With all the culinary fireworks displayed by the top restaurants in the last edition of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, one of the quiet achievers over the years has been Bangkok’s 20-year-old Eat Me restaurant, which this year landed at #33 but has bounced up and down the regional list, since it started.
While many of the restaurants on the list are known for their pioneering cuisine, Eat Me with its slogan of “modern, international, regional”, doesn’t break any new ground, but does what it does — a warm welcome, great cocktails, buzzy atmosphere, and a menu that caters for the disparate tastes of a table for eight — better than most restaurants in the region.
A cuisine ever evolving
In the fickle, food-loving capital of Thailand, where new restaurant openings can be busy for a few weeks and forgotten when the next round of restaurants open their doors to yet another "concept", Eat Me, owned by Australians Darren Hausler and his food stylist sister Cherie, is somewhat of an anomaly, where locals (both Thai and expat) will still ask for their usual table, some 20 years since the restaurant opened.
The truth is more complex though and Eat Me as a restaurant concept has never really stood still. The cuisine of the restaurant’s present head chef, Tim Butler, who worked at one of New York’s finest, Daniel restaurant, under Daniel Bouloud, is ever evolving. While you can always expect a fine steak at Eat Me, along with a serving of the city’s best potato gratin on the side, Butler has been using ingredients such as ‘nduja sausage, the fiery Calabrian pork paste, before most foodies knew how to pronounce it.
The menu often features nods to Thailand as well, say, in the form of a Wagyu steak tartare laab, a Thai ground mince salad. It’s these sort of dishes on the menu that keep the chef’s creativity going and keep returning guests perusing the menu for what’s new – after 20 years. Chef Butler has also been a champion of sustainability with much, although not all, of the produce that’s used in the restaurant being local – a move that has many other restaurants on board in a city where most restaurateurs would rather turn a blind eye to the big issues.
Where art meets food
Eat Me is also unique in keeping returning guests wondering what’s changed about the place since their last visit - and it's generally the art that adorns the walls. Often curated in collaboration with the nearby H GALLERY, which specializes in Thai and Contemporary Asian art, the shows can be anything from black and white photography to abstract painting.
With the several exhibitions a year, space can feel very different with each show. It’s not just the art that that transforms the design at Eat Me. American Kelly Wheatley of LUMP in Bangkok is constantly tinkering with the furniture, much of it handcrafted from recycled wood by Wheatley himself. The staff uniforms, the shape of the downstairs bar, right down to the typeface and point-size used on the menu, are his work. As Wheatley says “Eat Me has become a work in progress; as the clientele, their needs and expectations change, we are continuing to revisit and rework sections to accommodate them.”
While imbibing a pre-dinner drink at the bar, guests will notice the influence of Bangkok-based superstar “mixultant” Joseph Boroski in the exacting way the bar staff creates their drinks from the cocktail menu created by the head bartender Buntanes "Pop" Direkrittikul. While the cocktail list is on-trend, the classics are not taken lightly — this is a low-lit space where you can safely order a Martini or a Negroni and get a superior version than just about any drinking hole in the city.
One of the other components that keep the restaurant in the 300-strong regional judging panel’s thoughts is its late opening hours and the fact that you have access to a full menu even if you turn up close to midnight — something that is very hard to find in the city, despite its reputation. Eat Me, in fact, closes at 1 am. While most restaurants are packing up at 10 pm, Eat Me will be setting tables for a third sitting of diners, many of whom work in the restaurant and hospitality industry. If they’re not heading to Eat Me for a late-night steak after work, they’re making a beeline for the cocktail bar. While Eat Me may regularly change its artwork, design details and aspects of the menu, the constant is the owner and co-founder Darren who greets guests and works the tables.
Darren grew up toiling in restaurants and bars in one of Australia’s gastronomic capitals, the Barossa Valley wine region, and his easy-going Aussie nature has set the tone for the restaurant that he has owned with his Barossa-based sister since day one. Even after finally appointing a general manager in recent years, Darren never stopped focusing on the front of the house and his floor staff who are encouraged to flaunt their personalities and make guests at ease.
This is the element of Eat Me that ultimately entices customers back again and again, regardless of what’s on the menu or walls, what’s stirred at the bar, or what color the upholstery is. As soon as you walk through that leafy courtyard, you know you’re in for a warm welcome, a great meal, and a relaxed vibe. I’ll have a Martini, thanks.