Spinning Straw into Gold at 80/20

With a fresh revamp and a reorientation to tasting menus, one of the city's secret faves is stepping out of the shadows.

Feb 20, 2019

IF YOU WANT TO SEE how the sausage gets made, visit 80/20. Executive chef Napol “Joe” Jantraget and pastry chef Saki Hoshino source their ingredients locally and seasonally, in ways that elevate their suppliers, and employ pickling and fermenting to create experimental Thai fare that looks fancy but isn’t daunting, in a relaxed wrought-iron space where you can hang out and watch the chill chefs joshing around in the open kitchen. Quickly after opening in late 2015, they became a darling of Bangkok’s creative trend-set who were remaking the riverlands around old Chinatown. You couldn’t get a walk-in table even on Monday night. Michelin gave them a Plate. Just before shutting down for renovations last year, Joe and Saki popped off to Japan to get married. Eighty-twenty 2.0, with its expanded kitchen, dining room and staff, represents new unions. A partnership with Choti Leenutaphong and Debby Tang, the couple behind several popular Bangkok restaurants and Vesper, which is on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, brings a ramped-up cocktail menu, and a wine list heavy on artisanal, biodynamic bottles. (The soft, pear-tinged Christoph Hoch pét-nat Kalkspritz will transport you to a gauzy afternoon garden.)

Chefs Joe Jantraget and Saki Hoshino, with a new 80/20 mural by a royal palace painter.

The other big change is that they’ve gone tasting-menu-only. Standouts on the 10-course menu they just relaunched with include the goat tartare, and the dry-aged smoked duck breast with duck-offal sausage. Textures are a priority; witness the single-clove garlic sliced razor-thin and fermented in honey for two months, or the “edible sand” made from the dried insides of tiger-prawn heads. I mention surprise at the small size of the grilled oysters in seepweed butter (this is a slightly nutty, crunchy bowl of delight), and Joe says it’s because they’re local, of course. “They might have less intrinsic flavor,” he says. “You just need to find a way to use it.”

The Chili Roulette opening salvo at 80/20.

This is their overarching philosophy. “I had a guest who said the beef seemed a little tough. I said, ‘Yes, that’s Thai beef,’ and he looked at me like, Oh, I feel sorry for you. But he missed the point. That’s just what it is. It’s my job to learn to enhance it. You can’t expect Thai beef to be Japanese beef.” Lingering at the counter after dinner, I note the line chefs gathering, laughing and rolling what turns out to be the duck sausage; hilarious—it’s a sausage party. “Before we were just playing,” Saki says. “Now it’s working together to build something solid.” Happily, though, they’re also still playing. 8020bkk.com; tasting menu Bt3,000.

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