International Comfort Foods Fit to Be Thai’d
Claim to fame: First globalized canteen in a budding arts district
Reason to go: Seasonally-inspired, quirky Thai bistro fare
To look out for: Unusual, locally-sourced produce
Is there any precise cross-cultural formula that can capture exactly what’s happening at a place like Eighty Twenty? This relative Bangkok newcomer unites the talents of an unexpected trio of 30-something chef/co-owners presenting a new approach to local dishes and ingredients. Thai native Napol ‘Joe’ Jantraget spent over a decade in Canada grasping French bistro fare, while co-chef, Canadian-Japanese Andrew Martin, was gradually developing an obsession with the essences of all things Thai. Rounding it all off, pastry chef Saki Hoshino’s inspired breads, pastries and desserts mirror her upbringing in Japan and years of training in Canada. And somehow this developing narrative results in some seriously inventive Thai flavor profiles informed by international cooking techniques and innovation.
Connected by walk-through to a youth hostel named Old Town, this stripped-down industrial space with high ceilings, exposed wiring, black fans and window trim, reclaimed a corner of old shop houses in Talad Noi, the reawakening riverside neighborhood being billed as Bangkok’s “creative district.” Here a burgeoning assortment of funky eateries, bars and art spaces have been steadily spicing up the gateway to Chinatown.
Looking trendily exotic when written out in Thai script, the 80/20 fraction is meant to approximate the amount of local ingredients that go into their dishes.
But nearly one hundred percent of an ever-changing bill of fare scratched on a chalkboard floating above the front counter of the small, exposed kitchen seem to be decidedly non-Thai: from oysters and the catch of the day to grilled chops and salads.
On the seasonally-inspired menu, the latest adaptation features a pleasingly balanced starter of preserved white prawns dressed with pickled coconut, green curry granite and native aromatic greens. Luscious bouquets of Thai herbs, some lemony, some mimicking wasabi, turn up in the strangest places, informing a grilled flank steak composed with a curious mélange of lemongrass papaya, toasted rice jus and finished with a basil tamarind sauce.
With the desserts, everything reaches a strange apotheosis–as in the pickled watermelon and rind, watermelon cake and freshly squeezed watermelon juice, smartly topped with a honey lime ice cream and mint oil. And the cocktails– somehow sweet and savory at once–are just as fanciful: a Sunburn G&T made with charred citrus, young pepper and fresh coriander seed, anyone?
From rustic to sophisticated, one might wonder if this is ironically invigorated comfort bar fare, hippie health food or simply intriguing attempts at mingling Western heaviness with Asian lightness? Maybe it’s all of the above, and that’s what brings 100 percent excitement to an 80/20 outing.