Focusing on local ingredients to create elevated Thai fare is nothing new in Bangkok, but only a few fine-dining players have managed to produce results that maximize the complex flavors of each ingredient, at the same time shed light on their origins.
One of the establishments that have succeeded in doing so is 80/20, the Thai restaurant on Charoenkrung Road that describes its dishes as 80 percent local ingredients and 20 percent chef’s creativity. These days, the creativity is attributed to Canadian culinary talent Andrew Martin, who is now on his comeback stint for the restaurant.
Chef Andrew, who was 80/20’s chef when it first opened, has taken on the task of maintaining the restaurant’s Michelin-starred reputation. While some may buckle under pressure, it doesn’t seem to be the case for Andrew. In fact, he appears more confident in his revived role, and is eager to share more of what he’s learned as a chef and as a person since he’s left.
The Signature Tasting Menu - the Upgraded Version encapsulates the essence of 80/20 and Chef Andrew’s competence. The menu consists of 15 big and small bites made with local surf and turf ingredients, with the main course paying tribute to the Samrub-style dining custom.
The meal kicks off with tiny bites that function like flavor bombs in your mouth. One reworks khanom buang (Thai crepe) as a savory bite, while another wraps a peanut ball within a strawberry.
These morsels are followed by a tangy palate-cleansing drink, and more small, flavor-rich dishes such as an excellent gaeng som (spicy sour soup), a spicy roasted prawn, and Chinese fried rice with pan-seared dry-aged duck.
The main course is a Samrub set comprising red curry with grilled beef and deep-fried reef cod, both served with assorted pickled vegetables and jasmine rice.
Each dish packs a range of intense flavors that shock the palate, so intense that they may be too strong for diners who prefer milder tastes. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.) The spice, however, is balanced out by the subtle sweetness of two impressive desserts—grilled chocolate with black sesame and lychee jelly, and coconut ice cream and cake with guava fruit.
The verdict: 80/20 is worth it. The Upgraded Signature Tasting Menu may be a bit pricey at B3,500++, but its value lies in how each dish is beautifully presented and how the entire set displays how far Thai cuisine can go. More importantly, the rather casual and rough-around-the-edges ambience of 80/20 is a perfect starting point for those who wish to try on the fine-dining experience for the first time without feeling too awkward by all the white table cloth manners prevalent in other establishments.