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Food

Saawaan: Michelin-Starred Fine Dining Experience With Traditional Thai Flavours In Bangkok

Last Updated: February 24, 2020

Written by Contributing Writer

Repeat visitors to Thailand will have familiarised themselves with all the major Thai dishes—grilled chicken with somtum or bananas in coconut milk, for example.

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At Saawaan, these common dishes are reimagined and elevated to fine-dining levels, while less common Thai dishes and cooking methods are also showcased, to the delight and awe of locals and tourists alike. 

Helmed by Chef Sujira Pongmorn, the restaurant received a one-star Michelin rating for 2019 and 2020, and claims to be aiming for two stars in 2021.

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The restaurant is located in a townhouse on Suan Phlu Road just off Sathorn Road in Bangkok’s major financial district, its black-and-gold theme visible through French windows. A cosy eight or so tables fit into the space decorated in floral wallpaper and heliconias. 

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Each of the dishes on Saawaan’s Nine-Course Set Menu (THB2,883.65) is named after a traditional Thai method of cooking, such as ‘Stir-Fried’, ‘Boiled’, ‘Raw’, and so on. A wine pairing is available for an additional THB 2,224.53 and a tea pairing for THB800.36.

Diners will be served the following nine dishes for at least the first part of 2020, so head there for this line-up while you can.  

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Attentive staff explained the chef’s inspiration behind each dish as it was served with enthusiasm. The amuse-bouche was a Khanom babin, or Thai coconut cake, but cooked like a blini (a form of pancake) and made with purple potato.

The little cake was topped with tom kha foam, caviar, and a touch of kaffir lime zest, all contrasting harmoniously.

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The first starter was Raw, served in a sea urchin. The tiny bump of uni came with a bit of sour madan fruit and a nam prik pao spicy Thai sauce, creating a high-end and creamy one-bite version of larb.

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Next was Dip, a Saawaan staple that’s remained on the menu throughout rotations. Rice paddy crabs are cooked in their own juices in the shells, and you’re supposed to dip columns of sticky rice into the resulting mixture. The rice has been cooked with coconut milk and grilled in banana leaves.

It’s a close reinterpretation of food that farmers in the North of Thailand eat. The insanely buttery crab, served with chunky sea salt for seasoning, is one of the things Saawaan does best; bringing local, grassroots-level cuisine to the world stage.

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We then moved on to the Fermented dish, a tartare-like presentation of naem, or fermented pork sausage.

Instead of using pork that’s usually served semi-raw in plastic knots in markets or from street carts, Saawaan’s naem is made from Kurobuta pork. It’s served with ribbons of pickled cucumber, crispy rice, garlic and ginger, creating a fresh, tangy salad. Mix thoroughly before enjoying!

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For the Boiled course, a cube of beef wrapped in bok choy leaves arrived in a bowl atop coins of wild bamboo shoots.

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Clear beef broth was poured over, followed by a thickening forest-green liquid of sorts—a reduction made from ya nang leaf, also known as Tiliacora triandra

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It’s a modern presentation of an Isaan (northeastern Thailand) dish of ya nang soup with bamboo shoots. The addition of beef gave depth to the herbal flavour of the ya nang.

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The interlude between the starters and mains came in the form of Miang, a one-bite wrap of wild betel leaf filled with a paste of fermented tea leaves and a peanut.

The aggressively herbal taste did the job of representing the Thai dish miang kum, as well as cleansing the palate.

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The first main course was Stir-Fried. We had to lift the empty crab shell to reveal melinjo leaves, roasted stink beans (also known as petai) and a succulent crab claw. 

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A server brought over a pod of fresh stink beans as well as grilled ones so that we could have a whiff of the unusual vegetable’s satisfyingly pungent smell. Dehydrated blue crab eggs were also ground up to sprinkle over everything.

The result was a delicately-executed Saawaan version of the Southern Thai dish, although perhaps not so different from the original.

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One of our favourite mains was Charcoaled, Saawaan’s version of the common street food dish, grilled chicken with somtum.

The course began with flourishes and showmanship, as a huge earthenware pot arrived at the table. Inside, smoking over coconut coir (fibre) coals, was a quail stuffed with its own foie gras, the meat cooked with coconut milk.

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The server chopped the quail in half before presenting it next to ribbons of papaya varieties, lotus stem, and Vietnamese coriander pickled with somtum sauce, with butterfly pea flowers for decoration. A sauce of sweet, Sida cherry tomatoes was drizzled over the quail.

It was perhaps the most elevated, succulent version of a grilled bird with somtum that anyone can have. It was also delightful to discover that the wispy ribbons of somtum vegetables could summon a whole salad with just a bite.

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Ending the mains on a dazzling note was the Curry dish. The softest, juiciest filet of Andaman Black Grouper was served on a bed of crumbled, ginger-chilli fish, right next to a grilled eggplant with a piece of fried fish skin and quail egg.

Panang red curry was poured over the dish, and it’s to be enjoyed with a side of Phayao province jasmine rice.

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Curry showed what Saawaan does best—making a common Thai dish, in this case, panang red curry, into a modern, memorable artwork of a dish that draws appreciation from local produce.

The succulent fish, along with the coconut milky-yet-light curry sauce and crispy crumbed fish, overwrote memories of subpar red curries encountered elsewhere and reminded us of how good it can be. 

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The next palate cleanser was a chilled, dense tamarind sorbet topped with meringues made of chilli and salt, a nod to traditional Thai tamarind snacks. This was a great segue into the sweeter part of the meal. 

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The sweets at Saawaan are curated by France-trained Chef Arisara Chongphanitkul, and the Dessert on rotation was her version of banana in coconut milk.

Instead of banana slices stewing in warm coconut milk, her creation featured mango gel covered with sugar palm foam as well as a coconut shell encasing a scoop of ice cream flavoured after the original dessert. This was then topped with tiny banana cubes, crackers, and more pipings of jellified mango.

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Get all the elements together in a bite to really experience the explosion of flavours. This was a treat!  

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We were also served petit fours—a lychee jelly choux cream, a mini-tangerine with a jam filling, and kaffir lime tulles paying tribute to Nang Talung shadow puppetry, ending the meal on a playful note.


If you’re in the city and looking for Michelin-starred fine dining, Saawaan may be just the right way to treat yourself.

The meal was a two-hour theatrical presentation of traditional Thai foods reimagined with modern methods, and we’re pretty sure there’s nothing else quite like it. 

Expected Damage: THB2,900 to THB5,000 per pax

*This post was contributed by Nang Linchi, a born-and-bred Bangkokian passionate about showing off the city’s old secrets and new improvements.

*Photos by Siri Thaitrakulpanich

Price: $ $ $

Our Rating: 4 / 5

Saawaan

39/19 Soi Suanplu, S Sathon Road, Thung Maha Mek, Sathon,, Bangkok, Thailand 10120

Price
Our Rating 4/5

Saawaan

39/19 Soi Suanplu, S Sathon Road, Thung Maha Mek, Sathon,, Bangkok, Thailand 10120

Telephone: +66 (0)2 679 3775
Operating Hours: 6pm - 9.30pm (Daily)
Telephone: +66 (0)2 679 3775

Operating Hours: 6pm - 9.30pm (Daily)
Website

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