BANGKOK, Aug 20 — Sathorn Road in the heart of Bangkok is the epitome of “concrete jungle” with soaring skyscrapers and incessant traffic. The last thing you’d expect in the middle of all the chaos and clamour is a 128-year-old colonial mansion but that’s exactly what The House on Sathorn is.
Constructed in 1890 during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), the mansion started off as the residence of local tycoon Luang Sathorn Rajayutka, creator of Klong Sathorn (Sathorn Canal).
In 1925, it became the Hotel Royale; 23 years later it was the embassy of the Soviet Union until 1999. By 2001, The House on Sathorn was recognised as a national heritage property.
Within its neoclassical halls, the mansion has weathered over a century of Thai history — and history continues to be made here. Culinary history, that is.
Spearheaded by Chef Fatih Tutak, the Istanbul-born Director of Culinary who had previously worked at Copenhagen’s Noma, The House at Sathorn is now a hotbed of gastronomic reinvention.
We enter The House at Sathorn and, not unlike Alice down the rabbit hole, find ourselves in a different world. The Courtyard — an outdoor space indoors, if you will — in the centre of the mansion is an oasis of calm amidst Bangkok’s bustle.
Our table is shaded by large parasols and hidden by lush greenery. Above our heads the city skyline looms; as our eyes lower, we take in more of the mansion’s beautiful colonial architecture.
There is a sense of the whimsical here, sort of like the Mad Hatter’s tea party (though neither the March Hare nor the poor lamented Dormouse is to be spotted anywhere).
Our afternoon high tea commences with a heat-nullifying raspberry sorbet. Freshly baked scones soon follow. With a choice of homemade marmalade, coconut jam, Devonshire clotted cream or a bit of everything, we’re quite spoilt.
While we sip on our tea, a trio of savoury treats arrive — dainty and bite-sized. High teas are all about finger food, after all. Croissants filled with mushroom-truffle mascarpone are a tad decadent but we tell ourselves it’s but a bite or two.
Asian influences dominate with the mild tandoori chicken-pineapple curry wraps and spicy chilli Alaskan crab bao sliders.
The pièce de résistance is a triple-tier showcase of Chef Tutak’s sweet temptations. The tiny pastries wow us with their sheer variety: coconut financiers, chocolate pralines, strawberry-thyme panna cotta, Nutella muffins, pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg tarts), caramel chocolate tarts, macarons made from luk rakam (salacca fruit), salted caramel eclairs and slices of aromatic black sesame cheesecake.
Our favourites are the tangy mandarin crème brûlée and the crunchy roasted nut tart; we could easily have had more of these, stuffed though we already were.
We tell ourselves to control our gluttony, if only to save space for more later during dinner. For now we satisfy ourselves with conversation and tea.
When the sun sets, we head inside. Past an eclectic series of Romanesque columns and Thai hand-crafted tapestries, we are led into an opulent dining room (indeed, it’s simply called The Dining Room) with an open kitchen framed by a long wooden counter.
The space seems built for theatre, for Chef Tutak’s inimitable creativity and sense of humour.
Our friendly Thai waiter announces that our tasting menu is a “voyage of the chef’s Turkish roots re-interpreted into modern cuisine” and we are bolstered by his confidence in the dishes to come.
The Dining Room is included in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list and so we begin with a selection of meze (small dishes) as well as eager anticipation.
The dolma, originally a stuffed vine leaf dish in Turkey, is transformed into a maki with grape leaf instead of nori seaweed and topped with Hokkaido sea urchin. Chef Tutak’s use of Japanese ingredients and techniques comes from his stint at three Michelin star Nihonryori Ryugin in Tokyo with Chef Seiji Yamamoto.
Other meze include Bosphorus black mussels laced with cool tarator (cucumber-yoghurt sauce) and a shakshuka, typically a Turkish dish of eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce. Here, a free range egg is used, served in a “nest” of dry brush, and the usual fiery red is replaced with the vibrant green of a spinach and fenugreek sauce. Garnished with a single Thai nasturtium leaf, it looks almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Chef Tutak’s wit is best reflected in the names of his courses: Deep Blue Mediterranean juxtaposes the roe of wild obsiblue shrimp with bergamot-scented red prawn; Umami of Anatolia pairs Kyoto farm tomatoes with more typical Turkish aged pomegranate in a feta dashi broth; Constantinople 1453 covers a dish of tuna belly, cranberry beans, spring onion marmalade and Byzantine garum sauce with a luxurious 24K gold-onion paper.
Not every course needs to be so complex, of course. From My Mum is a nod to the chef’s favourite home-cooked food by his mother: Manti (dumplings) with eggplant, mint butter and kaymak (water buffalo cream).
Fresh produce is served simply: Season of the White is nothing more than tender white asparagus, trumpet mushrooms and white asparagus ice cream.
Of course, Chef Tutak can’t resist puns as evidenced by the main courses. Surf & Turk replaces the “turf” with sujuk, a dry and spicy Turkish sausage, in a creamy sabayon sauce and matches it with Thai rock lobster and plankton rice. Equally hilarious (and tasty) is Sultan’s Message Can’t Deliver — basically a pan-seared royal pigeon with Antep pistachios (from Gaziantep in western Turkey), leeks and a sauce made from summer cherries.
Desserts are just as dazzling. In the case of Hallucination of Winter, the concoction of Arzagot woodland strawberries, yoghurt and chocolate is presented in a large hollowed-out ice cube. Lit from below, it has a fairytale glow.
A chestnut tarte spiked with strong Turkish coffee gives us a much appreciated end-of-meal pick-me-up. And what a Sweet End we have: petit fours dangling from the branches of a bonsai tree.
The night is still young. Another doorway — past wooden shutters painted in jade green — and we find ourselves at The Bar where the energy is buzzing. Regulars have their favourite wines or sake, and the bartenders are more than happy to mix a dizzying array of seasonal cocktails.
So many different tongues can be overheard (or almost, over the chatter) that it’s not hard to imagine the good old days of The House on Sathorn — as a Thai mansion, as the Soviet Embassy and now as a haven for folks looking for a delicious slice of Bangkok’s history.
The House on Sathorn
106 North Sathorn Road, Silom, Bangkok, Thailand
The Dining Room: Open daily 6pm–10:30pm / The Courtyard: Open daily 12pm-12am (afternoon tea 2:30pm-5:30pm) / The Bar: Open Sun-Thu 12pm-12am; Fri-Sat 12pm-2am
Tel: +66 2 344 4025