Food movements from the West can be a bit slow to hit in Southeast Asia. This is usually a pretty good thing as a lot of the fluff and annoyance of the newest trends will be tested and stripped away before spreading this way. We have been anxiously waiting, however, for one movement to land in Bangkok. Whatever you want to call it: locavore, slow food, responsible eating, or even Market Kitchen – the heart of the movement is what matters as this one’s focused less on fancy garnishes and presentations and more on the respect for one’s ingredients and knowledge of where the food you eat comes from.
Finally Bangkok has its Chez Panisse. OK, we’re not saying it’s as good as this must-try Californian restaurant but new eatery Quince has taken a firm philosophical stand, and is also looking to help lead the way for other restaurants to attempt to eat more fresh, local food.
Rather than fly in majority of their produce from overseas, Quince and a small group of other local restaurants — including Bo.Lan, Soul Food, and WTF, among others — have begun actively working with local farmers to develop a vibrant local produce scene. In Hong Kong and Singapore something like this would only work as a novelty or for one small kitchen, but in the rich, abundant soil of Thailand this specially developed produce could one day become the norm for many restaurants and eaters across the country.
Amazing produce doesn’t spring forth from the soil overnight however so the process will be an ongoing one as they work with skilled growers to find the best times and varieties for produce through the year. But Quince and team are committed to making this work, and for that alone the restaurant is already a success… even before they officially open their doors to the Thai public. But what about the rest of the restaurant? If you’re not a foodie with a cause does the restaurant still work?
The exterior of Quince is impressive. Located directly behind Casa Pagoda off Sukhumvit, you’ll find a completely refurbished 1950s home. In years past if you heard refurbished Thai home it’d be teakwood and tacky art on the walls. This home is stylish, modern, and open with lots of glass and concrete. The tables are large and long, more suited to a large family style dinner than an intimate escape.
Looking at the menu, you realize even more that this is a place to come in a group. The menu is divided up not into apps, mains, and desserts, but into grouping of meal types such as sides, substantial offerings, and sweets. The idea is that you’re not locked into, say, a steak and potatoes but are free to assemble the meal you want. If it’s roast chicken and baked carrots for you or just a meal of veggies, you can assemble them into the perfect combo for you.
Of course the chef or staff will recommend for you if you’d like a bit of guidance and there are some naturally classic pairings available. The food style here is described in-house as Market Kitchen, since the chef buys whatever looks and smells freshest at the market each day (peek into the kitchen here which is impressively large, but with one of the smallest walk-in fridges I’ve seen in Bangkok as they’re really about serving what’s freshest). You might have assumed already that the menu will change here often, and if so you’d be right. Another nice touch is that for parties larger than six people you can actually discuss the menu with the chef beforehand and he’ll arrange a menu that resembles a large family feast.
If you can manage to read through the menu and not salivate a bit, there’s something wrong with your taste buds. I could feel myself getting healthier just reading through the list of offerings and I really couldn’t decide so trusted the chef to send out what was freshest or most notable to him that day. We started with a soft tomato and haloumi salad with a bit of basil and parsley and an astounding pork black pudding with quince jam. I’ve never liked black pudding as much as here which is a testament to the chef.
Then it was on to a mountain of greens and veggies as we were all excited to get a break from the usual Thai restaurant fare (fried, deep-fried, or pan-fried), and into some proper veggies. We sampled the roast carrots with honey and poppy seeds, the green beans with sheep curd, and a smokey eggplant with labne sweet onions and edamame. While none of the dishes are outright standouts on their own, collectively they all worked nicely together.
At this point we were pretty full, but had to sample some actual meat here as well. So we opted for the crab omelette with chive and sweet corn and the grilled wild tiger prawns with prawn mayo and leeks. We wanted to like the crab omelette more as it combined some of my favorite all time ingredients but the local crab was a bit murky and it was just too much soft on soft.
Quince also pays as much attention to the drinks as the food. There’s an extensive selection of cocktails and mocktails, and also some of the widest selection available of speciality Spanish wines for you to try.
All in all we weren’t blown away… yet. There’s tons of potential here in philosophy alone, and it is also obvious Australian chef Jess Barnes is a highly capable one so the food will surely rise to the occasion. Part of not being overly wowed could have been us as our party was only two, and at Quince you really should come in a group and eat family style, picking small portions off of each plate and assembling a meal as you go from five-10 tasty portions.
But also part of the problem was that it felt a bit too upmarket and formal, but they’re going for rustic freshness. The space, while lovely, was almost too modern sterile for the hearty family meals being served (though I’m betting it works gangbusters for a sprawling brunch spot and maybe this is how home feels for some people). We also had a bit of issue with the service, as there was tenseness in the air that was off-putting. At first we believed it to just be an off day though they were only serving one other table, but other friends who have visited left with the same slightly unwelcome vibe. This could very easily be attributed to the stresses of opening a new restaurant so please go see for yourself and we hope that our experience isn’t reflective. I imagine with the restaurant full of patrons happily clinking glasses and reaching for large plates of fresh ingredients the experience will be a lovely one.
Sukhumvit 45 (directly behind Casa Pagoda)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.- 1 past midnight daily