Having added Phuket and Phang Nga last year to the inaugural edition covering only Bangkok, attention from restaurateurs and chefs alike was firmly focused on the addition this year of the vibrant culinary scene of Chiang Mai. This proved to be a little underwhelming, with no restaurants deemed worthy of Michelin stars as yet; however, in the meantime, a wide selection of Michelin Plates and Bib Gourmands were awarded for local residents and tourists to feast on until that moment arrives.
Leading award contenders such as Blackitch Artisan Kitchen, Oxygen Dining Room at X2, David’s Kitchen, and Khao at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai were all recognised with the Michelin Plate which the Guide, always understated, signifies as “Good cooking. Fresh ingredients, capably prepared: simply a good meal.” The Bib Gourmand is defined as “Inspector’s-favourites for good value. These restaurants offer quality cooking for THB 1,000 or less.”
Within Phuket there were five new Plates: Kha Mu Boran (Kathu); Krua Kao Kuk; Mali; Meesapam Khun Yai Chian; Mu Krop (Chi Hong); and two new Bib Gourmands: Kin Kub Ei; and Naam Yoi. For Phang Nga there was one new Plate: Krua Bai Toey.
With many industry insiders predicting this outcome, anticipation was high as the launch moved on to the star revelation, with all eyes on the one- and two-star categories to watch for both downgrades and upgrades. On the negative side of the scales, there were no losses, apart from the expected, namely Gaggan Anand’s eponymous restaurant and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, which both closed in 2019. Unfortunately, the recent opening of Gaggan 2.0 was a little too late for consideration.
Whilst understanding and accepting that Michelin is conservative in both awarding and removing accolades, the questions on everyone’s lips are: “Why have there not been as yet any star downgrades? Are all our star restaurants really maintaining the required top-level standard?”
On the positive side, additions to the one-star category – defined by Michelin as “High quality cooking, worth a stop!” – were Table 38, offering a nostalgic tasting menu for a maximum of 10 lucky diners, and 80/20 showcasing innovative Thai cooking.
Both located in Bangkok and helmed respectively by Chef Andy Yang, who previously held a star in New York, and Chefs Jo and Saki, these were almost assured due to the prior announcement that they would both be cooking at the evening gala dinner. This year, sustainability is the theme as Michelin encourages restaurants to move towards zero waste.
But there were some welcome surprises. Chef’s Table at Lebua State Tower, where Head Chef Vincent Thierry, a prior holder of three stars in Hong Kong, was awarded one star where many expected two and, somewhat out of the blue, Khao in Ekkamai, led by Chef Mukura, was upgraded from a Bib Gourmand to one star.
But the announcement of two new two-starred restaurants – indicated as “Excellent cuisine, worth a detour!” – was the excitement the event needed. Whilst the current esteemed holders Le Normandie, Mezzaluna and Suhring, represented by Chefs Arnaud Dunand, Ryuki Kawasaki and Matthias and Thomas Suhring, maintained their exceptional rating, R Haan and Sorn were promoted from one star to this lofty level.
Iron Chef Chumpol Jangprai celebrates authentic Thai regional and Royal Thai cuisine at R Haan, using 100% local ingredients, whilst Chef Supaksorn Jongsiri at Sorn cooks close-to-the-heart Southern style cuisine. Both are indeed worthy winners.
Thai cuisine has finally received long overdue recognition on the global stage. So, whilst there were new Bibs and Plates across Thailand, including Bangkok and Phuket, our jewel in the crown, the only one in Phuket, PRU continues to shine brightly, retaining its Michelin star under Chef Jimmy Ophorst.
The restaurant recently refurbished with a new interior, and with Jimmy continuing to push the envelope using local ingredients and adding new dishes, including fishtail bamboo with wood sorrel fruit, a coral grouper fish with cauliflower and a stellar dessert emphasising his penchant for vegetables utilising a combo of local sweet carrots and coconut, the future is bright.
So, what can we look forward to next year? Certainly another region, be it Koh Samui or Hua Hin, and what I sincerely hope for: a three-star restaurant described by the red book as “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.”
Building on yesterday's awards, the world is definitely waking up to the reality of Thai cuisine in both acknowledging and appreciating the wide variety, quality and genuinely surprising flavours and textures from our unique Thai products. Long may we continue to celebrate the heritage of Thai cooking!
My heartfelt congratulations to all award winners!
Chris is a former Michelin Guide Inspector who, following an international career in hospitality spanning 30 years in both the Middle East and Asia, has now settled in Thailand and contributes a monthly column.