Where: Bangkok, Thailand
Long story short: A gleaming marble testament to conspicuous consumption with a seemingly endless army of attentive staff and a nice line in understated luxury.
Short story long: I didn’t realise it was a battle of wills. I thought I was just trying to be polite. I’m at the lifts, retiring to my room in the Royal Wing at the Siam Kempinski, which also has a residential section, inhabited mainly by older women with dogs and sunglasses of approximately the same size.
One such resident is waiting for the lift with me, and as the doors open to whisk us up to our floors, I gesture to let her enter first. She refuses, and waves me in. I wave her in. She waves me back. This goes on for some time until I feel the most gentlemanly thing to do at this point is to go first, so I do. She then stays there in the lobby as the doors close – not letting me go first as I thought, but in fact just not wanting to get into the lift with me.
Even though I was reasonably smartly dressed, money can tell money and there are a lot of people with a lot of money at this hotel. Most of them don’t want to be near me. And who can blame them?
The public spaces are largely vast halls in monolithic marble, especially the lobby, a grand hospitality cathedral where in various corners moneyed Japanese families take afternoon tea, Saudi businessmen shake on salubrious deals and off to the side, a jazz pianist picks out the somehow incongruous strains of ‘While My Guitar Sadly Weeps’, perhaps as a satirical statement on the conspicuous consumption that takes place before him every day?
It’s beautifully designed, and in every nook there’s one of the thousands of original artworks. Through tasteful windows, you can see the inner sanctum of the gardens and pool areas, where honeymooners can slip from their rooms directly into the water thanks to the poolside suites – the only urban hotel in Thailand to offer this.
I wonder how the huge sunglasses and tiny dog brigade get on with the unabashed punk rock ink of the Henrik Yde Anderson, chef at the wondrous Sra Bua restaurant? On the night I went, they didn’t. The room was mostly filled with a party for a racing car team who were rich enough to have model-grade girls whose sole job it was to flit around the table with video cameras to document the meal (without taking part in it) and various couples who sat at plush tables staring into their phones.
Anderson, his tattooed sleeves showing proudly as he walks the restaurant floor, is interpreting dishes from the famous, Michelin-starred Kiin Kiin restaurant in Copenhagen, with no small skill or flair. It’s actually one of the most interesting and well-constructed tasting menus I’ve ever had.
It’s Modern Thai, and the disciplined portions – some no more than a bite – are perfect, and presented in inventive ways, in spoons, on sticks and even in a log, and it’s all way more endearing than I make it sound. Anderson is masterful in his execution, presentation and amounts of food. Leaving a tasting menu well fed but not feeling like a stuffed goose is a real triumph for the chef.
Street food, Thai classics and innovations all mix seamlessly, and the best part? The 7 course tasting menu is a complete steal, especially at a restaurant in a hotel of this calibre. I could list the dishes, but they’ll have changed by the time you go. Trust me, and trust in Henrik Yde Anderson - it’s sublime.
Since I’m poor, I spent most of my time snaffling snacks in the Executive Lounge, where levels of service border on OCD, but the charm of the staff keeps it the right side of cloying. Complaining about too MUCH service seems like some entitled nonsense right there.
In short, yes, it’s a knowingly impressive property, and when the only real down side is having to walk a few minutes down a busy driveway to get to the main street and Sky Train, you know you’re in good shape. Besides, the women and their dogs probably have drivers.
Champagne tastes: Garden Suites - which get you access to the Executive Lounge - start at around £300/$450 a night, in the higher echelons of Bangkok's room rates for sure. That said: free snacks.
Shandy pockets: The seven course tasting menu at Sra Bau is phenomenal value at just £35/$50. Expensive for Thailand, perhaps, but you're essentially getting a Michelin-starred experience, or as near as damn it.
Website: Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok
Review by Paul Oswell
Siam Kempinski: The bling and I