Culinary coup in Bangkok

Culinary coup in Bangkok

Remember the last time you were in Bangkok? When you got all dressed up for a long, enjoyable evening of dinner and drinks in various nightspots, got into the car, and then headed straight into a buzz-killing hour of stand-still traffic?

Such travel woes will soon be a tale for the history books with the opening of the new Ku De Ta Bangkok. The curtains to the highly anticipated nightspot were lifted earlier this month, revealing a sprawling, 10-in-one entertainment complex within.

Besides three restaurants spanning three concepts - modern Asian fine dining, Signature; casual Japanese robatayaki joint, Izakaya; and progressive Western steakhouse, Grill - the 30,000 sq ft complex further encompasses seven bars and a spacious dance floor with 10m tall ceilings to cater to Bangkok's heady swirl of pleasure-seekers.

"You can start with a drink here then head elsewhere, or stay on and have dinner at one of our restaurants before crossing over to the club or to another one of our bars if you prefer a quieter drink," explains managing director of Ku De Ta Bangkok Spencer Roberts - all far from the tooting horns of the infamous Bangkok jams.

Though Bangkok welcomes over 22 million visitors annually, the city is still better known for its budget-friendly travel options, observes Mr Roberts, a 20-year resident of the city. This means local Thai elites, expatriates and the global jetset tend to pad around a small circuit of stiff high-end bars and fine-dining restaurants, mostly set within hotels. He elaborates: "Even if you really like one restaurant, there is only so many times you can return to it. But with the different sections at Ku De Ta, you could come here seven days a week and have seven completely different experiences - all with stunning views mirroring what we have in Singapore."

Similar to its Singapore sister outlet atop the Marina Bay Sands, Ku De Ta Bangkok is perched on the 39th and 40th floors of the Sathorn Square Building in Bangkok. Glass windows all around let in 360-degree vistas of the glittering Asian metropolis by night - though far outshone, on the complex's opening evening, by the jewellery-studded arms of its high society patronage.

Besides Ku De Ta, the Sathorn Square complex by Thai property developers, Golden Land, also holds a residential tower and the W Hotel Bangkok. Though no one would quite call Sathorn the throbbing heart of Bangkok's nightlife yet, the neighbourhood is gearing up for a string of high-profile openings. Ashley Sutton-designed burlesque bar Maggie Choo's opened a few streets away earlier this year, while Thailand's tallest skyscraper, the MahaNakhon, will house Dean and Deluca's Bangkok flagship, as well as the city's first Vogue Club and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon when it opens next door in 2015. There are rumblings that recently shuttered Bed Supperclub is looking to open in the area, too.

"We don't see them as competition. The new openings will create a new lifestyle buzz in what was traditionally a financial district," says Michael Farquhar, corporate director of food and beverage at the Ku De Ta group.

"Singapore was our first step, and Bangkok is an indication of the future," he adds, of the two levels designed by New York-headquartered designers, AvroKO. A balance of shiny counter tops, dark lounge chairs and wood and stone accents keep things chic, yet comfortable. Leafy water fountains, carved stone statues and decorative 200-year-old pots crafted and shipped in straight from Bali keep the connection to the brand's initial outlet, first started on Seminyak beach in 2000.

Ku De Ta Singapore, too, will get a facelift next year. The restaurant will have a brand new sushi counter and new furniture, while the nightclub will be completely reconfigured and accented with more Balinese touches.

Though Ku De Ta's Singapore and Bangkok outlets are owned by a separate team from Ku De Ta in Bali, "I still call the original founders of Ku De Ta Bali every two months to ask for styling ideas," says Mr Farquhar. A trademark infringement suit between both parties was resolved earlier this week.

While the menu at Ku De Ta Bali's main restaurant runs the global gamut, the food at Ku De Ta Bangkok's three restaurants bear distinct Asian leanings, thanks to an operations team combed from various modern Asian dining stalwarts. Club director Justin Dunne previously managed Bangkok's Bed SupperClub, F&B director Peter Lamb has worked at Yauatcha, Hakkasan and Zuma in London and Bangkok, while Le Bernardin-trained head chef Jonathan Maza has helped to open Nobu restaurants worldwide.

Flagship 120-seater restaurant Signature serves up seamless marriages of East and West such as a Japanese sea bream with miso chowder or local tiger prawns paired with an American-leaning shiitake corn succotash, while 100-seat Izakaya's affordably priced grilled seafood and meats will complement its "relaxed, and slightly noisy, train-station vibe", says Mr Farquhar. Cocktails muddle Asian herbs with exotic flavours such as Danish licorice, and when ready next year, 40-seat Grill will dole out premium steaks that can be served pre-sliced to facilitate Asian-style communal dining.

A 15,000 sq ft Hong Kong outpost will open across the top three floors of the California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong in mid-2014 and three to five more outlets in cities in Europe, the United States and the Middle East are currently being considered, including beach destinations, reveals Mr Farquhar.

Whether you're looking over a city in its latest "trophy building" or taking in the sunset by the sea, picture postcard-worthy views will be the running thread at Ku De Ta. Adds Mr Roberts: "Wherever we open, we want you to look out the window and go, 'Wow!' " Ambitious, you remark. "Nothing wrong with a little bit of ambition," he retorts. "We're here to be a game changer."

debyong@sph.com.sg


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