Bangkok, Thailand: Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin at Kempinski Hotels

Bangkok, Thailand

On Sunday, in Bangkok’s upscale Siam Kempinski Hotel, I had the privilege of experiencing the first ever example of molecular gastronomy in Thailand. In 2009 the excitement over Heston Blu’s bangs n’ whistles had started to fade in the West, and it was late that year that Henrik Yde Andersen introduced molecular gastronomy to Thailand - bringing the artistry, theatrical deconstruction, and boundary pushing of texture, temperature, and form to Bangkok with Sra Bua. Sra Bua is the baby sister of restaurant Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen, which was founded by Danish-born Yde-Andersen after a 'life-changing' visit to Thailand, and is currently the only restaurant representing Thai cuisine in the Michelin-star guide (as the Michelin guide does not operate in Thailand). 

As to be expected, we were presented with avant-garde interpretations of classical Thai dishes - tom yam, pad thai, red curry. A lot of if goes back to the source, inspired by street food favourites like the Chiang Mai sausages deconstructed to reveal that familiar ‘street food smell’ of engine smoke that reveals itself when presented only to dissipate immediately, much like the coming and going of motorcycles and tuk tuks by a busy night market. Sra Bua was my first experience with Thai molecular gastronomy and I found it all terribly interesting and rather magical - I daresay you might, too, so take my hand and steady on, the show is starting...

My family and I glided through the shimmering lobby of the exquisite Siam Kempinski - my photos do it no justice - down wood panelled hallways with glass displays of designer accessories and art exhibitions before we found the double doors of Sra Bua that opened up to reveal...

...the namesake of Sra Bua - a lotus pond, decorated with lily pods and lotus flowers floating ever so serenely.

The centrepiece of the restaurant has to be this four-poster canopy with intricate, traditional Thai-inspired lattice work, the shapes of which cast the most beautiful shadows that danced on the wooden beams above by the pendant lamp just below. 

I was slightly disappointed that we didn't get that table, but in a way I'm glad that we got to enjoy the view of it - we were seated only just beside and I had a sweeping view of the restaurant, canopy included.

As my family and I were pressed for time (we only had 3 hours to spare for dinner), we had the 'mini version' of the Sra Bua dinner set menu - 2,200 baht for seven courses instead of ten, all of which was brought out to us with on-the-minute precision.

We kicked off the first leg of our culinary adventure with a trio of 'Nibblings' - Soy Roasted Cashew Nut Meringue, the Kaffir Lime Leaf Scented Lotus Root, and my personal favourite...

...the Prawn & Squid Cracker with Miso and Garlic. 

We moved on to the Street Food chapter of our journey.

Miang Kham Cornette.

Tuna with Banana Flower & Lemongrass.

A dish whose name I can't recall - I can't find the mini dinner set menu on the Sra Bua website anymore, so if anyone knows the missing names of the dishes in this post (they are a few), please let me know.

So far, so conservative.

And then things start to get interesting.

We were presented with Chicken Satay on a wooden block, and under the bell jar we were told was the Chiang Mai sausage - a street food favourite in the night markets of Bangkok. The bell jar was lifted to reveal a swirl of mist and...smoke? The very distinct smell of engine smoke, puffs of burnt engine fuel that tuk tuks, scooters, and motorcycles alike emit as they dangerously weave in and out of Bangkok's infamous traffic, and like the smell of the food carts where Bangkok's best street food is created.

It was quite shocking, to smell the street markets of the city in the refined setting of an upscale hotel, but in a whiff it was gone, leaving behind a perfectly smoked array of Chiang Mai sausages.

The magical display of the smoking sausage was followed by a simple miso flan - egg custard with miso, garlic crisp and spring onion - which was a tad salty for my taste, Tom Yam Cold & Warm with Shellfish Galangal & Prawn Noodles (not pictured), a smattering of sesame-seed and chilli crusted nibbles served like dim sum in bamboo platters...

...and some rather smashing scallops, presented ever so minimally and with no frills but for the caramelised toppings.

Then we heard the pounding of stone on stone.

We turned our heads to see our server smashing and grinding herbs in a traditional pestle and mortar, the sort you find in South East Asian kitchens everywhere. With each thump of the pestle, the scent of herbs was released into the air, tantalising us for...

...our last starter, a soup topped with a cotton candy...

...which our waitress poured the freshly-prepared mixture of herbs and soup over...

...which melted the cotton candy away, to reveal our soup of cold shrimp, pomegranate, mint, and herbs.

About two hours into our meal we had been presented with twelve dishes (five courses altogether) most of it I found rather conservative - and then our main dish arrived...

 ...the quail in Aromatic Coconut Milk with SautĂ©ed Mushroom, accompanied by that favourite Thai staple - coconut rice, which I mixed into my coconut milk for a traditional Asian dish with a Western twist.

Finally, our gastronomical adventure ended with pudding.

Banana Cake with Salted Ice Cream, coconut flakes, almonds, and caramel, served on a wooden plate. This pudding was outstanding - my father and I nabbed my brother's and his fiancé's (don't worry, they didn't miss it, by the time pudding came round they had long gone - some people just can't handle their desserts).

It was all very showy and theatrical - perhaps a bit too so for my perplexed father (bless him), who, bemused by the minute portions and bangs and whistles raised an eyebrow and asked: "So...when is the Thai food coming?" Philistine. Jokes aside, even if Sra Bua wasn't as daring a molecular gastronomy experience as I was hoping for, it is still quite the experience and certainly one to add to your list of things to do in Bangkok, especially if you are a fan of modern twists on domestic dishes. I do recommend ordering the full dinner set menu instead of the abridged version we had, just to get a better scope of Henrik Yde Andersen artistry and vision.


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