Can you taste the past? A memory? An emotion? Those are some of the questions one of Thailand’s best-known chefs, Juthamas Theantae, seeks to answer with her latest offering, Karamkamet Conveyance, which opened last month.
The narrow, mirror-filled, 32-seat restaurant offers only a single, 7-Course Tasting Menu (THB2,500, add THB1,800 for biodynamic wine pairing), with each course based on a memory from the chef’s own life. She plans to change the tasting menu based on different themes every few months, but only ever offering a single menu at a time, both for efficiency’s sake — the new space has a tiny kitchen — and to match the streamlined concept of the venue.
With the restaurant — hidden behind a Karmakamet Aromatic shop selling candles, diffusers, and other nice-smelling goods — in the historic Lhong 1919 complex, she hopes to impart some wisdom alongside the small dishes. In the modern world, with its dietary fads, picky eaters, and those generally intolerant to new experiences they haven’t handpicked, the chef is offering the single menu in hopes that her guests will simply relax and accept the food being placed before them without having to make too many decisions.
“It starts from food. When you simply accept the things that are on the table it becomes like life, that’s conveyance,” the chef told Coconuts Bangkok. A small note beneath each diners plate reads, “Allow things to happen the way they are.”
As you step into the nearly hidden restaurant behind a curtain at the back of the shop, you feel like you’re stepping into a secret space, with its long white curtains between the tables, low lighting, and single orchids in glass tubes.
Though the menu was designed based on the chef’s memories, she hopes they will spark recollections of diners’ own pasts — or allow them to create new ones. The descriptions of the dishes have a dreamlike quality that set the stage for the food about to arrive. Bearing names like Emotional Seascape with nary a description provided, the dishes are served on objects such as large ceramic hands. Conveyance clearly aims to provide a distinct dinner experience, and one that strives to be evocative.
The chef rarely comes out to the front of the house, and her staff are instructed to answer questions about the dishes when asked. But they mostly let the guests experience and eat the dishes how they wish. Since most courses come with several small sides and sauces, this means that guests may end up slurping a sauce like a soup, dunking bread into it, or pouring it over rice — there’s no prescribed way to eat the food. “References and instructions make you judge, and that keeps you from entering a new space,” the chef explained.
To excuse her common absence in the dining room, she says, “After cooking, I can’t smile, it’s very intense for me.”
The first teaser is called Emotional Seascape: Humid Morning by Prachuap Khiri Khan Bay. The small dish arrives as jelly floating on water with a bit of salt-pickled mackerel.
The single mouthful has a strong fishy smell, but tastes great, if challenging. The base is made of a coconut jelly that reminds us of the sea, and the fish is topped with a coconut mousse, spicy Thai seafood sauce, and roe. It’s easy to imagine the chef as a young child, running around in the seaside province’s humid, salty air and eating something not too different from this for her dinner.
The second teaser is called East China Sea and is a small dish of soup based on a memory of eating boiled fish soup with potonko (a simple doughnut) on a boat in China. Though she has made it into a pleasant, briny little sip, the recollection of the food was not a pleasant memory for her, it being something people were eating purely for sustenance, not pleasure. In this teaser, she’s reimagined the potonko as a piece of fried fish and, when it arrives, the seafood sits at the bottom, like a hidden treasure you don’t discover until you start eating.
The first actual course is called Bangkok Street No. 1 and pairs a giant oyster topped with crispy pancake and sprouts with a dish of pad thai. This course will probably be the most familiar and comforting for those that aren’t hugely adventurous eaters.
Up next is is Philippines, a small bun course that can be picked up with your hands, if you like. Sweet, rich, and fatty pork adobo sits in a small open bun alongside coconut and galangal. The bun is covered in seeds and spring onion. Gone in a few bites, this tastes like an upscale version of a Pinoy street snack.
The third course is Hainan, a soup based on traditional Chinese medicine and and filled with stringed chicken thigh. The chef said the dish was based on time she spent in China studying art. Back then, a friend told her a story about life on one of the country’s rural mountain and how hard it was. Juthamas spent consequent hours thinking about what she’d heard and supposed the people living there would not have fresh food. She tried to make something delicious in their honor based on chicken bones and dried herbs. The resulting deep, earthy, herbal broth takes three days to produce.
The fourth course is based on her trips to Hong Kong over the years. A chunk of braised beef tongue sits atop chewy rice noodles and the shrimp cakes seen on streets throughout Asia. Along with this dish is what is billed as “incredible chili jelly” and indeed it is. The strongly flavored gel tastes of lime and chili without a hint of sugar and packs a much bigger flavor wallop than you expect when you plop it on your beef. Lord help the playful soul that takes a mouthful on a spoon without expectation.
To give tired tastebuds a break, a palate cleanser arrived next and was one of our favorite parts of the meal. Memory of Summer Days is small dish of stewed Thai fruits in rum alongside a microscoop of Samut Songkram sea salt ice cream. It works perfectly to relax us for the upcoming courses. The rum probably didn’t hurt.
The last of the mains is a Thai-meets-Indian fusion plate called Southern Thailand Coast, inspired by the seafood of Southern Thailand and the tastes of India — a country dear to the chef’s heart thanks to six years studying lithography in West Bengal — and is our favorite of the mains. It pairs spiced coconut crab with curried corn patty and cempedak fruit fritter. A coriander chutney on the side could not have been more perfect with a twang of citrus alongside the soapy herb and yogurt.
An unexpectedly adorable desert arrived next, appearing like a lavish tea party for a doll. Darjeeling Afternoon Tea is a mini donut topped with a dollop of frosting and sprinkles, a tiny dish of ice cream, a yellow bit of foil-topped sweet on a pedestal, and a square cake with a shot of honeyish liquid. The cakes are based on the tastes of traditional Indian sweets, gularb jamun and raj gula, while the shot glass is filled with lemon tea. And sometimes, a donut is just a tasty little donut, as it is here.
When asked if she wants guests to feel her memories after dining at Conveyance, or feel challenged, or feel accepting, she replied, “I want them to feel happy. Have peace of mind and — when they think about the dinner again in a year or two after something has happened in their lives, they might think, ‘Oh, that’s what that dish was about.”
“I think a lot and I don’t often tell people because they’ll think I’m crazy,” she said with a shrug. If this is crazy, it’s the type of crazy we can endorse.
248 Chiang Mai Rd.
Open daily, 6pm-12am
BTS Krung Thon Buri