1052-1054 Charoen Krung Soi 26,
“Ingredients,” said the waitress, answering my query about the restaurants name. “We source 80 percent of all out ingredients locally, only 20 percent are imported.” She went on to explain that this was why the items on the menu can vary slightly from day to day. So when you read “catch of the day” it really does mean what was fresh in the local market that morning.
There are two set menus available, a five course tasting menu and another which had too many courses to count. I was sold before I’d got past reading the starters from the first one. But having got to the bottom and seen the price I could be forgiven for being a little shaky as I was led to the table. What had once been a trendy hangout for young hipsters had ascended to the rarefied world of fine dining.
I was grilled about allergies; “Nuts, eggs, fish?” Anything I couldn’t eat or didn’t like? I was warned that some dishes might be spicy. Oh, I love spicy food, I confessed, bring it on.
During its metamorphosis 80/20 had doubled its size by taking over the shophouse next door. Part of the dividing wall had been demolished leaving just a jagged section of old wall to break up the space. The open kitchen is fringed with bar style seating for those that like to watch the chefs at work. There is a mural at the far end depicting scenes of everyday life from a bygone era and above the kitchen there are various niches displaying earthenware jars of various shapes and sizes.
“Would you like to see the wine list?” The waitress had been hovering politely as I took in my surroundings. I started leafing through what was an impressively long list. I’ve nothing against wine but with spicy food I’d much rather have a beer. These are listed on page seven, I opted for a bottle of Cha La Wan Pale Ale from the Phuket’s Full Moon brewery. Fruity but not sweet and just the right amount of hops.
There followed a procession of dishes and, as each one arrived, the server took the time to explain them. The first was comparatively simple, oyster and clam in a chili vinaigrette which had a pleasing but not too powerful kick. Served in an oyster shell on a tray of beach pebbles it looked as good as it tasted. Next up was the curry puff with black banana. The banana is actually ripened until it ferments and then mixed with garlic I think there is some vinaigrette in there too. It is then pureed and presented on a stoneware platter for you to dunk your curry puff into.
Fish crudo, for those that don’t speak Italian, just means uncooked rather like sashimi. Today it was grouper served on a little bed of seaweed paste with palm heart and rather attractive red sour leaves.
The main course was actually six dishes plus jasmine rice. These arrived in a single delegation and left me with my fork hovering above the table wondering which one to attack first. I went for the in-house sausage, a little ball of tender minced pork encased in a crust of sato lee. This is a by product from the making sato, or rice fermented with yeast and fungus.
Another item of note was the red koji which accompanies the wagyu beef. Koji is fermented rice which is cultivated with a mold called monascus purpureus from which it gets its colour.
I was also impressed with Chef Sa’s spicy mushroom soup. This was actually a little hill of various mushroom species, no doubt dictated by what the markets had to offer that morning. The mushrooms are topped off with a jungle of rosemary and coriander and surrounded by a consommé which, although it looks innocent, packs quite a punch.
Taking the prize for the most audacious colour scheme of the day was the Bai Ling Curry. Bright green sautéed bai ling, or melinjo leaves, wrapped around pieces of goby in a deep orange sauce and served in a large purple glazed bowl. It tasted as good as it looked and with its demise I polished off the last of the beer ready for desert.
Burnt banana leaf ice cream with toasted rice marshmallow followed by tofu in finger root tea. Finger root is a member of the ginger family common in Thai markets. The tofu is served with a tiny doughnut with a sesame paste filling.
After I left I tried to apply Vilfredo Pareto’s 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, but it didn’t work. In this case 80/20 is a hundred percent.
Update: 80/20 were awarded a Michelin star in November 2019