A Young Thai Chef Reinvigorates Thai Cooking with Singular Inventiveness
Claim to fame: Chef Ton’s shenanigans
Reason to go: Tenderloin and coconut
To look out for: The world’s freshest squid
This is the first and favorite offspring of Chef Thitid “Ton” Thassanakajohn, who returned from culinary school and apprenticeships in some of New York’s highest-ranked establishments (Jean-Georges, Eleven Madison Park, etc.) to enliven Thailand’s plodding and predictable fine dining scene. Un-plod he has, with a resolve to experiment with new combinations matched by a scrupulous approach to sourcing the best native components. Simplicity may be the watchword, with its minimalist menu slugged with single word headings (Barracuda, Pineapple, Wild Mushroom) and its coffee-shop décor, but in Chef Ton’s hands it’s decidedly deceptive.
Le Du, housed in a split level 70s-style shop house down a grubby back alley off the main CBD, sounds like a French restaurant, but in fact, it’s a clever play on the Thai word for seasonal – which is exactly what its ever-changing tasting menu reflects. In the manner of haute cuisine’s main worldwide trend, and inspirations spurred by tapas bars and Tetsuya, the handmade ceramic dishes contain small wonders of concentrated taste; chili gel and spicy cilantro granita on a single, almost oversized oyster, raw squid informed with Thai herbs and lemon gel, the aforementioned barracuda combined with pomelo bits and Siam tulips, whatever they are. A beef tenderloin, already succulent is actually improved by young coconut shoots and a hint of green curry. Here, the Thai-ness is brought out only when needed and not for the sake of bragging. Interestingly, it’s with desserts that Chef Ton goes full-on experimental. A pork blood pudding with basil ice cream? Snakehead fish ice cream? Lychee panna cotta?
Chef Ton will gladly hang out with diners until the last customer is poured into a taxi, the waiters, like their boss, are young, solicitous and sincerely proud of their place of employ. With a large open bar and above-average wine knowledge, the beverage side is equally solid without getting splashy. This is one Asian restaurant where, for even the initiated, everything tastes better than it sounds.