There was no shortage of buzz in Hong Kong’s foodie circles earlier this year when it was announced that chef Bongkoch ‘Bee’ Satongun — named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2018 — would be cooking at Tate Dining Room as part of a special dinner celebrating female chefs. I wasn’t lucky enough to attend the event, but for the occasion, the celebrated chef behind Paste Bangkok served what’s become her signature dish: a smoky yellow curry that was described in our Best Bites column as being “so intense, complex, multi-layered and teeming with flavour that everything else pales in comparison”. After reading that, I knew I needed to head south to Bangkok for a taste of Paste.
The joint dream project of ‘Chef Bee’ and her Australian husband Jason Bailey, also a trained chef, Paste Bangkok originally opened on an endless stretch of Sukhumvit Soi 49 in the bustling Thonglor area back in 2013. A move to a more central location inside Gaysorn Village in 2016 proved to be an auspicious decision. The restaurant ranked #31 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2018, moving up to #28 on the 2019 list; for the past two years, Paste has also received one Michelin star. And then, of course, there was the distinction of being named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2018.
The accolades have clearly served the chef-owner couple well: Highlighting Lao cuisine, Paste Laos opened in Luang Prabang last year; meanwhile, they’re planning to open an outpost in Australia later this year.
But back to Bangkok, which is where my travelling taste buds had taken me. Paste Bangkok is tucked away on the top floor of a shopping mall that gets pretty quiet at night — the last place I’d expect to enjoy refined, Michelin-starred cooking. The restaurant itself is modern and inviting, with a spiral sculpture made from hundreds of silk cocoons serving as the focal point of the striking interior. Floor-to-ceiling windows and large, curved booths lend an airiness to the dining room, while a semi-open kitchen allows guests to watch the kitchen staff preparing the labour-intensive dishes on the menu.
The name of the restaurant is an allusion to curry paste, one of the hallmarks of Thai cuisine, which requires lots of ingredients and lots of time to properly prepare — there are no shortcuts if you want the real deal. Aside from adhering to authentic techniques, Chef Bee and her kitchen staff bow to history and tradition, with recipes inspired by Thai royalty, aristocratic families and heritage cookbooks. The result is an exciting blend of passion and creativity, with artistic dishes that defy any preconceived notions you may have about Thai cooking. Forget pad Thai — this is exotic food with unapologetically bold flavours that stimulate the palate just as much as the beautiful presentations stimulate the eye.
Selecting the highlights from a meal at Paste Bangkok feels like a fool’s errand — order everything, seriously — but I’ll try my best anyway. An appetiser of roasted duck, nutmeg, curry paste and sawtooth coriander on rice crackers awakens the senses and fires up the appetite for what’s to come, while a watermelon rind and fish roe soup with seabags and jicama dumplings is elegant, understated and surprising. (Both recipes are inspired by the Snidwongse family cookbook, published in 1968.)
Moving on to mains, there’s a 31-flavour Thai omelette, a heady delight made with the sweet flesh of crab imported from Australia’s Fraser Island; whole lobster stir-fried with fresh egg noodles, light soy sauce, curry paste and rich pork stock — unctuous and rich; ‘Singhol’ curry made with slow-roasted goat and a multitude of dry spices, lightened up citrus and young dill; and of course, that signature smoky southern yellow curry with more spanner crab, which is so good that you’ll want to spoon every last bit over your rice to savour the complex flavours.
Paste Bangkok’s approach to contemporary Thai cooking based on forgotten recipes has the power to transform diners’ thinking about Thai food — it certainly did for me, at least — but there’s another intriguing reason to have a meal here, and surprisingly, that’s Lao food. Drawing on her shared Thai-Lao heritage, Chef Bee has integrated Lao recipes into the menu with the same level of care and ingredient sourcing used for the Thai dishes, and they’re not to be missed.
For example, a starter of crunchy, cured rice balls with sour sausage, kaffir lime zest, red curry paste, river weed and rose pepper leaf packed such a bold punch that I can’t help but dream of its exotic flavours even now, weeks after eating it. Then there’s the kalee ped, a “recreation and slight reinvention” of the classic recipe for Laos duck curry created by the chef of the Royal Loas Court, yet another example of how Chef Bee mines culinary heritage to feed and enlighten contemporary diners. Of course, if you want a more significant taste of Lao cooking, then a trip to Paste Laos in order.
As far as Bangkok is concerned, the city has increasingly become a hot spot for globetrotting gourmands in recent years, with various accolades, awards and stars being heaped on a handful of restaurants, but I think you’d be missing out on something special if you skipped a meal at Paste. The artistry on the plate, the boldness of the flavours, the surprises on the menu, the warm hospitality, and the unsuspecting location all combine to make Paste Bangkok one of the Thai capital’s most intriguing and undeniably delicious restaurants.
And with tasting menus ranging from 2,000–3,700 THB (approximately HK$508–$940), there’s incredible value for money on offer here. If that’s not reason enough to say sawadee to Paste Bangkok, I don’t know what is.
Paste Bangkok, 3/F, Gaysorn, 999 Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok, Thailand, +66(0)2 656 1003
Paste at The Apsara, Kingkitsarath Road, Ban Wat Sene, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos, +856 71 254 251