Since making a name with restaurants such as Opposite Mess Hall and Quince, Australian chef Jess Barnes has been off the Bangkok restaurant scene for a while — and he’s now back with a Viva Thonglor makeover.
The sprawling five-story building boasts a bulb-strewn ground floor that serves up casual, produce-driven dishes inspired by global and Asian influences, depending on what the kitchen can source and what Barnes feels likes cooking. These include his claim to fame since his early days in Bangkok: bone marrow dumplings.
Famished on a Friday night, Viva Thonglor beckoned to us with its spacious, half-empty dining room. A bit perturbed at the lack of customers, we nonetheless were able to fully appreciate the stylish décor: a bold, rustic interior design with warm color tones, wooden furniture, red brick walls and high ceilings. While the aforementioned empty tables didn’t add much to the overall atmosphere of the restaurant on a Friday evening, there’s definite potential for the space, which sprawls out over a large dining room, a full butcher corner from Joe Sloane and a bar counter, where beers are available on tap and a comprehensive wine list ripe for discovery, from carefully selected Australian reds and whites to international labels.
Headed by chef Barnes, Viva Thonlor’s kitchen focuses on contemporary European (some call it modern Australian) fare inflected with flavours from around Thailand. Locally sourced meat such goats from Chonburi and free-range pigs from Nakhon Pathom, for instance, are present in some of the team’s creations.
One of the standout dishes is Bone marrow dumplings with prawn, chilli, Chiang Mai lemon (THB 600), comprising fresh ravioli stuffed with bone marrow — which had been melted and cooked till tender — and covered in a delicately flavoured prawn broth infused with local lemon. If that wasn’t indulgent enough, the dish also came with tiny fresh prawns — an instant recipe for success.
If you’re a seafood lover, go for the Norwegian cod with beets, kale and ume (THB 650), one of head chef Rungroj “Mui” Wongtakhiaw’s signature dishes. The fish meat was pleasingly silky and came with a topping of kale tempura, which livened up its otherwise clean, almost plain flavour. Even for someone who is not very fond of beetroot, the combination of ume (Japanese plum soy sauce) and red beets at the bottom worked perfectly together to complement the cod, which added a more complex layer of flavours and whetted our appetites for more.
Also noteworthy was the Chonburi goat braised in milk and wine (THB 750), a meaty concoction featuring goat shanks sourced from a local farm in Chonburi and served with mashed potatoes. The goat is said to be braised in milk and wine, but it was so subtle that we barely noticed it. The star of the dish was really the meat, which was cooked to perfection. The goat shanks were the way they should be: brown, glistening and falling-off-the-bone tender.
For dessert, we were very much taken with the Hazelnut choc sorbet, dark choc mousse, cocoa soil, cherry granita (THB 250) created by sous chef Suchada “Tookta” Tachawijitjarn. The chocolate sorbet in the centre was delectably smooth, while the dark chocolate mousse, crushed chocolate biscuits and sour cherry granita on the side added dimension to the overall flavour profile. The pansies from Chiang Rai on top was a pleasant touch that worked well to impart colour to the otherwise rather earthy-looking dessert.
Overall, Viva Thonglor delivers on bold flavours and the trademark cooking style of chef Barnes is evident in the unfussy style of modern European cuisine. The quality of ingredients and care are discernible, and while the menu is as casual as the ambience of the restaurant, it ensures that there is something for everyone. The venue is perfect for any occasions from a business lunch to intimate social and corporate celebrations. We’re looking forward to when it opens up its cocktail bar on the third floor, so we can unwind over drinks while enjoying the Thonglor street view.
Viva Thonglor, 387 Sukhumvit 55, Klongtan Nua, Wattana, Bangkok, +662 000 9698
Opening Hours: Mon–Sun, 9am-11pm
Recommended Dish: Bone marrow dumplings with prawn, chilli, Chiang Mai lemon
Price: THB 375 for a three-course set lunch menu; dinner ranging from THB 800-1,000 excluding drinks.
Noise Level: Quiet.
Service: Friendly, knowledgeable and attentive.