.
• Most dishes £1.20-£4.60; shared soups up to £18.50 will feed four or more, 113 Soi Charat Mueang, Pathum Wan, on Facebook
One of the best deals in the rarefied world of starred restaurants has got to be Chim by Siam Wisdom’s three-course lunch menu. Chef Thaninthorn “Noom” Chantrawan spent 14 years working in some of London’s hottest restaurants, including Zuma, Roka, Patterson’s, Momo and Sketch. He returned to Thailand but didn’t find success at first, and was planning a return to London when he was spotted by TV show Iron Chef Thailand. He never looked back. His à la carte creations include Poo nim Tod (deep-fried soft-shell crab served with fresh mango and roasted coconut salad), while here’s hoping he puts his sugar cane-smoked duck breast, a dish he created for the Michelin awards dinner, on the menu soon.
• Lunch menu £9; à la carte from £11.50, catbox.fr
Chefs Bo Songvisava and Dylan Jones of Bo.lan were pioneers in taking Thai food seriously and developing sustainable practices in the kitchen. At Err – a grunt in Thai that can express anything from agreement to surprise – the chefs let their hair down and embrace fun food. A cocktail list that highlights traditional Thai spirits such as Chao Pra Ya (a spirit made from sticky rice plus ginger and mandarin vodkas, and bitters) is the perfect foil for bar snacks like home-cured pickles and a clever, crisp whole chicken skin. More substantial dishes include tom kamin gai baan, a spicy turmeric soup made with free-range chicken, or gaeng krau sii krong moo, pork ribs in a sinus-clearing curry.
• Dishes from £4.50, errbkk.com
In anyone’s book Jay Fai is a living legend in Bangkok, and this month became only the third street food restaurant in the world to win a Michelin star. Impeccably made up and bejewelled, the 70-year-old dons her oversized goggles and ski cap and demonstrates deft control of her charcoal-fired woks like a maestro taking command of her orchestra, well into the night. Some will balk at the prices, which can be 10 times higher than an ordinary Thai-Chinese stir-fry shophouse; but top-notch ingredients and a unique experience of Thai nightlife come at a price that crowds are willing to queue to pay for, night after night. Locals pick the poo phad pong kari, generous chunks of sweet crab cooked with curry and scrambled eggs, over the more popular, but sometimes dry, crab omelette.
• Crab curry or crab omelette from £18.50, depending on the size of the portion; river prawn cakes £11.50 for six, 327 Maha Chai Road, Khwaeng Samran Rat, Khet Phra Nakhon, no website
In a genteel residential neighbourhood just a stone’s throw away from the infamous red-light alleyway of Soi Cowboy, The Local serves flavour-packed foods from southern Thailand amid its many historic recipes. Try ox-tongue massaman and lhon poo, a crab-and-coconut dip served with lotus stems and other raw vegetables. Plan an intimate dinner party or a romantic dinner in one of the private dining rooms.
• Dishes from £6, thelocalthaicuisine.com
On this strip of Phetchaburi Road, best known for its endless shopping malls, three modest khao man gai shops offer classic Hainanese chicken rice (boiled chicken over rice cooked in the broth of the chicken) with chilli and garlic-infused dipping sauce. Known by their colours (hot pink, orange or sky blue), the juiciest and most fragrant of the lot is the pink shop, Go Ang. Expect orderly queues, but turnover is quick. A plate of chicken rice is a hugely popular breakfast food or midnight snack.
• £1 a plate, £1.40-£2.80 per additional plate of meat, 960-962 Phetchaburi Road, on Facebook
For the past three years, diners in the know (and happy to splurge) have come to the sleepy Gaysorn Village mall to be wowed by the elegant decor and serious food served by husband-and-wife chefs Bee Satongun and Jason Bailey. But somehow Paste never registered with the public in the way that other big-name tables did. One little star and a turn serving braised pork cheek at the glamorous awards dinner changed all that.
Satongun champions ancient recipes and quality ingredients, adding modern twists and sourcing authentic tastes from underrated places such as Nan province in the north. An example: the lobster salad, originally a humble southern dish of fermented fish, given a twist with fried fish skins and edible pink coral flowers.
• Lunch menu £28; à la carte dishes from £9, pastebangkok.com