Though brought up in Australia, David Thompson’s heart, soul and taste buds are firmly rooted in Thailand, where he is hailed as one of the country’s foremost authorities on all things food.
A holiday for the classically trained chef in the 1980s turned into a lengthy culinary education, taking in everything from street food to ‘royal cuisine’. Two cookbooks and a clutch of restaurants on three continents later, Thompson opened his first outlet in Hong Kong – Aaharn, in the renovated Tai Kwun heritage and arts complex in Central – in September 2018, and it picked up a Michelin star two years later.
Thompson is passionate about his adoptive homeland and its cuisine. Nahm, the Thai restaurant he founded at Como Metropolitan hotel in Bangkok (and left in 2018 to focus on new projects), is regularly lauded as one of the world’s best. ‘Some people think Thai food is a jumble of flavours, but Thais delight in the complexity,’ says Thompson.
Here, he picks the places – from highfalutin to high energy – that make the cut for his Bangkok food tour.
‘As far as restaurants go, this could very well be my first choice. It’s Isaan food, from the northeast of the country. I’m especially fond of the curries and the grilled meats,’ says Thompson. This Bangrak district restaurant does nose-to-tail dining, with highlights including rice noodles with pig’s brain, and oxtail braised in herb stock and cassia leaves.
The next stop on Thompson’s Bangkok food tour is Yaowarat Road. The main artery of Chinatown is rammed with family-run hawker stalls, making it the capital’s capital of street food. Two dishes in particular are worth seeking out: oyster omelette and duck smoked over sugar cane. Picking where you eat is a matter of sizing up the queues: ‘If a stall’s busy, it’s busy for a reason.’ Regulars are said to patronise their favourite stall only if it’s being tended by the most seasoned member of the family.
Samsen runs parallel to the Chao Phraya river and, like Yaowarat, is a street food funfair. Stir-fried noodles are a particular draw. Durian lovers – and Thompson counts himself among them – flock here when they’re in season, from April to June, though the less enamoured have likened it to ‘eating blancmange in the toilet’.
Two varieties, dubbed ‘golden pillow’ and ‘long stalk’, attract their own camps of fanatical adherents. ‘Never mind the stuff from Malaysia or Indonesia: Thai durian is the best in the world – and the smellier it is, the better I like it.’
Occupying a glamorous space in Sukhumvit and serving authentic Thai food, Bo.lan cruised to number 19 in the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2018. ‘It’s run by two great friends, Bo and Dylan. They go for upmarket, sustainable, organic. I especially like the curried guinea fowl, and they do a good tom yam gung soup, but the menu changes swiftly.’ Bo.lan also runs twice-monthly cooking classes and sells curry paste, chillis and pressed oils.
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‘This place serves old-fashioned, homely food. I’ll just say one thing – the stir-fried cabbage with fish sauce. Superb.’ The location is also a winner – and far removed from pavement dining – as it’s within The Jam Factory, an old warehouse near the river that’s also home to an architecture studio, a bookshop and an art gallery. The beef massaman and green curries are more conventional fare but still pack an enormous capacity to surprise.
This story was originally published in January 2019 and updated in September 2020