Jan 14, 2022
EVEN A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, if the best restaurants in Bangkok designed to offer a vegetarian option among their tasting menus, we’d likely have been unenthused.
Why? This may upset some people, but there is a problem with vegetarian food. There are too many uncreative cooks who think they can just swap a slab of tofu or some mock meat for any animal protein and voilà! Their work is done. Chefs in Thailand can be as guilty of this as anywhere else. Case in point: nobody ever oohs and aahs over tofu larb.
Meanwhile there are the vegetarians themselves who feel that being virtuous is synonymous with giving up taste and flavor. We’re here to say it doesn’t need to be that way. If you think you’re “settling” for the vegetarian menu, have you ever wondered why you need to compromise at all?
Friends, we’re not here to point fingers, but there is a secret you need to know: if your vegetarian or vegan food isn’t oozing with deliciousness then chances are that you’re doing it wrong. Just have a look at some of the hallowed tables of some of the finest fine-dining restaurants around Asia, particularly in Hong Kong, Singapore and, as you’ll see below, Bangkok, for proof that vegetarian food can be gorgeous to behold and indulgently drool-worthy as well.
Make no mistake: there are lots of good reasons to embrace a vegetarian or vegan diet, whether you’re doing it for the planet, for your own journey to better health or just to take a break from a meat-laden regimen. But whatever your reasons, there is no excuse for having to suffer bad food in the name of doing the right thing.
So as we all get more conscientious in 2022, let’s celebrate chefs who are sending out amazing plant-based dishes with elegance and flair. All the Bangkok restaurants on this list offer non-veg options too, but their vegetarian tasting menus are never just second best.
There is only one chef in Bangkok who has personally won a Michelin star in five different establishments, including his restaurant in Bangkok. Chef Henk Savelberg recently moved into a stunning house in Yen Akat where every table in the white-on-white dining room looks out onto a minimalist inner courtyard.
The chef is at the summit of his craft, but knowing his classics backwards and forwards doesn’t mean he has stopped innovating. Course for course, his Vegetables menu goes head-to-head with fine dining usual suspects like oysters, lobster and pigeon on the Savelberg Experience menu and the non-meat dishes never pale in comparison.
The tomato course is an intricate collage of fresh, cured and dried tomatoes; a tomato ice cream; translucent tomato ‘paper;’ clear tomato water gazpacho; and clouds of burrata. Grilled fennel with fennel foam and a hint of citrus is a clever take on rustic roast fennel. And only a chef with absolute confidence in his art could send out humble white beans as a robust main course. (Full disclosure: the showering of black truffles elevates the beans from plebeian to patrician.) The playful Forest Mushroom dessert looks like a 3-D cartoon mushroom, but it’s also a masterclass on a plate that melds almost a dozen different elements to form one of the best desserts anywhere in town right now.
Seven-course Savelberg Vegetables Menu is Bt3,200++.
Courtesy of Mia (2)
Head chefs Pongcharm (Top) Russell and Michelle Goh, partners at home and at their workplace, have put their heads together to create a dazzling menu free of any meat or dairy. (Like all the best chefs in Bangkok and beyond, these two are not ones to make life easy on themselves, so they’ve concocted three distinct tasting menus, a vegan, non-veg and a vegetarian menu that includes dairy products.)
Take the time to have a cocktail at the cozy bar downstairs before going up to dinner. The Cloudy Dee isn’t vegan because of the egg white it contains, but it’s one of the best takes on a gin fizz around.
After drinks, the first thing to reach your table is a selection of four amuse-bouche. Each is a winner, with a shout out for miso eggplant on a crispy rice cake and the chickpea lavash slathered with borlotti bean purée. The butternut risotto is luscious with or without the truffle supplement. And when it comes to desserts, chef Michelle has led us to expect only the very best. The apple, granola and pear sorbet pre-dessert is perfectly balanced and refreshing, but the rich chocolate ganache, macadamia nut butter and coconut ice cream main sweet event threatens to push you over the edge. It’s a plunge you’ll be happy to take.
Five-course Vegan Taste of Mia menu is Bt2,350++.
Courtesy of GAA (3).
Garima Arora has won enough accolades to make any chef’s head spin. She’s been named Best Female Chef in Asia and won spots on the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia and in the World lists, as well as a Michelin star. As a student, she planned on becoming a journalist, but the call of the kitchen took her from India to Europe, and ultimately landed her in Bangkok. She has embraced the bright, fresh flavors of Indian cuisine, which naturally lends itself to vegetarian cuisine. Through her platform Food Forward India, she showcases classic Indian recipes and ingredients.
In her kitchen, however, she takes familiar tastes and gives them unexpected spins. In a menu of stellar dishes, one stand-out is the durian “marrow,” the flesh of the polarizing fruit roasted in its pod with lime, coriander and chili and served with flat breads and condiments including candied bottle gourd. The result is an unctuous, almost cheesy spread that will convert the most die-hard durian-phobes. Her comforting macadamia nut curry is soupy, slightly sweet and topped with crisply fried sunchokes and okra. And a wedge of tandoor-roasted pumpkin is a jewel of a dish, studded with pomegranate, pumpkin seeds and delicate gatte or feather-light fritters of chick pea.
GAA’s 11-course vegetarian menu is Bt4,400++.
Courtesy of Haoma (2)
Deepanker Kholsa has been preaching sustainability since before it was cool. In the heart of Bangkok, Haoma is encircled by a hydroponic, aquaponic urban farm that supplies both sustainable fish for his pescatarian diners and a variety of greens to his restaurant. His latest project, a farm located in the eastern suburbs of Bangkok, gives him the space to experiment and produce even more, for his own kitchen and for some of the top chefs around town.
His efforts have won chef DK, as he is known to his friends, Food Made Good’s Sourcing Award and the sustainable food group’s three-star rating for a second year running. His sustainable practices and his #NoOneHungry drive that he started on the first day of the Covid-prevention lockdown that so far has served more than 100,000 meals from Haoma’s kitchen, won him recognition as a Champion of Change from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
In his most recent menu, he delves into the regional foods of his native India. Some feel that he plays fast and furious with the history of his dishes, but the flavors are undeniable. A generous slice of butternut squash roasted in ghee and topped with curry leaves is served on a pillow of neer (or “water”) dosa, a light rice-based wrap, evokes the south. Jackfruit is used to two complementary mains, a meaty wedge served as a haleem redolent in warm spices and a nihari that uses scraps of the fruit to form a heady paste that the Moghuls would have traditionally made with mutton. And a semifreddo of bhang, aka now legal CDB, is a nod to Bengali sweets and the Holi festival celebrated around India.
Haoma’s 10-course Heritage Culture Roots vegetarian menu is Bt3,290++.
Keep an eye out for: Mei Jiang Exclusive, the Peninsula Bangkok’s new chef’s table, will open imminently including the option of a revolutionary new concept: tasting menus of high-end Canto specialties reimagined meat-free in an inventive new space on the banks of the Chao Phraya.