Top Asian Eateries
Seasoned chefs and restaurateurs strike again with new outposts around Asia. by Mrigaa Sethi
Thailand’s celebrity chef Ian Kittichai has opened restaurants in Mumbai, New York and elsewhere, and consulted at Bangkok mainstays like the hip Hyde & Seek Gastro Pub and the suburban 99 Rest Backyard Café. Issaya Siamese Club, the first Bangkok restaurant that's his very own, puts together modern Thai cuisine with a lounge atmosphere. The 90-year-old, two-story Thai house has cool green walls, wooden shuttered windows and a large garden, where Kittichai is growing a lot of his own herbs. Can’t-miss dishes include spiced baby-back ribs, jasmine flower flan and wok-sauteed rice with Chiang Mai mushrooms and mixed grains served sizzling in a hot bowl—a lighter, Thai version of the Korean bibimbap. Wash it down with the kaffir lime, lemongrass and coriander mojito, which comes in tall, brass cups from Pakistan. T+L TIP Far from the dining thoroughfares of Sukhumvit, Issaya is a bit off the beaten path over in Klong Toei. Look at a map before heading over, and book ahead as there are not many other options nearby should there be a long wait. Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Rd., +66 2 672 9040.
A chic intersection of New York gentlemen’s club and Shanghai Art Nouveau, Mama San is the second, more casual eatery by Sarong chef and restaurateur Will Meyrick. The story goes that Meyrick sourced favorite street food vendors from several Asian cities and flew them to Bali to consult. As a result, the menu is pan-Asian, with upscale versions of easy-to-eat iconic dishes like chow ming noodles with duck and pad Thai, and curries as disparate as Sichuan braised beef short ribs and Indian lamb with lentils and yogurt. Keeping in line with the retrochic theme, the drinks list is largely comprised of classic cocktails with creative twists, like Mint Juleps with apricots. Still on the fence? There is also the industrial, stone-and-wood décor with warm touches coming from the exposed brick wall, leather couches, numerous black-and-white photos and an enormous pop art–style portrait of the eponymous mama san looming over the whole space. T+L TIP Make it a nice, long night, starting out with drinks and nibbles upstairs, then head downstairs for dinner. 135 Jln. Raya Kerobokan, Br. Taman; +62 361 730 436; mamasanbali.com.
A great deal more understated on the décor front, though no less interesting food-wise, The Principal is a new and busy Hong Kong opening. A partnership between Chef Jonay Armas and longtime restaurateur collective The Press Room Group, The Principal is high-ceilinged but cozy, with starched white table linens and neutral woodwork accented with brick and copper. The food is, to some extent, comforting European fare, but with twists and curveballs from Armas’ native Canary Islands. Don’t miss the Spanish suckling pig, which comes with a pomegranate reduction and lemon puree to cut all that crispy skin and fat, the smoked eel with herring roe and the more traditional Kobe sirloin with foie gras. T+L TIP Explore the exhaustive wine list, which has some nice surprises, including labels from Japan, Slovenia and Israel. 9 Star St., Wan Chai, +852 2563 3444; theprincipalhk.com.
Chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton, of Gordon Ramsey pedigree and London’s Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social fame, has opened L’Esquina, a tapas bar in Chinatown. Located in what was a laundry, the cozy space has a factory-meets-diner feel, with retro ads, a long steel-topped bar and an open kitchen. The menu is inspired by El Bulli, though the classics, like patatas bravas, paella and Spanish tortilla, do just fine. For something a bit different, consider the scallop ceviche or the ox cheek oloroso. Take advantage of their Spanish brews, like Mahou 5 Star and Estrella Damm Inedit, the latter developed by Ferran Adrià. T+L TIP Don’t even try making a reservation—they don’t accept them. Just show up early, or at least not starving, and hope for the best. 16 Jiak Chuan Rd.; +65 6222 1616.