Two Times the Talent? Michelin winners revealed for 2019 Bangkok guide, number of starred entries doubled

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

The Star Reveal for the 2019 Michelin Guide covering Bangkok, Phuket, and Phang-Nga happened this morning at a press conference in Bangkok.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

The second edition has named 217 restaurants in some form or other (starred, bib gourmands, or plates). According to the guide — which reportedly had a generous THB143.5 million (US$4.3 million) investment from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) last year for a five-year contract to publish food guides — Thailand now has four two-star restaurants (one a new addition), and a whopping 23 one-star spots, ten of which are new.

Due to the high number of awardees, they did not allow each chef to make a short statement, as they did last year.

All three of last years’ two-stars — Gaggan, Le Normandie, and Mezzaluna — kept their spots. Sühring, run by two chefs that are also brothers, Mathias and Thomas Sühring, jumped up from a one-star to the upper echelon.

Notable is that no restaurant lost a star, a rarity for most of the more established European guides where scrambles and upsets happen annually. The number is also relatively high for a guide in its second year.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

The one-star restaurants that retained their standing from last year include: Bolan, Chim by Siam Wisdom, Elements, Ginza Sushi Ichi, J’Aime by Jean-Michel Lorain, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Nahm, Paste, Saneh Jaan, Savelberg, Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, Sühring, Upstairs at Mikkeller, and the single, world-famous street food vendor, Jay Fai, who had the world spotlight on her again when she spoke of returning her star because she found the long lines and constant demands that star brought with them tiresome.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

As for the ten new names to receive a Michelin star for 2019: Le Du and Gaa made the leap from being “plates,” or “good meals with fresh ingredients and capable preparation,” to starred establishments.

Canvas, one of Bangkok’s hottest new restaurants, received a star thanks to the careful, selective, often-changing menu by 30-year-old Texan chef Riley Sanders, whose dishes International Director of the Michelin Guides Gwendal Poullennec, called “artistic and contemporary” while he was hosting the press conference.

Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

At this time last year, it seemed that Jay Fai, the 70-year-old crab omelet-making superstar, was the topic on foodie’s lips — this year, we’re predicting it will be Sanders.

The fast-rising upstart, easily recognizable across a room thanks to his gravity-defying blond hair and black leather boots, told Coconuts:“I’m excited. I didn’t expect this to happen. I’m overwhelmed, honestly.”

Riley Sanders. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Riley Sanders. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

When asked if he thought moving to Asia could lead to an achievement of this caliber at such a young age, he said no. “When we opened the restaurant, there wasn’t the idea that Michelin was going to be coming to Bangkok, only rumors. As far as opening a restaurant in the States, I was bored with the produce there. I wanted to cook with ingredients that were different and inspiring for me. If we opened a restaurant in the States, we’d be serving totally different food.”

Some of the other names receiving new stars are a bit surprising: they are the old-guard of Bangkok’s Thai fine-food dining scene, beloved by hi-so Thai grandmas on their birthdays. Methavali Sorndaeng, open for over 60 years, R-Haan, specializing in Royal Thai cuisine, Sawaan, new but serving old dishes and where only 10-course set menus are available, and Sorn, which focuses on ancient, nearly forgotten Southern Thai recipes.  

The one-starred chefs. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
The one-starred chefs. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

Poullennec went out of this way to mention that now over half of the restaurants starred serve Thai cuisine. It was one of the criticisms of the book last year that most of the starred restaurants served western food.

Rounding out the newly starred list are a few places in the city’s outer reaches: Samut Sakhon’s Ruean Panya, and Nonthaburi’s Suan Thip. Just one single spot in Phuket was named: PRU. Most say it’s well-deserved. Chef Jimmy Ophorst’s menu — rife with unusual preparation techniques and offerings like carrots cooked in the dirt they were grown in and pineapple and pine needle cake — is the kind of stuff that has traditionally gotten Michelin reviewers excited. Ophorst is a former chef at Gaggan.

The two-starred chefs. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
The two-starred chefs. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

It was surprising that just one establishment between Phuket and Phang Nga was tapped. When we spoke to foodies in Phuket earlier this year, they expected to hear the names PRU, Acqua, Suay, Bampot Kitchen, and Joe’s Downstairs to be named — but none of those others were even called a Bib Gourmand.

The guide also lists 72 Bibs, the Michelin term for spots featuring dishes under THB1,000 (US$30) or, up from 42 last year.

Bark and Sanders chat at the event. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts
Bark and Sanders chat at the event. Photo: Laurel Tuohy/Coconuts

We also had a chance to speak to Dan Bark, chef at Upstairs at Mikkeller, one of the surprise wins in the first edition. He said, “Last year, it was so new, we didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t have a chance to relax and absorb and enjoy the moment. This year, we’re focusing on having fun.”

He noted that, over the last 12 months, he’s had a chance to get to know his fellow star holders and become friendly with some of them. “We’re building a nice community and relationship. But, in this industry, you’re always just as good as the last meal you cooked. You can’t get too comfortable. We’ll celebrate tonight and get back to work tomorrow, you can never lose that intensity.”

The 2019 Michelin Guide for Bangkok, Phuket, and Phang Nga will be available in a digital form, in English and Thai, on their site starting today. The print edition will be in bookstores on Friday for THB650 (US$20)

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